100 Sikh pilgrims test positive on return from Pakistan after Baisakhi

Pilgrims return from Pakistan after celebrating Baisakhi (AFP)

Chandigarh:

Hundreds of 800 Sikh pilgrims who went to Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi tested positive for the coronavirus upon their return, officials said.

Sikh worshipers from India had gone to the Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Lahore on the last day of Baisakhi. Officials said 100 of them tested positive after passing a rapid antigen test. Some 350 have been tested for COVID-19 using the rapid antigen method.

Now, some of them that have returned to Amritsar will be tested using the more precise RT-PCR method, officials said.

The Foreign Ministry has been in contact with the pilgrims to ensure their safety, officials said.

The Pakistani High Commission in Delhi had issued visas to more than 1,100 Sikh pilgrims to travel to Baisakhi. Under the Pakistan-India Protocol on Visiting Religious Shrines of 1974, large numbers of pilgrims from India travel to Pakistan to attend festivals each year.

Punjab has some 38,000 active cases of COVID-19, according to government data. The state was among the first, including Maharashtra and Gujarat, to start reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, before the crisis spread nationwide in what the a second, deadlier wave is now called.

More and more people are complaining this time of shortness of breath, which requires an oxygen supply. However, the supply of oxygen has become very limited due to the sudden increase in demand in towns and villages.

People have taken to social media to coordinate aid, while state governments and the center are also scrambling to organize oxygen faster with help from the private sector.

Baisakhi is a spring harvest festival for Sikhs and Hindus. It marks the Sikh New Year and commemorates the formation of Khalsa panther (holy warriors) under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

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