As migrants return, states guard against Covid surge
States receiving migrant labourers from across India are gearing up for a massive challenge: a spurt in Covid-19 cases. And, some states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, have already unveiled unprecedented steps.
The Bihar government has made a 21-day quarantine mandatory for all workers and has cancelled the leave of all doctors and health workers. Odisha, which will test all workers for Covid-19 after a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, has instructed all community centres to remain open around the clock, and has decided to create 4,200 new isolation beds.
Like most other states, Uttar Pradesh has made a 14-day quarantine mandatory, after which each family will get food grains for 15 days.
The state has created special isolation wards at district hospitals. Jharkhand will be providing cooked meals to workers during the 15-day quarantine period and free rations for their families.
On Friday, Indian railways ran special trains, called Shramik, to take migrant workers back to their villages. More trains took back workers from at least 10 states on Saturday. However, the return of migrant workers has created a fear of Covid-19 cases increasing.
At least seven migrant workers, who returned to Uttar Pradesh, have tested positive. In just one district of Bihar, 13 migrant workers have tested positive. In Odisha, 20 workers, who returned from Bengal, have tested positive.
Between April 25 and May 1, when many workers returned, Bihar reported 243 new cases, which is almost 50% of the 475 cases in the state. Officials said many of the new cases reported in the second phase of the lockdown were migrants, who somehow managed to reach Bihar, and spread infections to new areas.
Many of the new cases have been reported from districts, such as Madhubani, Darbhanga, Sitamarhi and Purnea, which were previously free of Covid-19 cases. Madhubani district magistrate, Dr Nilesh Ramchandra Deor, said all the 13 positive cases are of migrants from Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow, while the origin of the earlier five cases was traced to a woman who came by car from Delhi.
‘The emerging trend of new cases shows the challenging phase for the state may have just begun with more and more people returning to their native places and we have to be prepared for it,’ said a senior official of the government, who was not willing to be named.
The state government has cancelled leaves of doctors, health officials and contractual employees in the health department till May 31. All medical facilities have been asked to remain prepared for the admissions of a large number of cases, an official said.
In Uttar Pradesh, seven daily wage workers, who returned from Maharashtra, tested positive for Covid-19. They have been put in government quarantine in Basti district. District magistrate, Ashutosh Niranjan, said that the workers had travelled in state-run buses from Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh was one of the first states to bring back stranded workers by buses.
The state government officials said about a million migrants, who are expected to return, will be kept at the district and panchayat quarantine centres. The officials also said that additional isolation beds have been created at the district level, should there be a spurt in cases. ‘Special attention is being paid to workers coming back from Maharashtra, which has the highest number of cases in India,’ said a senior UP government official.
The state first Shramik train, carrying 847 migrants, will reach Lucknow’s Charbagh railway station on Sunday morning from Nashik. Divisional railway manager (DRM), Lucknow division, NR Sanjay Tripathi, said, ‘We have also made arrangements at the station to strictly ensure social distancing.’ Once the migrant labourers go through the thermal scanning, the district wise segregation will be done and they will be taken to buses. ‘We have arranged 65 buses for them,’ said Mukesh Meshram, divisional commissioner, Lucknow.
In Odisha, about 20 workers who returned from West Bengal, have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past few days in Ganjam and other districts. ‘More than half of the 149 Covid-19 cases in Odisha have travel history of hotspots in West Bengal,’ said Odisha chief secretary, Asit Tripathy. On Friday, two new cases were reported from Bolangir district with a travel history to Tamil Nadu.
About 325 workers from Surat in Gujarat, who hired seven buses to return, are in quarantine. Around 1,200 workers from Kerala, who reached Odisha on Saturday morning, have been sent to quarantine centres in their respective districts, the chief secretary said. Odisha has quarantined returned workers in 7000-odd temporary medical centres, with 2.6 lakh beds, in the grampanchayats.
Four buses carrying more than 120 workers left for West Bengal from Dumka district on Friday. These buses were supposed to bring over 100 Jharkhand workers from 24-Pargana South, Howrah, Kolkata and Malda.
‘The buses were stopped at Bengal border and the officials there said that they have not received any such order to allow buses of other states. So, the buses were asked to return,’ said Dumka deputy commissioner Rajeshwari B.
Dhanbad deputy commissioner (DC), Amit Kumar, said the state is in talks with officials of the West Bengal government but they are not allowing buses to enter border. ‘So, we have decided to send out buses to other neighbouring states, excluding Bengal, to bring back our migrant workers,’ he said.
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