With a non-stop 24-hour operation, Assam has been able to trace nearly 500 people from the state who took part in the religious congregation in Delhi's Nizamuddin area last month that has emerged as the biggest coronavirus hotspot in India, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Wednesday. At least 16 people of those traced to the event held at the Markaz or headquarters of the Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat have tested for coronavirus, he said.
"We had information about 732 people linked to the Nizamuddin fiasco in Assam. In our investigation, we found 226 were not present at the Markaz but in the general Nizamuddin area. We were left to find out 503 people. We launched a manhunt. We have been able to trace 488 people. We are still looking for 15 people," Mr Sarma said on Thursday.
Senior state government officials told NDTV that till Wednesday evening, they were looking out for over 100 people and most of them had gone into "hiding".
Even the police were not able to make much headway. This is when the Assam government's dedicated health helpline -104- came to the rescue. Numerous calls started coming in from villagers and even relatives of many who had returned from the Nizamuddin congregation but did not disclose it, officials said.
"Unlike many other states, we already have a full-fledged health department helpline number - 104. People in Assam are well aware of it. hundreds of calls came that helped us trace these people," Mr Sarma said.
This is where the health department helpline team again came in. They started speaking to these people and convince them.
"We had to make sure that they cooperate with us. We convinced them that it's for their good. Not many had smartphones, whoever had, we did video calls to explain them. The idea was to win their trust before our health worker teams reach them so that they don't resist," Pomi Baruah, Nodal officer of 104 Helpline project told NDTV.
Armed with the tip-offs, the health department with the help of district authorities and the police launched an operation on Wednesday evening to locate all the "untraceable" people within 24 hours, a senior Assam health department official said.
"We have quarantined 395 persons who are Tablighi attendees. Of them, we have collected samples of 361, and have sent for test. The results will come only on Friday. We will get a clear picture by tomorrow first half of the day. The figure might go up," Mr Sarma said.
Officials also added that now that their 'picking suspects' is almost over with a swift 24 hour non-stop operation, testing of these people will be fast-tracked.
"Initially the list that we received was a smaller one in number, we immediately the health department's surveillance teams in action, as we started the reach out to these people and our call-center started getting calls, we started getting feedback from the ground, and this set went on becoming larger. The challenge was to get the people who had visited Nizamuddin Markaz and their contact tracing, get more people in quarantine" explained Assam's Health Secretary Samir Sinha to NDTV.