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nCoV trains swept India (Part 2)

The Behera brothers had to stay on quarantine for 21 days at a center. Each person is given a toothbrush, soap, a bucket, and a thin towel.

The next morning, Prafulla woke up with a headache. The doctor does not think he has Covid-19, but still asks him to stay away from others.

In a short time, Ganjam quickly became one of the most infested rural districts in India, after the return of migrants like Behera. Many Ganjam did not know what Covid-19 was, until those around them began to die.

Throughout Ganjam, people fell ill. The first dedicated Covid-19 hospital, with fewer than 60 special care beds, was quickly filled. Many patients have to lie on the floor.

India performed about 70,000 tests per day in early May, much less than the number of migrants lining up on platforms in the mornings. The passengers were tested with laser thermometers.

But in Ganjam, the trains are “over 100%” overloaded, said Vijay Amruta Kulange, the district’s top civil servant.

Ganjam, with a population of about 3.5 million, receives 20,000 migrants a day and doesn’t have enough schools to quarantine them all. In an overcrowded center, some people broke their way, smashed light bulbs and clogged the toilet with plastic bottles. Authorities reduced the quarantine period from 21 to 7 days.

At the district’s first Covid-19 hospital, Dr. Umashankar Mishra said, at one point, the oxygen supply for 200 patients ran out within 15 minutes. Frightened Dr. Mishra phoned the suppliers and learned that the truck carrying the oxygen tanks was stuck on a railroad track.

In two rural counties in southern Andhra Pradesh state, infections have skyrocketed and are now over 40,000, more than double India’s average per capita. Similar increases were reported in states such as Nagaland, Bihar, Assam and especially in Chhattisgarh.

By the end of June, dozens of villages in Ganjam had been blocked off. Residents were ordered to stay indoors. The police patrol the quiet lanes.

Taxi transformed into an ambulance. Volunteers make masks, cook food and answer help calls. At the quarantine centers, teachers instruct yoga classes. The whole district was mobilized and fought against the epidemic.

The trains finally stopped arriving at Ganjam on June 30. Authorities subsequently increased the quarantine period to 14 days and opened other Covid-19 hospitals but the outbreak was out of control.

No one is sure about the actual death toll of Ganjam district, as the number remains a mystery across the country. India has reported much fewer nCoV deaths per capita than many Western countries, but experts warn 80% of the deaths in the country are not medically certified.

Modi’s measures to control the spread of the virus have caused migrant workers to flee the city. The government has provided special trains to take them home. But that made the virus spread across the country.

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nCoV trains swept India (Part 1)

When the second wave of Covid-19 hit India in April, the government had to open the railways to bring people home without ever spreading the virus across the country.

Faced with the second wave of Covid-19, India has imposed tough restrictions, leaving many people out of jobs, threatening food security. Many workers left the city to return to their hometown.

Public transportation is banned, some people walk hundreds of kilometers back to their homeland, where living costs are cheap and supported by their families. The flow of people on the move has turned into a humanitarian disaster. Many people died along the way, from thirst, heat, hunger and exhaustion.

The pressure has forced Prime Minister Modi to open the railway door to bring people back home on Shramik trains. In total, the government organized 4,621 trips, handling more than 6 million repatriates.

Many experts have criticized the Indian government for belittling migrant workers, who suddenly have no job, no income, and no support network in their cities. The government’s Covid-19 taskforce lacks immigration specialists and is barely representative of the general population. Out of the 21 members, only two are women, and the rest are upper-class males. Harsh Vardhan, India’s Health Minister, said the member of the special forces was chosen because of “intellectual abilities”.

Under the terrible heat, thousands of migrant workers, the mainstay of Surat’s economy, frantically left.

Rabindra and Prafulla Behera, brothers who are textile workers, are among the tens of millions of migrant workers stranded, with no jobs or food. In the end, they decided to board the train to return home.

Ganjam, the lush countryside on the Bay of Bengal, home to the Behera brothers. It is a conservative locality, with few jobs, most of the people flock to the city to make a living. Upon hearing the news of their return, the villagers planned to pick them up.

Ganjam officials rushed to convert hundreds of schools into quarantine centers, form a support force of 10,000 and adjust the freight train station to handle special return trains.