The images, as often in India, are impressive: since Thursday March 26 and the announcement of the containment, bus and train stations have been taken by storm in major cities.
– فرقان أمین | furquan ameen (@furquansid) March 28, 2020
Some speak of the largest population movement in the country since 1947 and the partition of India and Pakistan where millions of people crossed paths on the road.
As there is no more work since the economy has stopped, many daily workers try to return to their families, to return to their region of origin, most often Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two poor provinces in the north of the country. India, with its billion 300 million inhabitants, has around 100 million migrant workers, more than the French population. In some major cities, these mass departure attempts sparked the riot because in fact public transport is at a standstill.
hundreds of migrant workers gathered in Payippadu, Kottayam .. They demand travel facilities to home states .. serious situation# 21daylockdown #lockdown # Covid_19 #Social_Distancing @manoramanews pic.twitter.com/BgisFiC3tZ
– Nisha Purushothaman (@ NishaPurushoth2) March 29, 2020
The province of Uttar Pradesh has requisitioned a thousand buses to allow all these people to return. But it’s a drop in the ocean. For the most part, these migrant workers therefore decided to return on foot, wearing a simple backpack with sometimes 500 or 600 km to travel. And they walk like that, along now deserted highways.
The Indian government has therefore decided to prevent these population movements: Sunday, March 29 in the afternoon, the central government of the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi asked for the closure of all the borders between provinces so that no one would pass. Not so simple to implement and not certain either that all the provinces comply. The aim of this decision is both to avoid a social explosion and also to stop the spread of the virus.
Because obviously, there is a very great risk of seeing the Covid-19 spread all over the country like wildfire, thanks to these huge population movements. At the border of some regions, police have been seen spraying migrants with disinfectant with fire hoses. The image shocked a lot on social media in India.
– Ikbal Majeed (@IkbalMajed) March 30, 2020
Officially, there have been relatively few cases so far: 1,071 people infected and 29 dead, according to the count on Monday, March 30. But this assessment is undoubtedly very undervalued: it is impossible to make a reliable count in a country like India. And above all, everything is brought together to constitute a time bomb. Containment may have been officially decreed, but it is almost impossible to apply, especially in the countless slums of large cities such as Mumbai or Delhi. Health infrastructures are very insufficient: India has ten times fewer beds per inhabitants than France, according to OECD statistics. This is the result of very little public investment in health. Finally, there are many risk factors, in particular undernourishment and starvation, which could kill as much or more than the virus, if economic activity does not resume.