India’s issues with COVID-19 may just be beginning.As migrant workers have left the cities, gradually reaching their home villages, the disease could permeate rural areas, making the disease far more difficult to eradicate. Of particular concern is that any severe symptoms — often requiring that the individual be ventilated for weeks at a time — would be all but impossible to address in a rural setting.
As of yet COVID-19 – the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), commonly referred to just as the coronavirus – is largely contained to a number of concentrated areas and regions. This presents a prime opportunity for containment efforts. If the virus can be contained within these areas, the chances of spread may be significantly reduced. Should the virus spread to more areas, (in particular — and in stark contrast to each other — densely populated urban areas and remote, rural locations) the disease may become endemic.
The Centre noted that 79 percent of India’s coronavirus cases are contained within thirty municipal areas spread across twelve states. These areas are in Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The selected municipal areas are in Greater Mumbai, Greater Chennai, Ahmedabad, Thane, Delhi, Indore, Pune, Kolkata, Jaipur, Nashik, Jodhpur, Agra, Tiruvallur, Aurangabad, Cuddalore, Greater Hyderabad, Surat, Chengalpattu, Ariyalur, Howrah, Kurnool, Bhopal, Amritsar, Villupuram, Vadodara, Udaipur, Palghar, Berhampur, Solapur and Meerut.
However, as migrant workers leave these areas, the risk of the infection spreading nationwide looms. “Dozens of labourers who travelled from New Delhi have tested positive. We are ensuring that no one enters their village with this infection,” said Gaurav Sinha, a senior health official in the Bihar state capital Patna.
On May 1st, the government responded to rising public opposition to the migrant crisis by allowing special trains to take workers back to their home states. “The migrant crisis exposes the spatial fault-lines of India’s development,” wrote Sai Balakrishnan, an assistant professor at Harvard University, in the Mint newspaper.
Indeed, many of India’s rural locations are all but devoid of healthcare infrastructure. This issue has been covered in-depth by Health Issues India in the past and is a recurring issue that sees shortages of both medical staff, and indeed basic medical supplies and infrastructure. Should the coronavirus become a common issue in these areas, India’s death toll could rapidly rise.