A Covid-19 case that surfaced recently in a village in Punjab didn’t have any travel history outside India. Nor was he a contact of any of the already identified Covid-19 patients.
The case threw the local administration into a tizzy. Here’s what they found out.
Thousands of villagers in Punjab’s rural areas falling in different districts are being quarantined as a case surfaced recently didn’t have any travel history outside India. Nor was he a contact of any of the already identified Covid-19 patients.
Not only that, the 55 year old man from Village Chatamli in Tehsil Morinda who tested positive for Covid-19 on 3 April, was the first patient in the Ropar district. Husband of ex-Sarpanch of the village, the patient is diabetic with a history of hypertension. He got himself admitted to Civil Hospital in Phase-6, Mohali from where he was referred to Chandigarh’s Government Super Speciality Hospital.
The case threw the local administration into a tizzy as they went on about ascertaining the source of local transmission. The family of seven, including two members over 80 years of age, was isolated and their samples also taken for testing.
The patient’s 52 year old wife and 16 year old son also tested positive yesterday (5 April). Rest of the family’s samples came out negative.
“Does not have travel history and did not go to Holla Mohalla. Apparently there was a health camp in the village by a Christian Missionary Foundation—Pastor Randeep Mathews and there was a team of doctors and few foreign nationals as tourists,” informed Karan Bir Singh Sidhu in a series of tweets.
“District Administration is in contact with the Pastor, who brought 20 foreign nationals to this village. Apparently they went to few other neighbouring villages too—trying to locate their passport numbers,” added Sidhu who is an officer of the Indian Administrative Service of 1984 batch and is currently posted as the Special Chief Secretary, Punjab. He quoted details of the case almost verbatim from The Indian Express report.
Mathews is Senior Pastor of New Life City Church and has been conducting medical camps in partnership with Christian evangelical organisation, Impact Nations, which has headquarters in the United States and Canada. In 2014, Impact Nations‘s website had claimed that it baptised over 80,000 people in North India. In 2016, it boasted in a Facebook post that House churches (comprising of 50 members on average) stood at 11,000 in numbers, mostly in Punjab.
Randeep Mathews is a key partner of Impact Nations and its India representative. His photos of distributing food packets to villagers in Punjab from last week are up on the Impact Nations website already. A team of foreigners usually come to India in March on a ”journey of compassion” and visit various rural areas and organise medical camps.
This time was no different except it was during the time when Coronavirus pandemic was sweeping across the world and it’s possible that the visits of over more than 20 foreigners to various villages in Punjab have put hundreds at risk.
One of the “information documents“ of Impact Nations from 2014 had some tips for foreigner evangelicals who wanted to visit India but had hard time getting a visa.
The document recommended that those willing to come to India for religious work should lie and indicate their purpose for visit as “tourism” and that they rather apply for tourist visa and not missionary one. They were to give reference of Randeep Mathews if askes about local acquaintance.
The modus operandi is similar to what was used by Tablighi Jamaat members who congregated at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz and became India’s top “Super Spreader“ of Covid-19.
The foreigner evangelicals may have played a similar part in Punjab.
According to local administration, the foreigners didn’t take any permission to conduct these camps.
“Camp organisers did not take permission from any official including the health department, which was mandatory. We are inquiring if permission for camps held before or after March 13 in villages was taken or not. None of the foreign nationals were doctors. They did not conduct any check-ups or give any medicine. Instead, a team of doctors from Mohali and other areas checked villagers. The prayers were held by Pastor Randeep," Ropar deputy commissioner Sonali Giri told Times of India.
However, villagers have contradicted a part of this statement and said that the foreigners were also involved in checkups. If they weren’t doctors and were checking patients, this would be a gross ethical violation.
In any case, the Ropar administration is involved in screening villagers in Chatamli village where three patients of a single family have tested positive. The camps was held in Manakmajara village on 12 March and residents of Lakhimpure and Thauna had also participated. All of these are either sealed or quarantined.
That’s not all. A family of 14 in Tewar village which also falls in Ropar district is also under quarantine due to Covid-19 patient of Chatamli village. A member of the family from Tewar village was in the Mohali hospital and was assigned a bed next to Covid-19 patient before he tested positive.
The trail of Christian missionaries isn’t limited to Ropar district alone. They visited villages in other district of Punjab as well and organised camps there. The government is now screening, sealing and quarantining residents of all those villages who had gone to these medical camps.
Yesterday, the administration sealed three villages in Gurdaspur district.
“Three villages-- Rauwal , Jaffarwal and Varsal Chak-- were sealed as a precautionary measure, after getting information that health camps had been organised from 15-18 March by some foreigners - Christian Missionaries here.“ Sidhu took to Twitter to share the details.
“The entire village population has been screened-- no one is symptomatic. Nevertheless, the villages as been declared as "quarantine zones",” he added.