A religious gathering at a mosque in Delhi has been linked to seven coronavirus deaths and more than 300 people with symptoms linked to COVID-19 are being tested.
Early this morning, the Markaz Nizamuddin - the Delhi headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat -- was sealed and 800 people moved out in buses are quarantined in different parts of the city, NDTV reported.
"So far 24 people staying there have been found to be coronavirus positive," said Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain.
"A grave crime has been committed," he added.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal yesterday ordered a police case against the mosque administration over negligence that has endangered hundreds of lives.
Ignoring all social distancing rules to avoid the deadly coronavirus, hundreds had been staying in the 100-year-old mosque complex, which has a six-floor dormitory, since a two-day gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat from March 13 to 15. Tablighi Jamaat is an Islamic missionary movement set up in 1926, with members across the world.
Six people have died in Telangana and one man died in Srinagar.
Ten more who returned to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have tested positive.
The gathering, which featured sermons, was attended by Tablighi members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia. Members had also come from Afghanistan, Algeria, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, Fiji, France and Kuwait.
Many of those who attended then travelled to other parts of the country. The Indonesians, for instance, went to southern states like Telangana.
The Srinagar preacher who died last week had visited the Deoband seminary in Uttar Pradesh and on his return to Kashmir, held multiple gatherings.
Contact tracing from the mosque gathering, which has been identified as a virus hotspot, has been given high priority by the home ministry, according to sources.
We have been doing contact tracing of everyone who visited this masjid but it's a humungous task," a senior functionary of the government discloses.
According to him, Home Minister Amit Shah is being briefed daily about the developing situation.
"After one patient died in Srinagar and some in Hyderabad, an SOS was sent to various states," he adds.
Tablighi members reportedly told the police about the congregation on March 24. At the time, there were around 1,200 people inside the mosque complex. A day later, they were taken to the airport by the police.
But on March 26, two days into the national lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, people started gathering again. There were close 2,000 by the time the police found out. They were asked to stay put and not go anywhere as all transport had been cancelled.
Some 280 of those inside were foreigners.
Yesterday, 300 people were taken to hospitals with symptoms of COVID-19.
In a statement, Markaz Nizamuddin defended itself saying the event was cancelled when PM Modi announced the "Janata Curfew" for March 22. "However, due to sudden cancelation of rail services across the country on March 21, a large group of visitors who had to depart by way of railways got stuck in the Markaz premises," the statement claimed. After that, it said, lockdowns ordered first by the Delhi government and then by the PM made it "impossible" for the stranded visitors to stay anywhere but in the Markaz.
However, officials point out that long before the lockdowns, the Delhi government had called for suspending all gatherings, religious, cultural or social.