Coronavirus: Positive cases near 1,000-mark; Govt orders sealing of state, district borders to check mass infection

PTI New Delhi | Updated on March 29, 2020

A policewoman stands guard at Kaushambi as migrants wait to board a bus to their respective villages, during a nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, in Ghaziabad, Sunday, March 29, 2020. Hundreds of migrant workers from Delhi, Haryana and even Punjab reached Anand Vihar, Ghazipur and Ghaziabad's Lal Kuan area after taking arduous treks of many kilometers on foot to take buses to their villages.   -  PTI

The central government on Sunday ordered the sealing of state and district borders across the country in a bid to stop community transmission of coronavirus by migrant workers and warned that violators face 14-day quarantine. But thousands continued to march on highways as the nationwide positive cases neared 1000 with at least 25 dead.

As the 21-day lockdown entered its 5th day, the exodus of migrant workers from big cities continued unabated, desperate to return to their villages after being left jobless and many of them without food or shelter.

Charitable organisations, volunteers, religious institutions and government bodies including Railway Protection Force fed tens of thousands of people across the nation, but many more remained outside the safety net.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio broadcast, sought the nation’s forgiveness for the hardships caused by the stringent nationwide lockdown, saying it was necessary because the country was fighting a battle between life and death.

He, however, expressed confidence that “we will definitely win the battle” against the coronavirus menace and praised the front-line workers in this fight against as well as countless workers delivering the essential services.

The total number of positive cases rose by 106 in the last 24 hours and six deaths reported in this period, according to official figures. The new cases, which included a SpiceJet pilot with no history of international travel, were reported from the national capital’s satellite town Noida, Bihar and Maharashtra, among other states.

A migrant worker reportedly died of a heart attack in Uttar Pradesh after walking more than 200 km on the way to his hometown in Madhya Pradesh from Delhi.

A panic-like situation emerged due to mass exodus of migrant workers from various parts of the country, including the national capital, Maharashtra and Kerala, where thousands of people came out of relief camps and demanded being allowed to go to their homes.

“People are talking about the danger of some virus which can kill all of us. I don’t understand all these. As a mother, I am pained when I cannot feed my children. No one is there to help. All are equally worried about their lives,” Savitri, 30, a New Delhi slum dweller, told PTI as she walked along the Mathura Highway carrying her belongings on her head.

“We will die of hunger before any disease if we stay here,” she said, determined to walk 400 km to her village in Uttar Pradesh’s Kannauj district.

Hundreds of migrant workers also gathered again near the Anand Vihar terminus near the Delhi-UP border, hoping to board buses to their villages but they were turned back by police. A large number were seeking to walk in groups on highways and even on railway tracks.

Concerned over such movements causing the risk of a community spread, the Centre asked state governments and Union Territory administrations to effectively seal all state and district borders and warned that those violating the curbs would be sent to 14-day quarantine in government facilities.

During a video conference with chief secretaries and DGPs, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla asked them to ensure that there is no movement of people across cities or on highways as the lockdown continues.

“There has been a movement of migrant workers in some parts of the country. Directions were issued that district and state borders should be effectively sealed,” an official statement said.

States were directed to ensure that there is no movement of people across cities or on highways, and there should be strict implementation of the lockdown.

Only the movement of goods and those involved in the delivery of essential services is allowed during the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Modi on March 24.

States have also been told to ensure timely payment of wages to labourers at their place of work during the period of lockdown without any cut.

House rent should not be demanded from the labourers for this period. Action should be taken against those who are asking labourers or students to vacate the premises, the government statement said.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, among other state leaders, asked migrant workers in their respective states stay put and promised them food and other facilities.

The Indian Railways said it will now run special trains of parcel vans to ferry essential commodities.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also wrote to Modi, saying the sudden lockdown has created immense “panic” and “confusion”. He called for steps other than a total lockdown announced by some developed nations to tackle the deadly disease.

Gandhi said the number of poor people in India who are dependent on a daily income is too large to unilaterally shut down all economic activities in the wake of the pandemic.

“The consequences of a complete economic shut down will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from COVID-19,” he feared.

PM gets first-hand feedback

The Prime Minister’s Office said Modi is interacting with over 200 people daily to get first-hand feedback on India’s fight against the coronavirus crisis. These include phone calls to governors, chief ministers and state health ministers, as also with doctors, nurses, health workers and sanitation staff in various parts of the country.

Several ministers, as also various government departments, announced donations towards the coronavirus fight, while several corporates also announced their own contributions to relief funds. The government said such contributions by companies would qualify as their statutory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) spending.

While the total number of deaths in India is still low compared to many other countries, there are widespread concerns including among the experts that the count may see a sudden spike and social distancing remains the only way to prevent community spread.

Globally, more than 30,000 people have died with more than 20,000 in Europe itself, while Spain and Italy have reported more than 800 deaths in a day. Nearly one-third of the world population is under lockdown to check the spread of this virus with the jobs, manufacturing and all economic activities coming to almost a standstill.

Ironically, authorities in China’s Wuhan, from where this deadly virus is said to have begun before eventually becoming a worldwide crisis with a ‘pandemic’ declaration, began steps towards partial re-opening of the city after more than two months of near-total isolation for its 11 million people.

Published on March 29, 2020

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