India to help migrant workers leave cities, but COVID-19 cases mount

India to help migrant workers leave cities, but COVID-19 cases mount

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Noida
A woman wearing a face mask holds her child as they wait inside a bus taking them to their home state of Uttar Pradesh, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Noida, India, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

NEW DELHI: India will run more special trains and buses to allow millions of distressed migrant workers to leave big cities, the federal government said on Tuesday (May 19), as concerns grew in some states over rising infections from those returning home.

Workers are walking long distances to their homes in the countryside ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a vast lockdown in March to control the spread of coronavirus, shutting down all public transport.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Noida
People wait to board busses taking them home, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Noida, India, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

After initially trying to keep them in their cities of employment, authorities are now helping them get home.

The federal home ministry said it was working with states to run special trains and buses, and set up rest stops for those on foot.

READ: Rare drop in carbon emissions a potential catalyst for India's renewable energy ambitions

The move came as India's confirmed cases surged past 100,000 on Tuesday, outstripping China, where the virus emerged late last year.

The concern is that migrants, who are leaving coronavirus hotspots such as Mumbai, New Delhi and Ahmedabad, could be carrying the virus into the hinterland.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Noida
A family waits to board a bus taking them home, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Noida, India, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Noida
A man carries on the shoulders his physically challenged brother to a bus that will take them to their home state of Uttar Pradesh, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Noida, India, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Since early May, around 70 per cent of all coronavirus cases in the densely populated eastern state of Bihar have been linked to migrant workers, the state's top health official, Sanjay Kumar, said.

"The top priority is the people who are coming from Delhi because they have the highest percentage of positive cases," Kumar told Reuters.

READ: India's COVID-19 infections surge past 100,000, deaths top 3,000

In Odisha, also in the east, 851 out of 978 confirmed cases until Tuesday were returnees, mostly migrant workers, according to state data.

In the state's Ganjam district, more than 53,000 migrants have been screened and quarantined since early March, and another 200,000 are expected later this month, a health official said.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Noida
A girl sleeps on luggage as she waits with her family to get a bus to travel back to their home state of Uttar Pradesh, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Noida, India, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

The official said managing such numbers was a challenge.

"Things are under control but we could have handled it much better had people been brought in smaller numbers in phases," he said.

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Source: Reuters

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