New Delhi: A large group of nearly 173 Sikh pilgrims who were returning from Maharashtra on Thursday have tested positive for the deadly coronavirus infection and become a challenge for the Punjab government.Also Read - First Children-Friendly COVID-19 Vaccination Centre Comes Up In Delhi

Nearly 3,500 pilgrims were stranded at the gurdwara Takht Sri Hazur Sahib in Nanded district of Maharashtra amid the nationwide lockdown. The Punjab government has sent at least 80 buses so far to bring them back to their hometowns. The pilgrims started returning on April 22 while the central order to quarantine came five days later. Also Read - Karnataka School Reopening News: State to Reopen Classes For Primary School From Oct 21 | Detailed SOP to be Released Soon

They were neither stopped at checkpoints nor tested before their departure. Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu blamed the Maharashtra government of not ensuring proper safety measures or quarantine facilities. Also Read - Mumbai Awaiting Guidelines to Vaccinate Children Against COVID: Mayor Kishori Pednekar

“They were under Maharashtra govt’s observation. It was their duty to implement Centre’s guidelines; their samplings and tests should’ve been done there. Had they told us it hasn’t been done, we would’ve sent 2 teams there,” the minister said.

“The teams would’ve tested them there and segregated them on its basis. We would have brought there here in separate buses. We would have kept the people who tested positive in isolation and the others in quarantine,” he added.

Punjab saw the highest single-day spike of Thursday with 105 new coronavirus cases, 87 of them belonging to the pilgrim group. The state, currently, has 356 active patients.

Likewise, 1,400 labourers and nearly 3,000 students who were studying in coaching institutes of Kota have also returned to the state.

“Our medical system is in place to screen all those who are returning to the state after remaining stranded at various destinations across the country since the lockdown (March 24),” Special Chief Secretary K.B.S. Sidhu, who is in-charge of monitoring state-wide coronavirus cases, told the media.

“Now we have contact details of all people who are returning to the state along with their travel history. It is our duty to give them the best of the treatment on return,” he added.

Punjab had earlier faced a serious problem tracing the whereabouts of Tablighi Jamaat attendees who were accused of spiking the national tally of the contagious infection.