Over the past few days, several prominent media personalities and politicians have suggested that the primary blame for the continued growth of the COVID-19 epidemic in India lies with a Tablighi Jamaat event that was held in Delhi on March 13. The available data does not support such a speculation.
We strongly condemn any attempt to communalize the pandemic. We draw attention to the World Health Organization’s statement that it is “very important that we do not profile the cases on the basis of racial, religious and ethnic lines.” This is also reflected in the statement by the Ministry of Health which says “Do not label any community or area for spread of COVID-19.”
We believe, while the Tablighi Jamaat erred by not cancelling the event, the administrative lapse of the Central and Delhi governments must be acknowledged, as this was a pre-approved event and certain arms of the government were aware that foreigners from infected countries would be participating.
Super spreader events have also taken place in other countries and even in India. For instance a single (now deceased) patient in Punjab led to the quarantining of 40,000 people from 20 villages in Punjab. Those who contract the virus in such an event, or spread it unintentionally, are themselves victims of the epidemic. They must not be demonized.
The actual number of infected across the country is believed to be far larger than the number of cases that have been confirmed so far. The effects of the Delhi event on the growth rate of the all India numbers may thus be significantly less than the numbers put out by MoHFW.
The Government has not released data on how many tests were conducted among the attendees of this event and their contacts. Thus, we do not know how the fraction of tests that were found to be positive in this case compares to testing on the general population. We call on the government to release this data.
We reiterate our call for the government to collect more data
— by testing more — and to transparently share this data with the public.