Raipur: The Chhattisgarh government estimates that it has no official record on nearly 40,000 migrant workers who have returned to the state after the nationwide lockdown was enforced in March. This lack of data is a matter of concern as it could lead to a spike in the number of infections and there could even be a risk of “community spread“, senior health officials in the state said.
“Surveillance is on to find and register all migrant workers who returned from other states in the early days of the lockdown but did not inform the authorities,” a senior official in the state’s health department told ThePrint.
“Many of them have been accounted for but we estimate nearly 40,000 more such people are yet to be detected,” said the officer, who did not wish to be named.
Speaking to ThePrint, Akhilesh Tripathi, Deputy Director, Health, and data in-charge of Chhattisgarh’s Control and Command Centre for Covid-19, said it’s critical to find such people and community surveillance is on for the purpose.
“Their early detection is necessary. Otherwise, they can play a crucial role in community spread of the coronavirus,” he said.
According to him, the government until last month didn’t have data on nearly 60,000 workers who had returned. The department later found many of them through community surveillance. Tripathi said some of the “hiding” workers were even found to be Covid positive, and were admitted to hospital for treatment. Their contacts were tested too.
“This number largely consists of those migrant workers who returned to their homes walking on foot or by other unofficial means during the lockdown due to lack of commuting options. Initially, the estimated number of such migrants would have been more than 50,000-60,000, but it has come down now,” he said.
Tripathi added, “Identifying such persons was made possible only due to continuous community surveillance being conducted by the department. This exercise is currently going on in the entire state with the help of local administrations. Hopefully, it will be completed by the end of this month.”
He said these workers adopted “short cuts” while returning and a majority of them reached their villages through paths that are not used in normal course, including rough roads, forest, rivers, drains, etc.
“Even after coming to the villages, these people did not inform anyone about their return, nor did other villagers inform the administration or the health department about them,” he said.
Last month, a returnee worker was found to be hiding in a village in Kabirdham district. His whereabouts were found through community surveillance. According to Tripathi, the man tested positive for Covid, along with “3-4 other villagers” who came in contact with him.
As of Friday, Chhattisgarh had recorded 1,398 Covid-19 cases and six deaths.
‘Actual number may be higher than estimates’
Dr Pramod Mahajan, another senior health department official who is the Chief Medical and Health Officer (CMHO) of Bilaspur, said thousands of workers who have returned from other states are living in their villages without the knowledge of local administration.
“The actual number of such people might be much higher than our current estimates. Bilaspur district administration was the first one to start community surveillance in the state, which has now been stopped (in the district),” he said.
“However, fortunately, we did not get any Covid-19 positive case among these workers (in the district). Very soon, the surveillance work will be resumed again,” he added.
No community spread yet
Health department officials said the Covid-19 situation in Chhattisgarh may become clear only by the end of this month as the cases have increased in the last 10-15 days.
According to Tripathi, less than half of the working as well as non-working migrants returning to the state have been tested for Covid so far.
“Considering the current situation, it can be said that the real picture about the scale of corona infection in the state will be clear by the end of June. By then, it will become apparent whether or not there is a situation of community spread,” he said.
However, he clarified that there is no indication of community transmission so far. “This is because the source of infection for all positive patients is known to us,” he said.
He added that this is why detection of all returning migrant workers is necessary as an infected person can continue to function normally for several days without exhibiting any symptoms of the disease.
The central government asserted Thursday that India is not in the community transmission stage, as it said lockdown and containment measures were successful in preventing a rapid surge in the number of cases, though a large proportion of the population still remains susceptible.