Returning migrants cause surge of Covid-19 cases in rural Bengal
According to a senior official of the West Bengal health department, 76 people tested positive for Covid-19 in rural areas of Howrah district; 67 in the rural areas of Malda; 46 in Hooghly district and 30 in Uttar Dinajpur over the past three days.Updated: May 27, 2020, 02:51 IST
The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has spread to Bengal’s rural areas with nearly 200 migrant workers who recently returned from other states testing positive for the infection, and the numbers likely to rise as more arrive.
The trend is similar to that noticed in Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, the other states where a large number of migrant workers have returned from more affluent states such as Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab.
According to a senior official of the West Bengal health department, 76 people tested positive for Covid-19 in rural areas of Howrah district; 67 in the rural areas of Malda; 46 in Hooghly district and 30 in Uttar Dinajpur over the past three days. Several cases have been reported from the rural areas of Birbhum, Murshidabad and North 24-Parganas district as well, he said, requesting anonymity.
Almost all of the rural residents who tested positive were migrant workers who returned from other states, especially Maharashtra, officials said. More than a dozen trains have entered Bengal so far, carrying migrant workers, students and tourists stranded in other states because of the lockdown imposed to curb the disease.
No Shramik Special trains entered Bengal between May 20 and 26 because of cyclone Amphan but more trains are likely to arrive from Maharashtra and other states over the next few days.
A spokesperson for southeastern railway said on Tuesday that the division had no word until 6 pm of any train from Maharashtra coming to Bengal on Wednesday.
According to a state government official who did not want to be named, the Bengal government urged Maharashtra to delay sending those trains because Bengal is yet to recover from the devastation caused by the cyclone, but to no avail.
“In my district, the spike is due to the migrant workers testing positive. All of them are asymptomatic. Besides, we are testing aggressively, with an average of over 3,000 tests per million populations. Tracing such asymptomatic patients and keeping them isolated is primary on our agenda,” said Malda district magistrate Rajarshi Mitra.
In Malda, nearly three dozen people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the remote Kaliachak area, bordering Bangladesh. All of them recently returned from other states, including Maharashtra.
In Hooghly district, 22 migrant workers tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday in the remote rural areas of Khanakul. Others are from Singur, Tarakeshwar, Jangippara, Chanditala and Dadpur – all rural areas in the Hooghly district. They returned from Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan, officials said.
In Nadia district, after 10 persons from rural areas tested positive in the past four days, Krishnanagar MP and Trinamool Congress (TMC) spokesperson Mahua Moitra said in a video message: “I urge migrant workers who have returned recently to strictly maintain home quarantine norms. I am getting many reports that a section of migrant workers are moving out of their homes in the evening and are socialising. Please stop doing this. Schools are being requisitioned and they would be turned into quarantine centres for the migrant workers soon.”
The spread of Covid-19 had so far been restricted to Kolkata and the urban areas of the neighbouring districts of Howrah, Hooghly, North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas. With this recent spread to new areas, only three of Bengal’s 23 districts now remain green zones where no case has been detected so far.
This has also resulted in a political blame-game. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and the Left are accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of not being prepared and of mismanagement.
“The Mamata Banerjee government has proved to be a total failure in containing Covid-19. It is due to their mismanagement that they are not ready to accept the sons of the soil, worsening the plight of the workers whowent to other states in search of work,” BJP state unit president Dilip Ghosh alleged.
Congress’ Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is an MP from Berhampore in West Bengal, echoed Ghosh. “On the one hand, the government has been apathetic towards migrant workers and on the other, proper arrangements have not been made for the testing of those who are arriving,” Chowdhury said.
TMC Rajya Sabha MP Santanu Sen tried to deflect the blame.
“Migrant workers are not being transported in the right way. The lockdown was unplanned, giving migrant workers no chance to return, and now the workers are being sent back in crowded trains. They are even using the middle berth in three-tier compartments. The Centre is responsible for creating this mess,” Sen said.
Chennai-based virologist T Jacob John said Bengal’s tally is expected to rise sharply over the coming days.Till May 25, Bengal recorded 3,816 cases of Covid-19.
“Infections through migrant labourers are central government’s gift to West Bengal. The spread of Covid-19 could not have been prevented and the hitting of the rural areas is inevitable. But it could have been delayed. The speed has been accelerated by the inflow of migrant workers in large numbers,” he said.