Covid-19 update: 36-hour operation to evacuate 2,346 Jamaat attendees
Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area and two lanes leading to it were sealed on Wednesday as 2,346 people were rescued from there in India’s biggest coronavirus (Covid-19)-related rescue operation so far that lasted 36 hours.
The evacuees were sent to quarantine centres and hospitals even as officials across the country scrambled to identify, trace and isolate the people, who, this month, attended a congregation at the headquarters that has emerged as the country’s biggest source of Covid-19 infections and has been linked to at least 10 deaths.
“A total of 536 symptomatic people, out of all those who were brought out of Markaz [headquarters], have been admitted to hospitals. Besides, 1,810 asymptomatic people have been put in quarantine facilities. So, a total of 2,346 have been brought out of Markaz,” said chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Delhi’s Health services department director general, Dr Nutan Mundeja, said the asymptomatic people will be tested for Covid-19 if necessary. “As of now tests have not been conducted on those being quarantined. But, in all likelihood, we will conduct a few in the days to come. No specific decision on this has been taken as of now.”
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia thanked the people involved in the evacuation--the medical staff, administration, police, Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC)--who put their lives at risk for the operation. “Heartfelt gratitude to all of them,” he said
DTC officials said they deployed around 25 buses for the evacuation and each bus made at least two trips.
A DTC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said people were brought out of the building in batches of 30-35. “They were screened for their body temperatures and then taken to hospitals or quarantine centres in DTC buses. The [bus] drivers wore protective suits. No conductors were deployed since health officials were escorting them.”
By 1 pm on Wednesday, workers wearing decontamination suits sanitised the building, the plants outside and the path the evacuees had walked. Dr Vivekanand Bhagat, a deputy health officer who supervised the work, said it took them around two hours to sanitise the building that stands on a 1,000 square yard plot.
Harish Kumar, a sanitation worker, said they sprayed every corner of the building even as parts of it were damp due to the absence of sunlight. “Usually the surfaces we have been spraying all these days were dry. So we do not know how effective the disinfectants would be.”
Kumar said there are mostly large halls in the building with beddings spread out. “Rows and rows of mattresses were spread out in the halls and floor after floor.”
A health official involved in the evacuation process, who did not wish to be named, said the Delhi government ordered the closure of cinemas on March 12, saying they do not get sunlight and people sit in close proximity for long hours there. “The scene inside the Markaz was exactly the same. Despite being aware of the outbreak, there was no social distancing practised inside,” he said.
The Delhi Police on Tuesday filed a case against the Jamaat functionaries for flouting social distancing rules formulated to check the spread of the pandemic.
Tauseef Khan, a lawyer representing the Jamaat, said social distancing inside was not possible and that is why Markaz functionaries repeatedly urged the government for help once the three-week national lockdown was announced on March 25 and hundreds of people were stuck in the building.
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation continued sanitising operations in Nizamuddin Basti, Nizamuddin West and other areas adjoining the Jamaat headquarters on Wednesday. A team of 40 people, with sodium hypochlorite (a disinfectant) on shoulder-mounted knapsack pumps and three tractor-driven tankers, sanitised the area.
Another team, comprising over 50 people, have been tasked with keeping the area clean by sweeping and collecting garbage. Civic officials said they have sprayed at least 60,000 litres of disinfectants in the entire area.
A police station near the building, too, has been sanitised. “Some of us have taken the road on which the Markaz is located as part of our policing duty. We were also actively involved in the evacuation process. We know the threat that we exposed ourselves to, but this is part of our job,” said a policeman.
Delhi health department officials said of the 536 hospitalised evacuees, over 200 are in Lok Nayak, some 130 in Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality hospital and 100 in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Jhajjar. The rest have been admitted to the Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Guru Teg Bahadur hospitals.
AIIMS, Jhajjar, was on Tuesday authorised to treat Covid-19 patients. An order to this effect was issued late last night as the authorities feared a surge in the number of infections following the discovery of the Nizamuddin infection hot spot. The five dedicated Covid-19 centres now have at least 5,850 beds for coronavirus patients.
At least 1,810 people have been sent to the government’s quarantine centres in Railway Colony, Tughlaqabad, and the flats of New Delhi Municipal Council at Bakkarwala. Around 1,000 people were initially believed to have been at the Markaz.
Delhi had 152 Covid-19 cases till Wednesday night. Out of them, 53 were traced to Nizamuddin.
Teams of civil defence volunteers and health officials were on Wednesday involved in contact tracing as the authorities started advising home quarantine for those suspected to have had any contacts with the Markaz.
Officials have put up ‘under home quarantine’ posters outside some houses in the Nizamuddin West area. They did not give any number for the people advised home quarantine in the area.
Lieutenant governor Anil Baijal separately held a review meeting with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Sisodia and all the district magistrates. “He has issued directions to utilise fire brigades to disinfect Nizamuddin and Dilshad Garden, both of which are top coronavirus hot spots,” said an official, who attended the meeting via video conferencing.