New Delhi: A nationwide hunt launched to search people, who attended the Tablighi Jamaat’s congregation at the Markaz mosque in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, which has now emerged as one of the coronavirus hotspots, did yield some results with many states successfully tracking down most of the attendees.
The process, however, is still ongoing, as many people, who are suspected to have attended the congregation, are yet to be traced.
In West Bengal, out of 71 people, who attended the Delhi congregation, 54 have been traced and quarantined so far. In Uttar Pradesh, 569 people have been traced, and in Bihar, 143, including 57 foreigners, have been identified. All these people have been quarantined.
As many as 110 have been traced in Telangana, 78 in Karnataka, 711 in Andhra Pradesh, 60 in Kerala and 891 in Tamil Nadu.
In Punjab and Haryana, more than 500 people, including 89 foreigners, who are associated with Tablighi Jamaat, have been quarantined. It is still unclear that how many out of these 500 attended the Delhi congregation, but they have all been quarantined for safety.
Among all these states, Tamil Nadu is facing a huge problem as there were 1,500 people, who attended the Delhi event, out of which 1,131 returned to the state and only 891 have been identified. Of these 891 people, 57 have tested positive.
To trace the remaining people, police in different states have not only roped in their specialised units such as the anti-terrorism squads, but are also using surveillance methods, including tracking phone, SIM locations, and even doing a door-to-door search, ThePrint has learnt.
It was only after the first case of a Tablighi Jamaat worker surfaced in Telangana that the home ministry shared details of foreign and Indian Tablighi Jamaat workers with all the states on 21 March.
The list provided by the ministry, which has names, addresses and telephone details of the Jamaat workers, obtained from the organisers at the Markaz, is now being used to trace them and also those people they may have come in contact with in the past few weeks.
According to the ministry, on 21 March, as many as 824 foreign Tablighi Jamaat workers were in different parts of the country for missionary work. Besides, 216 foreign nationals were staying at the Markaz.
In addition, over 1,500 Indian Tablighi Jamaat workers were staying at the Markaz and 2,100 workers were touring different parts of the country for missionary work.
Use of surveillance, intelligence to locate people
Most states are banking on tracking phone locations of the Tablighi Jamaat workers through surveillance to trace them.
In some cases, where the phone numbers were not available, the state police are going through the travel (train and flight) bookings of the workers and their numbers are then being put on surveillance to get their locations.
“After tracing their phone numbers, their location was tracked and they were even called individually to quarantine and undergo tests,” a Telangana police officer said.
In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar too, most people were traced through their phone locations and in some areas a door-to-door search was carried out manually by local police.
“The phone numbers provided by the organisers helped us track most participants. The ones that could not be reached were traced with the help of local intelligence. All 569 have now been asked to quarantine themselves,” a police official from Uttar Pradesh said.
In Punjab and Haryana, the local police had to seek assistance from the Intelligence Bureau.
“At least 503 people were tracked following information received from the Intelligence Bureau,” a Haryana police officer said.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the police went the extra mile to individually call up people whose name were on the list provided by the home ministry and also individuals, whose names were not on the list, but were associated with the Tablighi Jamaat.
“More than 885 people, who were suspected to be in Nizamuddin area, and not necessarily in the congregation, are also being traced and called individually to check if they were a part of the Delhi event, or met anyone post that event,” a J&K police officer said.
In Jammu and Kashmir, 65-year-old Tablighi Jamaat head of Sopore region, Ashraf Anim, became the first person from the Delhi event to have died of Covid-19.
Some came forward themselves
Many states have issued advisories and directed the police to spread the message, urging people that if they had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event, they should come forward and get tested.
States in the south, including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Kerala, have asked people to come forward. The move did make an impact, with many people reporting on their own to the police.
“We appealed to the delegates to voluntarily come forward and get themselves tested or else they too would be at risk and put others at risk as well. We got a good response,” a government official from Tamil Nadu said.
In Karnataka, many people, who had participated in the congregation, came forward and claimed they had put themselves into isolation.
“These people are also being kept under observation and tests are being run on them again,” a Karnataka government official said.
In West Bengal also, many people, who attended the congregation, came forward to get tested.
“They (people) are cooperating with us. It is a sensitive situation,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.
The National Health Mission, Tamil Nadu, has sent out an appeal to those, who attended the congregation, to contact the authorities at the earliest.
Finding those who came in contact with Tablighi workers
Police of different states have not only been tasked with tracing the people who participated in the Delhi congregation, but also those they met after they left the national capital.
Using the phone numbers of the participants, police in several states have also accessed their call detail records and contact lists to see who all they met after the congregation.
“In fact, the ones who have been traced and quarantined are now being asked to give the names of people who they met upon their return,” a UP police officer said.
In Telangana and Kerala, the police are analysing the call history of the ones who have tested positive and tracing their previous movement to identify the people they could have possibly come in contact with.
Kerala government officials said many participants visited other mosques across the country before they returned home and so they are now in the process of tracing people who may have come in contact with them at that time.
How identified people are being quarantined
In Punjab and Haryana, a group of 500 has been categorised as a “high-risk group” and has been put up in specially prepared quarantine centres spread across seven districts in both the states.
Teams of doctors have already visited the centres and also collected their samples even if they are asymptomatic, Haryana DGP Manoj Yadav said.
In West Bengal, the 54 people, who have been traced, have also been quarantined in special facilities.
UP officials, meanwhile, said that most people have quarantined themselves in Delhi only.
“Most people were found to be quarantined in Delhi, eight were traced to be at their native places and have been home-quarantined. The search of the remaining is still on,” an official said.
A group of 14 people from Bihar, who had come to the Delhi congregation via Mumbai, have been quarantined in Lucknow.
Speaking to ThePrint, Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey said, “Almost 48 people who were in that meeting returned to Bihar. The rest are either still in Delhi and other places in the country.”
Indian Railways has also followed the standard protocol with regard to such cases, and sent the addresses and contact details of all the passengers to the central and state governments, including Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi.
“Throughout the corona outbreak, the Railways has been helping the government by identifying people who travelled along with those who have tested positive… For this case in particular, we are collaborating with four states very closely and have given them the locations of all the people who travelled in these coaches,” said a Railway official.