Hundreds of migrant workers waiting at the Delhi border for buses to carry them home in Uttar Pradesh, on March 28, 2020 as the 21-day lockdown to contain the coronavirus has left them without any income, food or shelter.
Hundreds of migrant workers waiting at the Delhi border for buses to carry them home in Uttar Pradesh, on March 28, 2020 as the 21-day lockdown to contain the coronavirus has left them without any income, food or shelter.

India reports six more COVID deaths, 61 new cases as migrant workers continue long march home

By Sonny Abraham/NetIndian News Network

New Delhi, March 29, 2020

India today reported six more deaths due to coronavirus (COVID-19), taking the toll to 25, and 61 new cases of infection since last night, raising the total to 979 so far, even as thousands of migrant workers continued their long march home from the major cities to their home towns in view of the nationwide lockdown imposed to contain the pandemic.

While some state governments have started arranging buses to transport the workers, the crowds are much larger and hundreds of them are simply opting to walk the hundreds of kilometres to their towns and villages in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and so on.

Meanwhile, videos on television news channels and social media continued to draw the nation's and the government's attention to the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding.

The workers have decided to leave for home because the 21-day lockdown imposed from March 25, and the resultant closure of thousands of small and big businesses, has left them without jobs and without money to pay rent or buy food.

Many of those trudging on the highways were accompanied by their families, including women, young children and aged parents.

The torturous journeys of such workers was underlined by the collapse and death yesterday of a 39-year-old man on the highway near Agra. He had walked some 200 km from Delhi on his way to his home in Morena in Madhya Pradesh.

The Centre has advised the States to take steps to help the workers stay at their place of work and also to make arrangements to look after those who had decided to return to their home towns and villages.

In Delhi, the state government arranged to provide food to some four lakh people yesterday but this was not enough to persuade the workers to stay back, with most of them unable to pay rent for their accommodation in the absence of their daily income.

Meanwhile, fresh cases of coronavirus infection and deaths continued to be reported from different parts of the country.

The new deaths reported since yesterday were in Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana.

Of the total 25 deaths, there were six in Maharashtra, four in Gujarat, three in Karnataka, two each in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh and one each in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and West Bengal, figures put out by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare this morning showed.

The total number of 979 cases includes the 25 deaths and 87 patients who have been cured and discharged from hospitals, which meant there were 867 active cases of COVID-19 in the country as of this morning. The number included 931 Indians and 48 foreigners.

Of the total 979 cases, Maharashtra accounted for the highest number with 186, followed by 182 in Kerala, 76 in Karnataka, 66 in Telangana, 55 in Uttar Pradesh, 54 in Rajasthan, 53 in Gujarat, 42 in Tamil Nadu, 39 in Delhi, 38 in Punjab, 33 in Haryana, 31 in Jammu & Kashmir, 30 in Madhya Pradesh, 17 in West Bengal, 14 in Andhra Pradesh, 13 in Ladakh, nine each in Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Bihar, eight in Chandigarh, six each in Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, three each in Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha, and one each in Manipur, Mizoram and Puducherry.

Meanwhile, the Central and State Governments, which have their hands full with the task of staving off the pandemic, now have an equally big challenge in handling the exodus of the workers and also ensuring that they do not become carriers of the virus.

In Uttar Pradesh, orders have been issued to quarantine for two weeks the nearly one lakh workers who have returned to the state in recent days.

As directed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who reviewed the country's preparedness to contain the spread of COVID-19 here on Saturay, committed all support to migrant workers during the lockdown period.

The Union Home Secretary has again written to States requesting them to immediately set up relief camps for migrant workers and pilgrims who are returning to their domicile states or trying to do so during this lockdown period. States have been advised to give wide publicity and awareness, using public address systems, technology and by utilising the services of volunteers and NGOs, to give precise information on the location of the relief camps and the facilities being made available as also the relief package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana and measures being taken by the State Government.

States have been also advised to set up relief camps along the highways for people returning home, including setting up of tented accommodation to ensure that these persons will stay in the relief camps till the lockdown orders are in place. The shelters are to be organised, keeping in view various precautions including social distancing, with adequate medical check-up drives to identify and separate cases requiring quarantine or hospitalisation, an official press release said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has also authorised all States to use the State Disaster Response Fund for providing such relief measures.

Yesterday, too, the Union Home Secretary had written to all States and Union Territories to take immediate steps to provide adequate support, including food and shelter, to migrant agricultural labourers, industrial workers and other unorganized sector workers during the lockdown.

They were advised to take steps to ensure that students, working women from other States, and so on are also allowed to continue in their existing accommodation.

The advisory suggested that in order to mitigate the situation for unorganized sector workers, particularly stranded migrant workers, States/UTs need to explore measures by involving various agencies, including NGOs, to provide food and shelter with basic amenities like clean drinking water, sanitation, and so on.

MHA has also advised that States/ UTs need to ensure that hotels, rented accommodations, hostels etc., continue to remain functional and delivery of essential items is streamlined, so that students, working women hostel inmates etc. are allowed to continue in existing facilities, while observing precautions.

People in different parts of the country continued to face some difficulties in getting supplies of food items, including vegetables, and medicines. The government is making efforts to ensure that such items are available through the home delivery systems of e-commerce marketplaces, but such companies have paused deliveries in view of the restrictions in movement. Others reported huge backlogs and, therefore, delayed delivery slots.

As a result of the lockdown across the country, most cities and towns across India continue to wear a deserted look, with hardly any traffic on the roads. In many places, the police were filing complaints against violators of the restrictions and even wielding the stick and using other harsh measures against some of them.

All flights into and from India as well as all domestic flights are banned. All train services, suburban rail services, metro rail services and bus services in the entire country have come to a halt. All states have sealed their borders with neighbouring states.

Essential services have been exempted from the lockdown in all the states.

Schools and colleges, cinemas and shopping malls have been closed for many days now and all offices -- government, public sector and private sector -- are also now closed, except for those employees required to maintain essential services.

Most offices have told their employees to work from home and many schools and colleges are offering learning-from-home options for their students.

There continue to instances of people violating the lockdown and ignoring the calls for social distancing. The Government has strictly advised people, except those providing essential services, to remain indoors for the next few weeks.

Residential colonies in cities have also imposed restrictions on entry of people, including visitors, domestic helps, drivers and so on. Some colonies have temporarily barred the delivery of newspapers. Many newspapers are trying to hold on to their readers by popularising their e-papers and websites.

The outbreak which began in December in China, where it has claimed 3,295 lives, has spread to more than 200 countries, territories and areas around the world and claimed more than 23,500 lives worldwide so far.