The Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday issued an advisory to all states and Union Territories, urging them to take immediate steps to stop the mass exodus of migrant workers employed in the informal sector. The workers are leaving cities as the countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus has paralysed their source of livelihood.

The nationwide lockdown, which entered its third day on Friday, has left several thousand workers in the informal sector without jobs and any means of sustenance. Reports of workers walking back to their villages have also emerged from many parts of the country in the absence of public transport, which has been shut for the three-week period.

In light of the situation, the home ministry has asked all states and Union Territories to provide the migrant workers food, shelter and sanitation facilities, Joint Secretary of Ministry of Home Affairs Punya Salila Srivastava said at a press briefing. “We are sensitising everyone that wherever they are, they should remain there,” she added.

Authorities have also been asked to ensure the uninterrupted supply of essential commodities, especially to hotels and working women hotels, so that they can continue to remain functional. However, all precautions and social distancing measures are to be observed while doing that, Salila said.

The home ministry also emphasised on the need to create awareness among vulnerable groups about the measures taken by the government to blunt the adverse impact of the lockdown on the economy and livelihoods. Migrant workers should be educated about their right to access free food grains and other essential commodities through the Public Distribution System under the Centre’s financial assistance package announced on Thursday, it said.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to some chief ministers and asked them to look into the mass exodus, PTI reported.

Meanwhile, SpiceJet Chairperson and Managing Director Ajay Singh said the airline was ready to operate some flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Patna to help migrant workers.

The lockdown has been acknowledged by both experts and Opposition leaders as a necessary move to control the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. However, several leaders have expressed concerns about the economic fallout of the lockdown and its repercussions for the economically weaker sections of the society as they grapple with unemployment.

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Earlier in the day, the chief ministers of West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar also started initiatives to ensure the safety of the migrant workers. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to the chief ministers of 18 states, asking them to look after the migrant labourers. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also sent a similar letter, saying that his government has made arrangements to reach out to people from other states who need help during the lockdown. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced a Rs 100-crore plan to help migrants.

The toll in the pandemic rose to 17 in India on Friday and the number of patients increased to 724, according to the Union Health Ministry’s latest update. This includes those who have recovered and 640 active cases. State health authorities have announced three other deaths – one in Tumakuru, Karnataka, and two in Bhilwara, Rajasthan – but the Centre is yet to confirm these.