Patna: The return of migrant labourers to their home state of Bihar has resulted in a spike in Covid-19 cases. The state registered its biggest single-day jump in cases with 85 Sunday, and all of them were labourers returning from other states.
Bihar health department secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said that until now, 146 migrant labourers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Of the 85 cases detected Sunday, 30 had come from Maharashtra, 22 from Gujarat and eight from Delhi.
The return of migrants — workers and students — has become a bitter political issue in Bihar, with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U)-BJP government facing severe criticism for “ditching” them in other states. But after the central government amended rules to allow special trains to ferry stranded migrants between states, between 4 and 9 May, over one lakh people have returned to the state in 86 trains.
The government says in total, it has finalised 169 trains, which will bring back about 2.2 lakh migrant labourers.
A state health department official told ThePrint that there will be two trains per day from Maharashtra, the worst-affected state, while “the number of trains from Gujarat is also likely to be increased as Gujarat is desperate to decongest”.
Increasing testing capacity
Nitish Kumar’s government has also faced criticism for Bihar’s low testing numbers, and now, with the influx of migrants threatening to increase the spread of Covid-19, the state has decided to seek more machines to step up its capacity.
The state’s Covid-19 nodal officer Dr Rajni Mishra told ThePrint: “Two more centres will be opened shortly and we hope to have testing facilities in each district.”
So far, Bihar has a capability of 1,811 tests per day at seven centres. However, the health department sent a letter to the Indian Council of Medical Research on 9 May, which has been accessed by ThePrint, asking for more equipment, including 12 machines to run the real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, and 86 TrueNat micro-RT-PCR machines.
“With migrant labourers arriving, there is an urgent need to not only step up testing numbers, but to make the process faster, because a delay might result into further infection of other persons. Currently, one has to wait for eight hours for the results to come. With TrueNat machines, 90 tests can be carried out in 2.5 hours,” said Dr Ajay Alok, who runs a private hospital in Patna.
CM Nitish Kumar has asked officials to procure machines directly from manufacturers if there’s a delay in the supply.
“With TrueNat machines, the number of tests in Bihar should increase to 5,000 per day. For migrant labourers, the tests can be performed at the quarantine centres, because TrueNat is a portable machine,” said Dr Prabhat Kumar, former director of Patna’s Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences.