NEW DELHI: More than 30,000 people have been quarantined in 20 villages in the northern Indian state of Punjab after coming into contact with a Sikh religious leader who died after being infected by the coronavirus, officials said on Sunday.
Baldev Singh, 70, returned to India on March 7 after attending religious events during a 16-day trip to Italy and Germany.
After his return, he was asked to go into self-isolation, but reportedly defied the orders and is believed to have died on March 18.
Vinay Bublani, deputy commissioner of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district, told Arab News on Sunday that there was no explanation for Singh’s refusal to self-isolate.“
What I understand is that he was asymptomatic and did not show any symptoms of infection,” Bublani said.
Some media reports suggest that Singh continued to attend religious functions despite developing symptoms associated with the coronavirus.
Between March 10-12, he attended the Halla Mohallaa, in Punjab’s Anantpur Saheb district, which draws tens of thousands of people, and also visited individual houses to recite religious texts and scriptures afterwards.
Health authorities in Punjab said that the state has almost 40 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 23 of the victims reportedly infected after coming in contact with Singh.
Elsewhere in India, authorities said the number of infections is nearing 1,000 with 25 deaths reported.
The government is concentrating on virus hotspots in the country, including Punjab, following the latest developments in the state.
After his death on March 18, 19 of Singh’s close relatives tested positive for the illness, with four others reportedly infected.
“We tested hundreds of people and, later on, decided to quarantine the entire area consisting of 20 villages and with a population of more than 30,000 people.
No one isallowed to come out of their village,” Bublani said.
However, he warned that self-quarantine is proving difficult to enforce. “People don’t take it seriously. They have been defiant. That’s why the lockdown has been imposed,” he added.
Singh’s death and his unrestricted movement have alarmed the state government, which has asked police to take “strict legal action against those violating home quarantine orders.”
Political analyst Maneesh Chibber told Arab News that authorities face an uphill task.“
In Punjab, you have many socio-religious organizations and sects, and they are powerful. They have strong political connections and cannot be held accountable for their excesses,” he said.
The state government has made it mandatory for anyone arriving from overseas in the past month to report to health officials.
On Tuesday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said that “an estimated 97,000 people have arrived in Punjab since early January, while more than 30,000 have been asked to self-quarantine.”
The government also launched an app named Cova to trace residents who had returned to Punjab but not registered their entry.
Apart from providing information on the disease, the app prompts users to inform authorities about their return from an overseas trip.“
We need to do our best to track all the suspected cases so that we can contain the spread of the virus,” Bublani said.
A senior state health official, who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News on Sunday that “thermal screening at airports is not enough to identify positive patients.”
The state health department is also trying to trace 144 people who returned from abroad but provided false addresses to airport authorities.