Spike in cases despite continued lockdown, rural India turning into a Coronavirus hotspot

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Indian populace is reeling under the pressure of natural calamities from all sides and there has been a huge loss of life and property in the country. On one hand, India was already devastated by the Coronavirus pandemic causing millions to be adversely affected. Then at the same time, Cyclone Amphan descended upon the Eastern Front of the Indian Peninsula where West Bengal and Orissa were the most affected regions. Within no time, Cyclone Nisarga formed over the Arabian Sea causing a red alert in Surat and Mumbai, though fortunately it did not cause loss of life.

The Coronavirus pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down. The Covid-19 tally in India rose to 2,26,770 even as the Centre prepared to reopen malls, restaurants and religious places as part of the plan to gradually reopen the country. As many as 9,851 fresh cases were registered since Thursday evening, according to latest data provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The Central Government has started easing up restrictions under Unlock Phase 1. On Thursday, the government issued Standard Operating Procedure for reopening of malls, religious places, restaurants and hotels. Restaurant and food courts in malls will operate at 50 per cent seating capacity with a mandatory distance of six feet between tables. No common prayer mats, physical offerings like prasad, or sprinkling of holy water, will be permitted in places of worship. Age and health-based restrictions will also be in place for stepping out of home.

Globally, over 6,430,705 cases have been reported, 3,85,947 people have succumbed to the infection and 2,804,982 have recovered. The United States continues to be the worst-affected nation with 1,872,660 cases and 1,08,211 deaths.

The guidelines include staggered work hours, no edible offering at temples and air conditioning at 24 degree celsius. However, these places will remain closed in containment zones, with only essential services allowed.

People with comorbidity, pregnant women and elderly people have been asked to stay home. The health ministry has asked all establishments to ensure hand sanitisers are placed at entrances and to adhere to strict social distancing measures.

Religious places of worship have been allowed to reopen but with stringent guidelines – no distribution of edible religious offerings, no sprinkling of holy water, idols and holy books cannot be touched, and large gatherings are prohibited.

Furthermore, to curb the spread of coronavirus, recorded devotional music and songs may be played and choir or singing groups should not be allowed and home delivery staff and chefs are to be thermally screened, the guidelines say.

A huge reason for the increase in number of cases is the handling of migrants crisis. The migrants turned their native states and villages into hotspots because they were not properly screened and quarantined after returning to their native places causing a steady spike in Covid cases, surpassing numbers in urban areas as migrants poured in from states they were working in.

About 30% of Covid cases in the state are now from rural districts. A significant spike has been recorded in migrant-intensive districts like Dungarpur, Jalore, Jodhpur, Nagaur and Pali. And, this is not just in Rajasthan alone.

In Andhra Pradesh, Covid-19 outbreak was predominantly limited to urban areas until about a month ago, accounting for nearly 90% cases. But rural areas of the state have now started witnessing a spike in cases.

The government needs to maintain a steady system of providing facilities for quarantining the migrants reaching back to their villages otherwise the situation will be dire given the huge population of the country. The ease in lockdown restrictions needs to be contemplated upon further in the light of growing Coronavirus cases in the country.

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