Is ‘Nanded’ the new ‘Jamaat’? Another Pilgrimage Furthers Spread of COVID-19 in Punjab

In the second major religious incident since the Tablighi Jamaat controversy, Punjab recently reported its highest single-day spike in COVID-19 cases after over 3500 pilgrims at Hazur Sahib returned to Punjab from Nanded, Maharashtra. Test results of over 500 returnees have tested positive so far, with more suspected as they returned to Punjab in 80 crowded buses.

Similar to the Jamaat, the Sikh pilgrims had approached the authorities to make provisions to return to their homes, but the government in this case took a month and a half before they arranged for the pilgrims’ journey home from the most badly affected state in India, Maharashtra. The pilgrims mingled with the Maharashtra locals and took part in many community activities such as langar and prayers. Though the Takht Hazur Sahib Management claims that they took various precautions to prevent the spread such as dividing pilgrims into groups of 20 for langar and allocating 200 rooms for the pilgrims, in the end they didn’t prove to be enough.

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This has had adverse effects on the COVID situation in Punjab, with various districts seeing monumental increases in virus-stats. For example, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar has seen a 200% rise in COVID-19 cases in a day due to Nanded returnees. While government officials are urging citizens not to panic as they claim to have quarantined the pilgrims the day they returned, mismanagement of the crisis and fear among the pilgrims could be a major cause behind the rise in cases, which is showing no sign of stopping.

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