In a frantic search of thousands of people who were participants of Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, the Government on Wednesday directed the police chiefs of states and Union Territories (UTs) to complete the contact tracing exercise on a “war footing” to check the COVID-19 spread.

Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba gave the direction to all the Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states and UTs.

The aim is not only to stop those who attended the congregation but also those they came into contact with inadvertently creating new clusters of novel coronavirus or COVID-19 infections across India.

Thousands of people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and then dispersed, may carry the COVID-19 disease to states across the length and breadth of India.

Through the video-conferencing meeting, the states were sensitized about the intensive contact tracing of Tablighi Jamaat participants as this has “increased the risk of containment efforts” of COVID-19.

“The states were asked to complete the contact tracing process on a war footing,” Home Ministry statement said.

Noting that foreigners who had participated in the Tablighi Jamaat had “violated” visa conditions, the Cabinet Secretary asked the states to initiate “action for violation of visa condition against the foreigners and the organizers of the event”.

The Cabinet Secretary’s instruction followed the information received by the Home Ministry on Tuesday that as many as 261 foreign nationals among 1,746 people were lodged at the Tablighi Jamaat’s Nizamuddin Markaz facility as on March 21, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ‘Janata curfew’ across India.

Additionally, about 824 foreigners had been, as on March 21, doing Tabligh (Chilla) activities in various parts of the country.

As the Tabligh-e-Jamaat’s Markaz in Nizamuddin West has emerged as a major COVID-19 hotspot with over 130 linked positive cases across the country, the Centre has advised all states and union territories to “immediately trace, screen and quarantine” the estimated 2000 foreigners who attended the religious gathering last month.

The Home Ministry in a letter addressed to state chief secretaries and police chiefs also said that if any foreigner tests negative for the deadly Coronavirus, then he should be “immediately deported by the first available flight”.

Defying lockdown orders and social distancing rules, the Markaz building, which is the international headquarters of ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ from around last 100 years, continued to house about 2,000 people from different parts of the country and world.

The gathering, which featured sermons, was attended by over 2000 Tablighi members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia. Members had also come from Afghanistan, Algeria, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, Fiji, France and Kuwait.

The Markaz Nizamuddin, meanwhile, has been cleared after the evacuation of 2,361 people in a 36-hour operation.

The Delhi Police has also registered an FIR against Maulana Saad Kandalwi of Nizamuddin Markaz and six others for violating government orders on management of the Markaz in relation to social, political or religious gathering amidst the Coronavirus outbreak. However, Maulana Saad is missing and the police is trying to trace his whereabouts.

They have been charged under the Epidemic Disease Act, said Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava.

Further, the Cabinet Secretary also directed the states to implement the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana within the next week and for which he stressed on organised arrangements. “This (the scheme) will involve large cash transfer to beneficiaries. It should be organized in a staggered manner to ensure social distance,” the statement said.

In the meeting, it was noted that the 21-day lockdown is being implemented effectively all over the country. It was also directed that the states ensure intra-state movement of goods and these should be allowed without any hindrance while maintaining social distance. “The manufacturing of essential goods should be ensured. It should also be ensured that the supply chains of such goods are maintained.”

Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Punya Salila Srivastava said that the Cabinet Secretary directed the states to meet the needs of migrant workers shifted in thousands of camps and maintain their welfare, medical and sanitation facilities.

She also informed that the Cabinet Secretary instructed the states for a hassle free cargo and that it should be implemented on ground level.