Millennium Post

Securing the hinterlands

On Monday, India's total Covid-19 count crossed 1 lakh. Stringent measures to restrict the spread of coronavirus delayed this figure significantly. A national lockdown in place since March 24 allowed India to prepare its health care sector whilst attempting to break the chain of transmission. Eight weeks of lockdown till now have marked various milestones in our battle against the virus. The doubling rate of cases has been consistently above 10 days. Recovery rate has continuously risen and stands at 38.7 per cent as of Tuesday. India has also fared better than other countries in the containment of coronavirus, averaging 7.1 cases per lakh population against the world average of 60. India's Covid-19 cases climbed from 100 to 1 lakh in 64 days which is significantly more than the developed nations of the west such as USA (25), Spain (30), Germany (35), Italy (36), France (39) and UK (42). The various aforementioned indicators specify how India's relative response to the pandemic has been well measured. However, a stark difference between all these nations and India is that they have crossed their peak — highest incdience of cases in a day — whereas India is yet to hit the same. India recorded 4,970 cases in 24 hours on Monday. While 2,350 were discharged in the same period, the incessant rise in daily tally is a point of concern. Relaxations provided in the third phase of the lockdown can be partially responsible for the rise which points to how the daily tally could rise even higher, given how relaxations have significantly increased in the fourth phase of the lockdown.

The rising tally also attributes to the reverse migration of workers happening across the country. Migrant workers heading home from red zones have a high probability of taking the virus into the rural hinterlands, thereby generating massive concern for authorities. Migrants returning home ought to be quarantined and tested before they can head to their respective homes. This way the virus can be prevented from spreading in rural areas where the health infrastructure is even more inadequate. The onus of quarantine falls on the district, block and ward officials under the supervision of local bodies. Since the frequency of returning migrants is high, the village quarantine centres will naturally be under pressure. This calls for efficient panchayat-level arrangements to house all the migrant workers and periodically test them. Those skipping mandatory quarantine must be traced and isolated for they carry the risk of spreading the virus locally. Even one slip can cost the local area dearly and thus the vigilance of officials at the village level is paramount.

Of the 835 samples taken from migrant workers who returned from Delhi, as many as 218 tested positive and this appears to be a sign of caution. Bihar accounts for one of the highest numbers of migrant workers. The National Migrant Information System launched by the government can help in keeping a record of the returning migrants and aid in contact tracing. The cumulative impact of reverse migration as well as a resumption of economic activities across states will undoubtedly result in a steep spike in cases. However, the expectation is that with a high recovery rate and well-prepared health care infrastructure, the caseload can be managed efficiently. While states have framed guidelines for the fourth phase of the lockdown, the onus of safety appears to be shifting to people who ought to maintain social distance and take precautions such as wearing masks and washing hands several times a day. Since urban settlements have high population density when compared to rural ones, the focus still remains on the former. But as said earlier, there cannot be any laxity in adhering by the issued health protocols. Securing rural hinterlands that have largely remained Covid-free is crucial.

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