While the country has crossed the psychological mark of one lakh COVID-19 cases, there are other indicators which should also cause concern and call for greater attention than in the past weeks. There are 10 other countries which have a greater caseload than India, but this should be cold comfort for many reasons. The incidence started late in India and the prolonged lockdown slowed down the spread of infection. It is estimated that the lockdown delayed the reaching of the one lakh-mark by about three weeks. The low number of tests is another reason for the relatively low number of known cases. There is bound to be a surge now with the easing of lockdown restrictions in many states, and the movement of people from foreign countries and between and within states. This has already caused a spurt in cases in most states in the past few days.
There are also reports that the migrant workers returning to their home states, after having been locked up in and near major cities for weeks, have high infection rates. In the latest tests on workers returning from Delhi to Bihar, over 26% of them tested positive. That is, one in four of them is carrying the virus. The rate is much higher than the 7% positive rate in Delhi. The case was the same for migrants who returned from other states. The rate ranged from 3% to 12% for returnees from various states, and it was always higher than the rates of positive cases in the state from where they went to the home state. The figures call for a study of the circumstances and methods of infection among migrant workers. There is a serious humanitarian issue of migrant workers stranded in many states wanting to go home, travelling in trucks or taking to the road. Some states are unwilling to accept them, and many workers are being stopped on the road because they are thought to be carriers of infection. The situation would not have arisen if arrangements had been made for them to go home before the lockdown was imposed or in its early stages or enough facilities had been provided to them so that they would not want to return.
Now, there is a serious problem to be addressed in states like Bihar and UP. Most migrants will go to villages where quarantine facilities are non-existent or inadequate. Social distancing is much more difficult in villages than in cities and public awareness is low. Health facilities are poor. The challenge is to ensure that the disease does not spread in the rural areas.