As Coronavirus panic grows among India’s most vulnerable, thousands of migrant workers tried to flee the slums for their rural homes, by bus and even by foot, sparking fears they will import the virus to the countryside.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of India’s 45 million economic migrant workers began long, arduous journeys back to their rural villages. With India’s rail network temporarily shut, many had no choice but to try walking hundreds of miles home.
There was little reason to stay. Most had lost their jobs in the cities due to the lockdown, and the slums have the potential to feed the spread of the virus.
As the slum exodus began, on Saturday the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana arranged for hundreds of buses to ferry migrants home, causing chaotic scenes as thousands descended upon stations trying to claw their way onto buses.
On Sunday, however, Indian Prime Minister Modi urged all states to seal their borders to stop the virus being imported into rural areas. Officials are now scrambling to find millions of migrant workers who had already returned to small towns and villages across the country, in order to quarantine them for 14 days.
Researchers from the Center For Sustainability said last week that while the reproductive ratio for Covid-19 globally is between two and three, in India’s slums it could be 20% higher due to the dense living conditions.