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Bengal scrambles to contain Covid-19 as migrants return

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed her anxiety over the influx of migrant workers during a press briefing on Thursday. She also upbraided the Railways for sending a large number of Shramik Special trains without consulting the state.

Written by Atri Mitra , Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata | Updated: May 30, 2020 10:19:50 am
Migrant workers, after returning from other states, make their way home, at Barasat in North 24 Parganas on Friday. (Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh )

Some districts that had largely remained unscathed by the novel coronavirus until a few days ago have been witnessing a surge in positive cases since migrant workers started streaming back to the state.

According to the state government, more than 250 migrant workers have tested positive in Malda, Murshidabad, North and South Dinajpur, Birbhum, East and West Burdwan, and other districts.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed her anxiety over the influx of migrant workers during a press briefing on Thursday. She also upbraided the Railways for sending a large number of Shramik Special trains without consulting the state.

For example, in Malda, North and South Dinajpur districts, almost all cases have linked to migrant workers. In Howrah, South and North 24 Parganas, and Hooghly, a majority of the cases have been connected with migrants.

A senior official of the state Health Department said more than 30 Shramik trains carrying 50,000 people had entered the state and more were on their way. “The number of positive cases is bound to increase with so many migrant workers returning to state,” said the official.

CM Banerjee has feared that the state health infrastructure, already running at capacity, may not be able to cope with the increasing number of migrants.

“We had almost controlled the spread. Lakhs of people, however, have started to come back. They are our people and will definitely come back. But what will we do if we find that 25 per cent of them are positive?” Banerjee had asked during a press briefing on Wednesday.

The West Bengal Government had already changed the protocol for migrant workers coming from ‘high-burden Covid states’ — Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Such migrants have to stay in a 14-day institutional quarantine. The government is also encouraging asymptomatic people to stay in their own house by strictly following social distancing and other norms.

Virologist Amitabha Nandy argued that migrant workers must be sent to institutional quarantine. “The government did not follow a particular system before allowing migrants to return to the state. There are several asymptomatic carriers among them. Moreover, instead of sending them to institutional quarantine they were sent for home isolation after their arrival. Many such people violated the isolation norms and spread the infection. This is the reason why there has been a spike,” said Nandy.

He favoured a national programme to contain the spread. “This can be done in three stages — information, education and communication,” he elaborated.

Doctor Kunal Sarkar criticised the Central government’s decision to send so many migrant labourers to the state all of a sudden. He also favoured institutional quarantine for migrant workers.

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “If Uttar Pradesh could handle so many migrants together, why can’t West Bengal? The Bengal government has been an utter failure in addressing Covid-19 and is now trying to shift the onus on the Centre.”

 

 

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