Covid-19 cases surge in 4 states after returning migrants test positive
A spurt in Covid-19 cases in Bihar, Odisha, Rajasthan and Jharkhand since May 1, has been linked to migrant workers who have returned from various cities across the country, state officials said, confirming the fear that rural India is no longer safe from the coronavirus pandemic that has affected 62750 people nationally so far. This realisation has also caused panic among health experts, as till now nearly 80% of the cases recorded have been seen in urban areas, where the infrastructure needed to treat a victim of a pandemic, is better.
Ever since a nationwide lockdown was announced starting March 25, migrant workers from across the country began to walk and cycle back to their home states even as a few states like Delhi deployed buses to ferry some of them home. Last week, the Indian Railway began running special trains for migrants separated from their families on account of the lockdown and stranded without any earnings. However, as they have begun to reach their home states and are being placed in quarantine centres, governments are grappling with the ramifications of the pandemic reaching rural areas.
According to the union health ministry, across India there is a shortfall of primary healthcare centres and community healthcare centres by 22% and 30% respectively. The largest shortfall is in states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh —incidentally, most of the migrant workers who travel the length and breadth of the country for work in factories and other industries, like construction, hail from these six states.
“Although Asha workers in rural areas monitor health, there is no quality infrastructure to deal with a pandemic like coronavirus. Around half of the health personnel posts in rural India are vacant,” said Amulya Nidhi, member of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a network of non-governmental organisations working in the area of public health.
New cases linked to migrants
Bihar, where 70% of the new cases since May 1 have been detected in migrant workers, has not as yet revealed where they have returned from. But Jharkhand and Odisha, which has seen a similar spurt in cases, have revealed that information. So far, Surat, a textile hub in Gujarat which has the second highest number of Covid cases in the state after Ahmedabad, has emerged as one of the biggest centres of Covid-19 for migrant workers
In Jharkhand, one-third of the 154 positive cases spread over 13 districts have been reported in the past week, around the time that migrant workers began to reach their home state. According to the state health department’s bulletin issued on Saturday morning, 20 confirmed cases were found in Garhwa district and two cases were detected in Koderma district. “All the 20 migrant labourers, aged between 18-40 years, had arrived in Garhwa on May 5. They were part of 51 passengers who came here by a bus from Surat. All of them are in quarantine,” said district’s said sub-divisional officer Kamleshwar Narayan. The quarantine centre is an under-construction jail. At present, it houses 158 migrants, a majority of whom have returned from Surat, Narayan said. “Results of samples collected on May 6-7 have not yet come,” he said, indicating that these numbers may well rise.
While Covid-19 positive migrant workers have been shifted to a dedicated hospital in the district, Koderma was reverted to an orange zone after two workers who arrived from Surat and Varanasi, tested positive.
All the 100 fresh Covid-19 cases reported in the last 24 hours in coastal Ganjam district of Odisha are returnees from Surat, said Ganjam district collector Vijay Aamrita Kulange. In other Covid-19 hotspots such as Jajpur, Bhubaneswar, Balasore, Bhadrak and Rourkela, most of those who have tested positive in the past fortnight are migrant workers who have returned from Surat.
In Bihar, 100 workers tested positive on Saturday taking the total number of cases to 589. “Going by our experience over the past 10 days, almost 60% to 70% of the tested samples which came positive were of people who came from outside the state,” said Bihar’s principal secretary (health) Sanjay Kumar. That’s 224 new cases already.
Health secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said that migrant workers housed in quarantine centres at Khagaria, Samastipur, Muzaffarpur and Begusarai have tested positive till now.
As the number of cases increase, state governments have decided to expand the period of quarantine for returnees to 28 days. “Returnees from other states will have to undergo an institutional quarantine of 21 days followed by home quarantine for next 7 days,” Odisha’s chief spokesperson on the state’s pandemic efforts, Subroto Bagchi, said.
On Saturday, Kulange said, Section 144 was imposed around all Covid-19 temporary medical camps/institutional quarantine centres where migrants have been quarantined after reports emerged that people had violated lockdown norms. In one quarantine centre of Sergarh block, where 80 migrant workers recently returned from Surat are housed, family members were seen delivering food and betel nut violating social distancing norms. The DM has issued orders that no one would be allowed to enter within 100 metres radius of these centres.
Numbers expected to swell
On Saturday, five special trains carrying migrants from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu set out for Odisha. They are expected to reach on Sunday. So far about 46,000 migrant workers have returned to Odisha and another 500,000 migrants are expected to arrive in the following week.
Since May 2, 78,706 migrant workers have reached their home state in Bihar through 69 special trains. Twelve trains carrying 14,245 migrant workers reached Bihar on Saturday; 14 more, carrying 17,054 workers, are lined up for Sunday, Anupam Kumar, secretary, information and public relations department said.
Officials in Rajasthan also said the majority of new cases were reported from the border districts of Gujarat, from where the migrant workers have returned. Since Friday, the government has sealed its border with Gujarat and other states.