As migrant workers return, state govts gear up to control Covid-19 spread
The return of the migrant workers has been cited among the reasons for the spike in the Covid-19 cases in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar even though they are still lesser than those in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.
West Bengal has reported the fastest increase in the Covid-19 cases since June 1 followed by Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar, according to the data from the state health departments. These states have received the maximum number of migrant workers left jobless by the Covid-19 lockdown in industrial states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka.
The Centre on May 30 released details of the first of a three-phase plan - Unlock 1.0 - to lift stringent restrictions imposed over two months ago to stop the spread of the Covid-19 and allowed unrestricted interstate movement from June 1.
According to an affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court, around 10 million migrant workers had returned to the states like Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand on special Shramik trains till the first week of June from May 1, when the special railway services were started.
The return of the migrant workers has been cited among the reasons for the spike in the Covid cases in these states even though they are still lesser than those in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.
As the lockdown restrictions have been eased since June 1, the increase in Covid cases is much higher in the states that received a large number of migrant workers than Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
In the first eight days of June, West Bengal recorded about 3,300 new cases as compared to 1,042 in the last eight days of May. The cases in Jharkhand increased from 360 to 610 in the last eight days of May. In the first eight days of June, the cases went up to 1,290 there. Similarly, Covid cases in Odisha increased to 2,994 from 1,948 on May 31. The number was 1,335 on May 24.
The pace of increase in cases in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh from June 1 to June 8 (between 8 to 6%) was not as high as in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha but was higher than the western states.
“The cases have increased because of the migrant workers, who account for 72% of the total cases. In fact, their contribution has increased from about 66% in last week of May to 72% now,” said Bihar’s health secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh. He added two million migrants have arrived in the state on 1,491 Shramik Special trains between May 3 and June 5.
A Madhya Pradesh health department official, who did not want to be named, said, “Though the recovery rate has gone up to more than 65%, there is no reduction in the number of positive cases being reported daily....” He added that this was even as major cities like Bhopal, Indore and Jabalpur are still under lockdown.
Jharkhand health secretary Nitin Kulkarni said a large number of untested samples had piled up (over 13,000 as on June 1). “Their results started coming in the first week of June, a reason for the increase in the cases.”
Dr DK Singh, director of government-run Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, Ranchi, said, “Only a target group [in the quarantine centres] are being tested. Samples are not coming from the community as a whole. So it is difficult to assess the actual effect of unlock-1 when movements within the cities, towns and villages started.”
Odisha government officials said over the last 15 days, 80% of 1,557 cases have been detected in quarantine centres housing migrant workers. “What is worrying is that new cases have emerged from rural areas of Odisha,” said a health official on condition of anonymity.
In Bengal, ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) blamed the Centre for the spike from 3,816 cases on May 25 to 8,613 on June 8. “I would like to ask the Union government, who runs the Indian Railways? Who packed the migrant workers in the trains like cattle?” TMC spokesman Derek O’Brien said.
Bharatiya Janata Party state unit chief, Dalip Ghosh, accused the state government of mismanagement and fudging data to hide the real picture. “The situation is really bad due to the failure of the TMC government.”