India cases rise as millions of workers return home from cities

This article is more than 12 months old

MUMBAI: Indian states witnessing millions of migrant labourers returning from the big cities are recording rising coronavirus infections, officials said yesterday, fearing the virus could spread through villages where medical care is basic at best.

Officials from the home and railway ministries said at least 4.5 million workers had migrated home from economic hubs in the two months since Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a lockdown.

Yesterday, India had recorded a total of 145,380 infections and a death toll of 4,167.

The state of Bihar registered more than 160 infections on Monday, its highest daily rise. In the past 36 hours, more than 75 people tested positive in Odisha and 35 in three isolation homes in the desert state of Rajasthan.

The latest cases have forced the authorities to stretch limited testing resources.

"Dozens of labourers who travelled from New Delhi have tested positive. We are ensuring that no one enters their village with this infection," said senior health official Gaurav Sinha, in Bihar's capital Patna.

Economists said India's poorest migrant labourers have been the worst hit by the lockdown.

TV footage early in the crisis showed police beating migrant workers as they tried to board city buses to reach their villages.

On May 1, the government responded to rising opposition to the migrant crisis by allowing special trains to take workers back to their states. But millions are still waiting to reach home.

"The migrant crisis exposes the spatial fault lines of India's development," wrote assistant professor at Harvard University Sai Balakrishnan in the Mint newspaper. - REUTERS