Chandigarh: The controversy surrounding the spike of Covid-19 cases in Punjab due to pilgrims returning from Hazur Sahib gurdwara in Nanded, Maharashtra, saw senior Congress leaders Ashok Chavan and Amarinder Singh indulge in ‘blame game’ over the source of the infection.
Maharashtra cabinet minister Chavan Saturday claimed that the pilgrims contracted the infection from drivers who ferried them to and from Punjab, hours after Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh indicated that the infection was already present in Nanded.
The statements came on a day Punjab saw its coronavirus count soar to 772 with 187 new cases, of which 142 were the Nanded pilgrims. Punjab has witnessed several spikes in its Covid-19 numbers this past week as the pilgrims returned from Nanded, after being stranded at the gurdwara due to the lockdown for over a month.
In Nanded, which had no Covid-19 cases until a week ago, 26 people tested positive Saturday, including 20 workers at the gurdwara.
While the Nanded administration and gurdwara claim the pilgrims were regularly screened during their stay and did not exhibit any symptoms before they left, the Amarinder Singh government in Punjab has maintained that the pilgrims had to have been infected before they journeyed back to the state.
The issue saw the head of the Akhal Takht, the highest temporal body of the Sikhs, warn against attempts to malign the Gurdwara Hazur Sahib in Nanded or blame the pilgrims for deliberately spreading the coronavirus, similar to how the Tablighi Jamaat were criticised for India’s jump in Covid-19 infections.
Chavan and Amarinder had issued separate statements Saturday trying to pinpoint the source of the infection.
“According to my analysis of the situation, the drivers who had ferried the pilgrims to and from Punjab could have been the source of infection,” said Chavan in a video statement.
“Had the gurdwara been the epicentre of the infection, there would have been other cases in Nanded town as well. But that is not the case. The drivers who went from here to drop the pilgrims stopped in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Also the 78 buses which came from Punjab to take these pilgrims back, each had two three persons on board. They too stayed in Nanded for some time. They too could have brought the infection with them,” he said.
“I am not indulging in blame game or politics. I’m only saying that Nanded could not have been the source of infection,” said Chavan, adding that the situation was under control.
नांदेड जिल्ह्यातील कोरोना रूग्णांची संख्या आज वाढून २६ झाली असली तरी नागरिकांनी भयभीत होऊ नये. परिस्थिती नियंत्रणात असून, सर्वांनी अधिक खबरदारी व सोशल डिस्टन्सिंग बाळगून शासनाला सहकार्य करण्याची आवश्यकता आहे. pic.twitter.com/QXB0KLKPsB
— Ashok Chavan (@AshokChavanINC) May 2, 2020
Punjab CM Amarinder, who is under attack from the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for “mismanaging” the return of the pilgrims, said that the fact that Nanded Gurudwara staffers had also tested positive countered the Akali claims that the pilgrims got infected during the journey.
#Covid positive cases among Nanded Gurdwara staffers trash @Akali_Dal_ claims that pilgrims got injected on way or on reaching Punjab, says @capt_amarinder at Cabinet meet. Asks @Akali_Dal_ to stop indulging in petty politics on grave issue. #PunjabFightsCorona pic.twitter.com/vCtuMNvidQ
— Raveen Thukral (@RT_MediaAdvPbCM) May 2, 2020
SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal Friday asked the chief minister to “apologise” to the Sikh community for mismanaging the situation and demanded health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu be fired for not following health guidelines during their journey.
As of Saturday night, there were around 340 infected pilgrims in Punjab, about 44 per cent of the total 772 cases in the state.
Nanded which so far had only two coronavirus-positive patients and was a green zone, reported 26 patients Saturday, including the 20 gurdwara workers. Four Nanded drivers who returned from Punjab also tested positive.
Almost 4,000 pilgrims from Punjab were stuck in Nanded where they had gone to pay obeisance at the gurdwara last month. While around 300 were living inside the sarai of the main gurudwara, another 3,500 were living in the sarai of Langar Sahib gurdwara, which is next to the main gurdwara.
The Centre allowed the pilgrims to return to Punjab last week, following which several local buses and tempo travellers were pressed into service by the gurdwara management while another 80 buses were sent by the Punjab government.
The pilgrims were screened for Covid-19 symptoms while at the gurdwara, and tested on their return to Punjab.