Covid-19: What you need to know today
How many migrants have moved back home during the lockdown? The Solicitor General of India says 9.1 million across India; Uttar Pradesh says it has seen the return of 1.8 million; and Bihar says 1 million. There are more waiting to return home – jobless, in some cases, after the units where they were working shut down during the lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease, and homeless, in some others, after being turned out by landlords.
There have been sporadic news reports of how the return of migrants has caused a spike in cases in some states. In Bihar for instance, around 1,900 of the roughly 3,010 cases (all case numbers are as of Wednesday night) in the state involve migrant workers who returned to the state since May 1. And in Assam, around 700 of the roughly 800 cases are of migrants who returned to the state since May 4. This was always going to be a problem, but how big a one is it?
The correct answer to that would be: currently, not very big.
Here’s why: Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are the Big Six of India’s Covid-19 charts. The numbers in some have waxed and then waned (or made to wane). Others continue to see a lot of cases. Between May 1 and May 27, the proportion of cases in all other states (states other than the Big Six) has actually dipped – from 25.2% to 23.4%. It touched a low of 20.7% on May 22 and has since inched up. Its peak during this period was 25.5% on May 3.
The trend is similar for deaths.
In the same period, the proportion of deaths in states outside the Big Six has changed from 17.3% to 15.7%. It peaked at 17.4% on May 10.
The numbers are skewed, of course – by Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi, when it comes to the number of cases, and Maharashtra and Gujarat when it comes to the number of deaths – but current evidence would indicate that the great Indian hinterland is still relatively safe.
I say relatively because the number of cases in absolute terms in states that have received migrants has increased. For instance, the number of cases in Bihar rose from 932 on May 13 to 1607 on May 20 to 3036 on May 27. The corresponding numbers for Assam were 80, 186, and 781. And Uttar Pradesh, 3758, 5175, and 6991. But cases in the rest of the country also increased in this period. Thus, the contribution of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Assam – all states which send a lot of migrant workers out to other parts of India – to the total number of cases in the country has barely changed between May 1 and May 27. It was 10.5% on May 1, and 10.8% on May 27.
Deaths present a slightly different picture. The contribution of these six states to total deaths rose from 7.4% on May 1 to 9.6% on May 27 (it touched 10% in between). That is still not a significant enough jump, though.
It’s possible that a similar analysis done three weeks from now will throw up very different results. Hindustan Times will continue to track these numbers, including details provided by state health departments on the number of returning migrant workers testing positive – all the numbers I have used here are from the database maintained by the HT newsroom’s Covid-19 numbers guy Jamie Mullick – and revisit them in mid-June.
For now, the numbers clearly show that the focus of containment and mitigation efforts have to remain the Big Six, and within them, cities and districts that are hot spots.