At least 40,000 quarantined in India after single priest spread coronavirus

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 transferred in an Italian airport, before returning home from a visit to Germany, Ravi Inder Singh, a public-relations officer in the Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar district told NBC News.

After returning to his home village of Pathwala, where he was a priest at the gurdwara, or temple, Singh ignored advice to self-isolate and attended several religious gatherings.

Then he traveled to the Hola Mohalla festival with two friends in the nearby city of Anandpur Sahib.

Held over three days between March 10 and March 12, around 300,000 usually attend the event each day, camping out and enjoying mock battles, music, and poetry, as well as large communal kitchens.

Police Superintendent Swapan Sharma from the city of Rupnagar said crowds were down by about 50 percent this year, as people had been warned not to attend religious and social gatherings.

Singh died shortly after attending the festival on March 18, and tests revealed it was coronavirus that killed him.

A number of his relatives have also tested positive for it.

Vinay Bublani, the district magistrate in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar where Singh’s village is based, said they had identified 650 people who were in contact with Singh. They were being tested, he added.

Authorities have also quarantined around 20 villages in the region, containing around 40,000 people, in a bid to stop the virus spreading.

Officials there have been going door-to-door to inspect people showing symptoms.

Last Wednesday Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a lockdown of the country of some 1.3 billion people for 21 days. On those shopping for food or medicine are officially allowed out.

To date 19 people have died from coronavirus in the country and 819 people have tested positive. However, the country has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.

Sikh temples including the famous Golden Temple — the holiest and most important pilgrimage site in Sikhism — remain open.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body which manages and runs the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar, said it would not close.

“We cannot shut our doors and stop people from coming to the spiritual centre for Sikh faith,” President Gobind Singh Longowal told NBC News, adding that numbers were down because of the coronavirus outbreak.