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As migrants return, Bihar faces new challenges of Covid-19 spreading to 30 districts

Thirty of the 38 districts in Bihar have reported Covid-19 cases ahead of the planned return of tens of thousands of migrant workers from across the country in special trains, adding to the challenges being faced by the state government.

At the end of the first spell of the lockdown on April 14, only 12 districts had reported Covid-19 cases. By the end of the second spell of the lockdown, this figure increased to 30 districts even as the number of infections grew rapidly in the past 10 days.

The number of infections in Bihar was just 66 on April 14, and it increased to 475 on May 2, with 243 cases reported between April 25 and May 1.

“This shows the challenging phase for the state may have just begun, with more and more people returning to their hometowns and we have to be prepared for it,” said a senior state government official who declined to be named.

The state government has already curtailed all leave for doctors, health officials and contractual employees of the health department till May 31 in view of growing need for surveillance and screening. But officials admit the challenges for Bihar might grow.

Over the next few days, tens of thousands of migrant workers are expected to return to the state in special trains from different parts of the country.

Officials are also worried because many new infections reported during the second phase of the lockdown were those of migrant workers, who managed to reach Bihar and unknowingly took the Coronavirus to new areas as they were largely asymptomatic.

Also read| ‘Injustice’: CM Soren on Rs 50 extra charged per migrant on special trains

Districts in north Bihar such as Madhubani, Darbhanga, Sitamarhi and Purnea had remained free of infections until the last week of April, but now they all have reported cases. Madhubani, with 13 cases reported on Friday alone, has emerged as the district in north Bihar with highest number of 18 cases.

Neighbouring Darbhanga has five cases, while Sitamarhi has six. East and West Champaran have five cases each, while Seemanchal region too has reported cases – one each in Purnea and Araria and two in Katihar. Madhubani and Darbhanga are both in the orange zone.

Madhubani’s district magistrate Nilesh Ramchandra Deor, a doctor, said all 13 cases in the district were migrant workers who returned from Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow. Five earlier cases were traced to a woman who travelled by car from Delhi.

“Due to her, another woman who also travelled in the car, and two children got infected,” he said.

Also read: After CM declares state ‘coronavirus-free’, Tripura records two new Covid-19 cases

Madhubani shares a border with Nepal and the inflow of migrant workers from the neighbouring country too is likely to increase. This has led to greater concerns for officials of the district, famous for its exquisite paintings and rich cultural heritage, and surveillance, screening and quarantine facilities have been expanded.

“There is lockdown in Nepal till May 7. People are not coming from that side and if anyone tries to sneak in, it is immediately detected due to heightened surveillance. All outsiders have to spend the required time in quarantine. The administration is on its toes,” Deor said.

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