Hyderabad: Overcrowding in shelter homes, railway stations, and moving together in groups have all increased the infection rate among guest workers to 8 per cent which will lead to a spike of another one lakh cases in the next 13 days across India.
The infection rate presently is 4 per cent with social distancing, and doubling time is 13 days. While the doubling time is expected to remain the same, the infection rate will see a spike.
Experts warn that if control measures are not put in place, in terms of organising and facilitating their movement, there is going to be a major rise in Covid-19 cases.
The major worry in this group is inability to practise social distancing. Where 10 to 15 people lived in a small space, now only three people are allowed to live in one room.
Ramesh Gupta, a labourer on a construction site who lived with 10 people in Balaji Nagar near Cherlappally, says, “We are now told that only three people can stay in a single room. The others have to vacate. Where can we go? We cannot afford the rent of Rs 4000 per month for three people. We are going back as it is not possible for us to live here anymore.”
Physical distancing is necessary to reduce infections but according to the new government guidelines, the minimum space requirement for one person has been increased from 50 square feet to 75 square feet. This reduces the existing space by 30 per cent even in shelter homes.
That is becoming a major reason for people to go back to their native place. Sources say a bigger exodus can be expected once the lockdown lifts further as even middle income families paying rent are contemplating shifting back to their native place for a year till the disease burden ebbs.
Dr Narsinga Reddy, vice-president of the Indian Medical Association, says it is inevitable that workers will go back to their native places but they should be helped to do so.
“Protecting their health and providing proper economic incentives is the right of guest labourers. They must be sent via proper transport systems and not be forced to compromise to find their way back home. In the present situation, not only has the risk level of the workers increased threefold, but also that of the health care system as the workers will have to be provided proper facilities and treatment options. This is a dual burden,” Dr Reddy explained.
The irony is that the state which is sending them back is checking them for fever etc but the places where they will be quarantined in their home states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha must provide them proper facilities and check their health status regularly.
Dr KK Aggarwal, president of the Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania, says guest workers are scared of being infected while in quarantine.
“They are scared seeing the situation in their working state as those infected were quarantined. What about their families? How will they survive when the main family member is quarantined? This has trigged the move from hotspots of cities to their native villages. Governments should have said that during quarantine, their families will be supported. If they still do that, many of them will stay back,” Dr Aggarwal said.
The problem faced by guest workers is the continuous extension of the lockdown, with no reprieve, and no clarity on when things will open up. Even with things are slowly opening up, they are not sure they will be safe from infection in cities.