Aurangabad: The possibility of the drivers, who had ferried pilgrims from a gurdwara in Nanded in Maharashtra to Punjab in buses, spreading the coronavirus infection among them cannot be ruled out, Maharashtra minister Ashok Chavan said on Saturday.
Chavan's statement came against the backdrop of several pilgrims from Punjab, who had stayed at the Gurdwara Langar Sahib in Nanded, testing coronavirus positive after reaching their home state.
Chavan also said that these drivers might have carried the infection to Nanded which had no COVID-19 cases a week ago. The number of cases has shot up to 26 now.
"The drivers who came from Punjab to ferry the stranded pilgrims in Nanded might have spread the infection here and during their return journey (to Punjab)," Chavan said in a Facebook live session.
Had the infection originated in Nanded then why not a single coronavirus positive case was reporters here earlier?, the PWD Minister questionned.
An MLA from the district, Chavan is also the Guardian Minister of Nanded, which houses Gurdwara Langar Sahib and Gurdwara Hazur Sahib, also known as Takht Hazuri Sahib Sachkhand, which is among the holiest Sikh shrines in the country.
"The drivers from Punjab who came to Nanded and took the pilgrims back might have got infected during their journey. These drivers might have also carried the infection in gurdwara in Nanded and also amongst the pilgrims during the return journey," he said.
Chavan said a total of 78 buses with two drivers each had reached Nanded on April 26 and the drivers stayed here for two days.
"They ate food in 'langar' (community kitchen). There is a possibility that the infection spread then," he said.
Chavan also said that the drivers who had travelled to Punjab from Maharashtra on April 23 were found infected only after they made a return journey, which indicates that the source of the coronavirus infection was not Nanded but somewhere outside its boundary.
"Moreover, none of the pilgrims had complained about COVID-19 like symptoms earlier during their stay in gurdwara.
Had any such complaint made treatment would have been provided to them immediately," he said, adding that the situation in Nanded is under control.
Twenty persons currently residing in Gurdwara Langar Sahib have tested coronavirus positive, an official said earlier in the day.
Swabs of total 97 people residing in the gurdwara had been collected for testing. Of them 20 have tested positive for the infection, Nanded civil surgeon Dr Neelkanth Bhosikar said.
Twenty-five of them have tested negative, while the reports of 41 others are awaited. Reports of 11 others are undecided, Bhosikar said in a statement.
The Gurdwara Hazur Sahib located in the vicinity was also sealed by the local authorities on Friday.
As per the Punjab government figures, at least 115 of the over 3,500 pilgrims who returned from the Nanded gurdwara have tested positive for coronavirus.
On April 23, several pilgrims from Nanded had hired private vehicles to reach Punjab.
On the way back on April 28, two drivers and their helper were stopped at Ardhapur on Nanded border. Their samples were taken, which confirmed that they are coronavirus positive. They are currently being treated at Vishnupuri in Nanded district, Bhosikar had said.