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50% of COVID-19 cases in Bihar are now returning migrants

By M I KHAN
May 23, 2020 09:43 IST
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What worries state officials is that Bihar expects to receive more than 1 million migrant workers by the end of May, reports M I Khan.

IMAGE: Migrants arrive at the Habibganj railway station in Bhopal to board a special train to Bihar. Photograph: PTI Photo

Thousands of migrant workers returning to Bihar from other cities have mainly contributed to more than 50 per cent of the total coronavirus positive cases in the state in the last few days, state officials say.

On Tuesday, May 12, Bihar reported its biggest single day spike of 211 COVID-19 cases, which pushed the total tally of cases to 1,987.

Health officials confirmed that 200 of the 211 cases were migrant workers who had returned home, which is now causing officials to worry.

Health officials say that the homecoming of thousands of workers to Bihar in the last 20 days by the specially-run Shramik trains has led to an unexpected spike in positive cases, which is now creating a huge challenge for Nitish Kumar's government.

In response to the situation, the government has decided to scale up testing to 10,000 per day, against the present average daily testing of 1,900 to 2,000 samples.

 

Bihar Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said the sudden rise of cases in the state is related to the arrival of migrants in large numbers.

So far, 1,086 migrants, who had returned home between May 3 and May 21, have tested positive during random sampling.

"More than 7 lakh migrant workers have returned home from other states, of whom 1,086 have tested positive. Of them, 296 returned from Delhi, 253 from Maharashtra, 180 from Gujarat, 66 from Haryana and 58 from West Bengal," says Singh.

According to Singh, there is nothing to hide as the data confirms that the return of migrant workers has increased the rate of positive cases in the state.

Till May 9, only 96 migrant workers had tested positive for coronavirus of the 78,706 who had officially reached Bihar by special trains.

Bihar has so far tested more than 54,000 samples at its seven government-run laboratories and over half a dozen testing facility centres.

Bihar's testing rate compared to the national level and other neighbouring states is the lowest till date.

Keeping this in view, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar directed the health department to scale up testing.

On Thursday, May 21, Nitish Kumar asked officials to screen all migrant workers on the same line as the pulse polio campaign, in order to combat the spread of the deadly virus.

What is worrying state officials is that Bihar expects to receive more than 10 lakh migrant workers by the end of May.

About 140,250 migrants reached Bihar on Thursday, May 21, by 85 special trains.

143,550 migrant workers arrived in the state on Friday, May 22,) by 87 special trains.

The maximum number of 20 trains reached Bihar on May 22 from Gujarat -- the highest in one day from any state.

As per the latest advertisement issued by the state disaster management department, more than 9 lakh migrant workers would arrive in the next week in over 509 special trains and over 1,000 buses to Bihar from outside states -- mainly Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

The first batch of migrant workers arrived in Bihar on May 2 by a special train from Jaipur. Later, the number of special trains carrying migrant workers increased.

There are reports that migrant workers continue to arrive in the state by roads as well, including taking long journeys on foot, cycling, by buses, trucks and other vehicles.

Early in May, the state government officially said on the basis of calls received on the helpline that there were over 28 lakh stranded migrant workers from the state across the country. Some experts estimate that the number would be between 35 lakh and 40 lakh.

However, last week the state government received information from over 8,000 panchayats across the state that about 20 lakh migrant workers from outside are likely to reach Bihar after May 14.

This figure was based on the list of possible migrant workers who are likely to return home, collected from each panchayat by elected village body representatives.

Till May 20, the state government had no official data of how many workers from Bihar are employed outside the state.

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M I KHAN in Patna
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