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‘Humane’ treatment of migrants on Centre’s lips

Health ministry asked states to get counsellors, community leaders from across faiths to engage with the migrant workers
Migrant labourers walk to their respective villages following the lockdown in New Delhi.

G.S. Mudur   |   New Delhi   |   Published 01.04.20, 09:29 PM

The health ministry on Wednesday asked the states to “understand the issues of migrant workers” and provide them food, shelter and psychosocial support, the advisory coming a week into the lockdown as India’s coronavirus counts grew by 240 patients and 3 deaths.

The ministry released guidelines to address the psychosocial issues among the migrants and asked the states to get their police to “understand” the anxiety and fear among the group and deal with them in a “humane manner”.

Public health activists who have criticised the government for imposing an abrupt nationwide lockdown without adequate notice have welcomed the health ministry initiative but said this should have been thought of before the announcement of the 21-day lockdown.

Health secretary Preeti Sudan said in a letter to the chief secretaries of all the states that the migrant workers in relief camps should be provided adequate medical facilities in addition to food, drinking water and sanitation.

The ministry also asked the states to get counsellors or community leaders from across faiths to engage with the migrant workers.

“These things should have been thought about before the lockdown,” said Deepa V., a health activist with the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a network of physicians and health activists that had on Tuesday said the lockdown had been imposed without preparation.

“Did they not think about the implications it would have on the migrant workers and daily wage earners?” Deepa said.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers and day labourers, left unemployed and fearing hunger, had begun heading for their homes in the various states in the days after the lockdown began on March 25.

A senior home ministry official said on Wednesday that over 656,000 migrant workers were being given shelter and food in 21,000 relief camps across the states.

Health experts and researchers have expressed concern that the exodus could worsen the outbreak if those infected among the migrant workers carry the virus into areas with weak healthcare facilities.

India’s coronavirus counts recorded by the Union health ministry reached 1,637 patients scattered across 28 states and 38 deaths from 14 states on Wednesday.

Public health experts say the spike of 240 patients and 3 deaths — the largest in a day so far — is in line with what may be expected from a still growing outbreak.

Disease modelling experts have predicted that the lockdown will slow down the spread of the virus but its effects will likely take a few more days to become visible.

“The spikes in counts we’re observing now are among people who were probably infected over the past week or 14 days,” said an infectious disease specialist.

“We will have to wait and see how the numbers change in the days and weeks after the lockdown.”

The health ministry has for over the past eight weeks asked the states to enhance their preparedness for coronavirus patients through multiple measures, including the establishment of exclusive hospitals.

A health ministry official said on Wednesday that the railway ministry had offered to create 320,000 quarantine beds, including 80,000 isolation beds in train coaches.


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