India Facing a Coronavirus Crisis Greater Than Any Yet Seen by Other Nations
April 12, 2020 (EIRNS)—Millions of Indian migrant workers living in the country’s overcrowded cities are attempting to flee back to their home towns and villages, in the course of the government’s declaration of a 21-day lockdown, which is scheduled to expire on April 14. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided yesterday to extend that lockdown for another 30 days. That desperate flight is turning into a major health, social and political crisis—similar to what many less-developed countries worldwide are facing on a smaller scale.
India has 1.3 billion people, two-thirds of whom live in rural areas. When the lockdown was announced, masses of people fled the cities on crowded trains, buses and on foot over hundreds of miles. “Nine million people travel back and forth from cities to villages each year,” Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke told Reuters. “They will be carrying the virus from cities back to villages where the health infrastructure is even worse.”
Many hundreds of thousands did make it home already, but more than a million migrant workers were stopped and are being housed in some 31,000 relief camps set up by the state governments and others, according to Reuters. In many states, such as Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous, state officials have told village councils to stop the laborers from returning, and house them temporarily outside the town limits.
India’s rural health system is vastly inadequate, even before the COVID-19 wave hit. In Bihar state, almost 60% of government hospitals had 100 or fewer PPEs; some of them had none, according to Reuters. The federal government has placed orders for more than 17 million PPEs and 49,000 ventilators, but there is no certainty as to if and when they will arrive. “Government hospitals will run out of beds in rural India even if only 0.03% of the rural population is hit by the virus,” Professor Hanke stated.
Prime Minister Modi announced, after “extensive deliberations” via videoconference with chief ministers from India’s states, that there “seems to be a consensus” to continue the lockdown. The measure comes after several states reportedly urged Modi not to end the restrictions. Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal confirmed that the lockdown would be extended, stating that “India’s position is better than many developed countries because we started lockdown early.” He warned that “all gains would be lost” if the lockdown is lifted. Modi described the next 3-4 weeks as “critical” for India.