The disease travels east
With the return of migrants, states with weak health infra are now seeing a spurtUpdated: May 17, 2020 19:02 IST
A feature of India’s tryst with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) so far has been its concentration in urban centres, and the relatively better-off states of western India. Every case is, of course, unfortunate — but the concentration in these regions has meant that these state governments have more resources and are better equipped. This, however, may be changing as the disease travels to other parts of the country.
A key policy priority of the government, ever since the lockdown, was ensuring that the disease did not spread to poor and densely populated Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha, where the health infrastructure is weak, governance structures are inadequate, and the possibility of rapid transmission is high. This is why the Centre was reluctant to organise travel for migrant workers. The weakness was that it did not supplement this with social safety measures, which left poor migrants without cash and food, and desperate to return. This forced the government to organise trains. Now that they are returning, the cases in their home states are rising. In Bihar, there is now a surge of cases. And this is the situation when a very large pool of migrants have not been tested or may well be asymptomatic. Odisha represents a similar story, with Ganjam district — a major migrant hub — now emerging as a hotspot. These states have low testing. They have inadequate quarantine facilities and anecdotal evidence suggests that enforcement of quarantine is weak. Their district health infrastructure is poor. India will now have to turn its focus east in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic.