Thousands of health officials across India are racing to identify people connected to at least 10 virus hotspots, as the infection rate continues to climb in the world’s second most populous country.
In the capital New Delhi, more than 8,500 Muslims attended a gathering in mid-March that is now the focus of an urgent contact tracing effort stretching though several states and into Southeast Asia. In a separate cluster, as many as 30,000 people are under strict quarantine in the northern state of Punjab after a Sikh priest, Baldev Singh, refused to self-isolate after returning from a trip to Europe. He attended events in more than a dozen villages in March before he died from Covid-19.
With barely 50,000 tests conducted in a nation of 1.3 billion people — and the Ministry of Health’s confirmation that India is utilising less than 40% of its available testing capacity — virology experts say the true rate of infection in the country could be much higher.
India has so far identified nearly 3000 coronavirus cases and 68 deaths, according to data compiled by the nation’s health ministry.
The newly emerging infection clusters could signal the start of a serious virus battle for India, where health officials insist there are no community transmissions.
The exodus of hundreds of thousands of poor labourers from cities to the hinterland has also increased concerns that the virus may have spread wider across the country. “As far as the Indian population movements are concerned, whether they are migrants or folks moving back to their villages, it’s all a formula for chaos and disaster,” said Steve H. Hanke, professor of Applied Economics at John Hopkins University. “Given the wholly inadequate health infrastructure in India in general and particularly in the outlying rural villages, the magnitude of the disaster will be magnified.”
The New Delhi religious gathering has been linked with more than 450 confirmed infections and 10 deaths, across at least eight states, according to news reports and state government data.
About 2,361 people have been evacuated from the city’s tightly packed Nizamuddin area, where Muslim devotees from throughout the country, as well as Indonesia and Malaysia, attended the gathering at
the Tabligh-e-Jamaat’s Markaz. About 617 have been admitted to hospital while the rest have been quarantined, Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi, said in a tweet.
In Telangana, more than 1,000 people who attended the gathering have been quarantined, said G Srinivas Rao, director of the southern state’s public health department.