The Sikh pilgrims were stranded at the gurdwara Hazur Sahib in Maharashtra’s Nanded amid the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. They started returning to Punjab from April 22 but the order to quarantine them came five days later.
Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu, targeted by the opposition Akali Dal for negligence in not ensuring proper quarantining of the pilgrims, has blamed the Maharashtra government where his party Congress is part of the ruling Shiv Sena-led coalition.
Nearly 4,000 pilgrims went from Punjab to the Nanded Gurdwara and were stranded by the lockdown enforced on March 25. Over 3,500 have returned to Punjab after the Union Home Ministry gave them permission.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been criticized for his comment that the most number of coronavirus cases in his state can be sourced to the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi and the Sikh pilgrims returning from Nanded.
“We did not imagine that such a large number of people will test positive for COVID-19. Around 300 more devotees will also be tested. We are requesting people to not worry and stay at home. We have to fight COVID-19 and we will win this battle,” Om Parkash Soni, Punjab’s Medical Education, and Research Minister told news agency ANI.
After the first few pilgrims tested positive, the Hazur Sahib Gurdwara was alerted to the possibility that it was a coronavirus hotspot.
The Gurdwara has denied the allegation of the Punjab minister that it took no precautions against the virus after the government warned against large gatherings, including religious congregations, to ensure social distancing critical to avoid the infection.