AURANGABAD/CHANDIGARH: Local authorities sealed Nanded's Hazur Sahib gurdwara on Friday, hours before Punjab reported that 91 more people who returned from the shrine in Maharashtra had tested positive for coronavirus.
So far, 197 pilgrims out of the 3,500 brought back from the Maharashtra gurdwara, among the holiest sites in Sikhism, have contracted the infection, according to authorities in Punjab. The returning pilgrims formed the bulk of 105 fresh cases reported in Punjab on Friday.
The 197 Nanded pilgrims are a third of the 585 confirmed coronavirus cases reported so far in Punjab. Taking into account the 20 deaths and people who have recovered, they represent about 40 per cent of the "active cases" in the state.
Officials said that in neighbouring Haryana, 18 Nanded pilgrims are in quarantine. About 4,000 pilgrims from Punjab had remained stranded for about a month at Hazur Sahib gurdwara in Nanded due to the nationwide lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Gurdwara Langar Sahib on the same premises, which serves food to all visitors, has also been closed, officials said in Nanded. "District and civic officials reached the gurdwara in the morning on Friday and directed that it be closed and the langar service be stopped," gurdwara superintendent Gurvinder Singh Wadhwa said.
The pilgrims heading back to Punjab had made halts at Indore, one of the country's worst coronavirus-affected cities, Bhilwara and Hanumangarh in Rajasthan, and Bhatinda, according to gurdwara functionaries.
Baba Balwinder Singh of Langar Sahib said there are still about 175 people from different states in the complex. In Punjab, Shiromani Akali Dal asked Amarinder Singh to apologise to the Sikh community for "mismanaging" the repatriation of pilgrims from Nanded.
SAD leader Sukhbir Singh Badal demanded that Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu should be sacked for "failing" to ensure the pilgrims' safety.
In a video clip, Akal Takht jathedar Harpreet Singh on Friday claimed there was a conspiracy to "malign" the Sikhs just as the Muslims were after the Tablighi Jamaat episode. The reference by the Amritsar-based jathedar was to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi in March.
Hundreds of people who participated and then returned to their homes across the country had tested positive. "It is being propagated as if Takht Sri Hazur Sahib was the home to coronavirus and these people carried it with them to Punjab. It is a very big conspiracy," he alleged.
Harpreet Singh said there were complaints about the quarantine arrangements made for them and urged Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to set things right.
"A video surfaced in Amritsar where some women are complaining that they are not getting water to drink. Some are being kept in 'deras' which is against their sentiments. It appears to be the irresponsibility on the part of the government," he said.
He said the state government should have contacted the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) for arranging the stay and meals for the quarantined pilgrims. Amarinder Singh has asked people not to be worried about the sudden spike in cases, saying most of the new cases are people coming from other states.
The state government had already ordered a 21-day quarantine for people coming from outside.