Migrant workers walking home along the railway tracks. Image credit: Al Jazeera
Migrant workers walking home along the railway tracks. Image credit: Al Jazeera

Lockdown without addressing immediate needs of the migrants and the poor on a real-time basis has caused a spurt in COVID-19 cases in the northeast from 61 cases on May 1 to 1,689 positive cases on May 31, said a study report by Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG).

The report- COVID-19 Lockdown: The Impact of Singapore Syndrome in India’s Dormitories– also said that spurt in such cases in Bihar with migrants returning home, are carrying the disease with 2,433 returnee migrants in the state tested COVID positive as on May 30.

The report released on Monday stated that during the lockdown from March 24 to May 31, at least 251 migrant workers including 170 persons in other transports and 81 persons in Shramik trains had died while trying to return home to escape instant joblessness, homelessness and hunger in the metropolis.

“Migrants died in road accidents, forest fire, due to exhaustion, illness, negligence in relief camps etc while the Shramik trains have turned into living hell-holes without water, food and constantly running late without fans during scorching Indian summer,” the report said.

“Lockdown failed to contain community transmission of COVID-19, which is reflected from 564 confirmed cases with 10 deaths on March 24 to 182,142 confirmed cases with 5,164 deaths as on May 31,” said RRAG director Suhas Chakma.

“Singapore syndrome is all about the faster spread of COVID-19 cases during the lockdown in situations where maintaining social distancing is impossible like the cramped dormitories housing the foreign migrant workers in Singapore,” he further said.

“By March 5, Singapore was hailed being as the model country tackling COVID-19 but by May 27, it not only became the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South East Asia despite the lockdown from April 7 to June 1 but out of the total 32,417 COVID-19 cases in the country, a whopping 30,623 or 94.5 per cent were dormitory cases,” he added.

The report said that places like Dharavi slum in Mumbai are all but big dormitories far worse than the dormitories of Singapore. Infections of 15 per cent of the total foreign workers i.e. about 31,263 out of the total 200,000 foreigner workers of Singapore by May 27 are indicative of the spread of the virus in Indian dormitories.

On May 28, the government of India claimed before the Supreme Court to have transported 9.1 million migrants i.e. 5 million by 3,700 Shramik trains and about 4.1 million by road transport in between May 1 to 27.

“India’s lockdown has caused the largest internal displacement ever recorded in history,” Chakma said.

“It exposed the migrants to a colossal humanitarian crisis not only because of the failure of the government but also the Supreme Court to ensure the right to life and liberty, the right to freedom of movement to return home with safety and dignity as guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1) and 21 of the Constitution and enforce Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005,” Chakma added.

Recommending the Centre to work out a national strategy with the participation of all the States and Union Territories and the opposition political parties, RRAG in its report said that COVID-19 cases are yet to peak in India and all the measures taken so far are highly inadequate.

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