NEW-DEHLI, India – At least 40,000 people have been quarantined by authorities in the Indian state of Punjab following a coronavirus outbreak linked to a single Sikh priest.
Baldev Singh, 70, had moved to an Italian airport before returning home from a visit to Germany. This was announced by Ravi Inder Singh, a PR officer in the Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar district, to NBC News.
Upon returning to his native village of Pathwala, where he was a priest in the Gurdwara or in the temple, Singh ignored the advice of isolating himself and attended several religious gatherings.
Then he traveled with two friends to the nearby city of Anandpur Sahib for the Hola Mohalla Festival.
Around 300,000 people take part in the event every day on three days between March 10 and 12, camping and enjoying fake battles, music and poems as well as large communal kitchens.
Police commissioner Swapan Sharma from Rupnagar City said the crowd had dropped about 50 percent this year because people were warned not to attend religious and social gatherings.
Singh died shortly after attending the festival on March 18, and tests showed that it was the corona virus that killed him.
Some of his relatives have also tested this positively.
Vinay Bublani, the district judge in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, where Singh’s village is located, said they identified 650 people who were in contact with Singh. They were tested, he added.
The authorities have also quarantined around 20 villages in the region with around 40,000 residents to stop the virus from spreading.
Officials there went door to door to examine people who are showing symptoms.
Last Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the country to be blocked by around 1.3 billion people for 21 days. For those who buy groceries or medication, this is officially allowed.
So far, 19 people in the country have died of coronavirus and 819 people have tested positive. However, the country has one of the lowest test rates in the world.
Sikh temples, including the famous Golden Temple – the most sacred and important place of pilgrimage in Sikhism – remain open.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages and operates the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar, said it will not be closed.
“We cannot close our doors and stop people from coming to the spiritual center for Sikh beliefs,” President Gobind Singh Longowal told NBC News, adding that the numbers have dropped due to the corona virus outbreak.