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Thousands quarantined in India after Sikh preacher defied norms

Guru visited 22 Punjab villages and attended a religious fair attended by thousands at a Sikh holy place

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: March 31, 2020 04:07 AM GMT

Updated: March 31, 2020 04:42 AM GMT

Thousands quarantined in India after Sikh preacher defied norms

Members of Sikhs' top management team, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, along with devotees offer prayers in front of the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book) for relief from the spread of coronavirus at their holiest Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, on March 17. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP)

Authorities have quarantined an estimated 40,000 people after a Sikh religious preacher who died of Covid-19 is feared to have caused community spread of coronavirus in India’s Punjab state.

Baldev Singh, the 70-year-old Sikh guru, died on March 18 in Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar district, 11 days after he returned from Germany via virus-stricken Italy. A medical examination after his death confirmed he died of Covid-19.

“This is a very crucial week for Punjab as test results of hundreds are awaited,” Father Peter Kavumpuram, public relations officer of Jalandhar Diocese, told UCA News on March 29.

The popular guru visited 22 villages and conducted prayer gatherings until his death, defying government protocol to remain in home quarantine for 14 days after his arrival from abroad.

At least 19 of 38 positive cases have been reported from his district. Authorities have collected 300 samples, suspecting the start of community spread in the area, reports said.

After Covid-19 was confirmed as the cause of his death, authorities are trying to identify his contacts to quarantine them and check further spread of the virus, officials said.

Gautam Jain, the subdivisional magistrate in the preacher’s Banga town, told media that at least 700 people who had come in close contact with Singh had been identified in 20 villages. They freely lived in their villages until the preacher’s death, possibly spreading the virus.

Most of these villages are now sealed, blocking the movement of people to avoid any further spread of the virus, media reports said. An estimated 40,000 people live in these villages.

Special media teams are also on alert in the affected areas to keep a watch on daily developments.

Singh also participated in a religious fair, called Holla Mohalla, at Anandpur Sahib, a holy town of Sikhs in the state from March 10-12. The event attracts some 300,000 people daily but had less than half of the normal crowds after police warned against gatherings.

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“As of now, we have not been hit badly by the global pandemic, but now the preacher’s irresponsible behavior has put us all in a very difficult situation,” Father Kavumpuram told UCA News on March 29.

Jalandhar Diocese has “instructed all our parishes to be prepared to help those in need at this hour of crisis,” he said.

“We have already been providing food and other basic requirements for daily wagers, migrant workers and others who faced the brunt of the nationwide lockdown,” the priest added.

India has reported 1,251 Covid-19 cases with 32 deaths, according to data on March 31.

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