Rajat Sharma

With Coronavirus spreading in UP, Bihar, Centre now faces a Catch-22 situation on return of migrants

AKB2610The COVID-19 pandemic surge continues with 5,864 new cases reported on Thursday bringing the total to 1,16,744 cases across India. 48,258 patients have recovered so far.

This is the fifth daily peak recorded in the past six days, and 148 deaths were reported on a single day, bringing the death toll to 3,583. The danger is staring in the face with reports of a surge in new cases from UP and Bihar, where lakhs of migrant workers have landed. In UP alone, nearly 20 lakh migrants have returned so far, and another 10 lakhs are on their way.

UP recorded 313 and Bihar recorded 341 fresh cases on Thursday and most of them were due to migrants who have returned. According to Bihar health department, so far 999 migrants have tested positive since May 5, which is more than half of the total number of cases (roughly 1,800) in Bihar. Out of these migrants, 296 came from Delhi, 253 from Maharashtra and 180 returned from Gujarat.

Similarly, in Rajasthan, 1,099 migrant workers have been found carrying the virus, while 1,230 migrants in UP have been found Corona positive.

The virus has now spread far and wide in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Haryana, due to migrants. In many of the cases, the migrants did not know that they were carrying the virus. The result: districts which were declared green zones are now being declared as red zones.

These are scary trends and if the present rate of addition of new cases remains at the 5,500-level, the total number of Coronavirus cases in India may surely touch two lakh by June.

Authorities are facing a fresh problem while ferrying migrants. Many of the migrants returning home in special trains are pulling alarm chains and getting off from their coaches, to avoid being quarantined.

In my prime time show ‘AajKi Baat’ on Thursday night, we showed how hundreds of migrants pulled the alarm chain of a Katihar-bound special train carrying 1,200 workers at Khagaria station, and got off the train. Khagaria is 135 km away from Katihar and it’s a three and a half hour travel. In order to avoid screening and 14 days quarantine in Katihar, the migrants pulled the chain and got off the special train.

With more than 200 special trains ferrying migrants to their home states, the number of workers travelling on foot has considerably declined.

Nearly 1,40,000 migrants returned to Bihar on Thursday in 85 special trains. 87 more trains will run on Friday carrying 1,43,500 workers to Bihar. Just imagine the massive arrangements that the state government has to make to put these migrants in quarantine. There are 10,500 quarantine centres in Bihar housing more than seven lakh migrants. More quarantine centres are being set up to cope with the fresh influx.

The situation is scarier in Uttar Pradesh. Till now, 1,100 special trains were run carrying 16 lakh migrants to UP. Along with them, came the virus. Till Thursday, 1,230 migrants have been found positive in UP.

Take the example of Barabanki. During Lockdown-3, no fresh case was detected in this district and it was declared a green zone, but when the migrants started returning, the district has now 125 COVID-19 patients, out of which 95 were detected on a single day. Out of this, 49 cases related to migrant workers, and the rest were their immediate contacts.

Similarly 63 COVID-19 cases were reported from Siddharthnagar, 47 in Jaunpur, 45 in Rampur, 42 in Bahraich, 35 in Lakhimpur, 30 each in Azamgarh and Balrampur, 28 in Varanasi, 27 in Sambhal, 24 in Gonda, and 20 in Hardoi districts. Most of these cases relate to migrants who have returned.

More than 100 COVID-19 cases have been reported from Chandauli, Sitapur, Mainpuri, Sonbhadra, Bijnor, Unnao, Bulandshahr, Bareilly, Kushinagar, Bhadohi and Kasganj. The pandemic is spreading in all these districts and health care officials are having a tough time in stemming the spread.

The government is now facing a Catch-22 situation. If the migrants are prevented from leaving metros, they will march out on foot with their family in tow and walk hundreds of kilometres, and if special trains are run to ferry them to their home states, they will be spreading the virus in places which were hitherto untouched by the virus.

On May 1, when the first special trains rolled out from Telangana and Kerala, all the migrants were screened and made to sit inside railway coaches maintaining social distance norms. RPF personnel were provided in every coach to keep a watch and the trains were running non-stop, with food already provided on board.

Later, when the rush of special trains began, it was difficult to continue with this strict protocol. Migrants started pulling alarm chain to get off the train before reaching their destinations.

In the present situation, the number of special trains cannot be reduced, nor can the migrants be allowed to enter their villages without being quarantined. Local police and district authorities have a huge task on their hands right now. Even if a handful of migrants sneak back to the confines of their homes carrying the virus, it will be a tough time for authorities to do contact tracing.

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