Covid-19: What you need to know today
Edward Murphy, after whom the famous law was named, may well have scripted the tragedy (for it is definitely that) in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, where the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group, hosted a meeting of indeterminate length at its headquarters, a six-storey building. The meeting was attended by around 2,000 people although there are reports that this is just the count of those who registered for the event, that there were many who didn’t, and that people came and left in batches.
This was a wilful tragedy, brought about by foolishness, compounded by carelessness, and, at every stage, characterised by a clear disregard for the law.
It emerges that at least some of the people who attended the meeting from other countries travelled to India on a tourist visa – a clear violation of Indian laws which would have required them to enter the country on missionary visas. It is estimated that there were 216 foreign delegates who attended the meeting, although there are fears that the actual number could be much higher.
The meeting itself appears to have violated several Delhi government orders – one on conferences of more than 200 people; another on any religious gathering; a third on a congregation of more than 20 people; and a fourth on a meeting of more than five people.
Once it was clear that there was no way those who attended the conference could stay back, the Jamaat seems to have decided to put them up, although it says it did inform the local police about the presence of the people at the Markaz and sought help, late last week, for their return home. Some of these people have now tested positive for Covid-19. It gets worse – some of those who were ill appear to have taken fever-reducing medication to pass the screening process; fortunately, these cases have come to light after people were quarantined. But the damage has been done. Many of those who attended the conference have already dispersed to states and Union Territories across India, and also back home to their countries in the case of the foreign preachers, with some of them taking the infection back with them.
The headquarters, Markaz Nizamuddin, where around 2,000 people were staying even as recently as the weekend, will likely end up being India’s own Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that saw 712 infections. All occupants have since been moved out and the building sealed. It is likely that more infections are traced back to the Jamaat’s meeting. Already 117 cases, including eight deaths, can be.
On Tuesday, India ended the day with 1,614 cases of Covid-19 and 46 deaths. The number rose by 294 during the day, on the back of an increase of 181 on Monday and 126 on Sunday. It is clear that India’s numbers are on the rise – and clusters such as the one at Markaz Nizamuddin will only accelerate that process. That makes the task of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), officials of which are engaged in contact-tracing, that much more challenging – and that much more critical.
Still, India’s infection numbers are way below those of many other countries. On Monday, new research suggested that children given the BCG vaccine (which prevents against tuberculosis, and which is given to every Indian child, and has been since 1949) at birth may develop immunity to Covid-19, although large-scale tests are required before this can be confirmed . With no avenue being left unexplored, it isn’t surprising that Australia, Netherlands, Germany and the UK have said they will begin just such large-scale human trials involving health workers who are most at risk from the infection.
India will hope it can continue to keep its numbers low. On Wednesday, April 1, the 21-day lockdown enforced to flatten the curve of infections entered its second week.