The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Wednesday proposed ways in which migrant workers can be provided “psycho-social” support amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country. This came a day after the Supreme Court directed the Centre to ensure the well-being of migrant workers struggling to return home amid the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus.

With businesses and establishments shut down due to the lockdown, a huge number of daily wage labourers were suddenly left without jobs and shelter in large cities. The workers are left with no available means of transport, with thousands of them – with elderly parents and children – attempting a long and exhausting march to their homes. Last week, thousands of them boarded buses arranged by the governments of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to get home. There has been massive outrage over how the migrants have been treated – stopped at borders and in one instance, sprayed with disinfectant in Uttar Pradesh.

“Immediate concerns faced by such migrant workers relate to food, shelter, healthcare, fear of getting infected or spreading the infection, loss of wages, concerns about the family, anxiety and fear,” the statement read. “Sometimes, they also face harassment and negative reactions of the local community. All this calls for strong social protection.”

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The health ministry said that it was important to provide “psycho-social” support to the migrants who have to stay in shelter homes. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had also emphasised the need to calm their fears with counselling and religious sermons.

The health ministry also urged people to be sympathetic to the migrant workers stranded away from home. “These are the most marginalized sections of the society who are dependent on daily wages for their living, and in times of such distress need sympathy and understanding of the society,” the ministry added. “Help them to acknowledge that this is an unusual situation of uncertainty and reassure them that the situation is transient and not going to last long.”

The health ministry’s advisory highlighted the need to stay “in their present location” and how mass movement could adversely affect all efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus. “Make them realise their importance in the community and appreciate their contributions for the society,” the advisory said.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to ensure that migrant workers who have lost their jobs and homes amid the 21-day coronavirus lockdown were provided food and medicines. The court also emphasised on the need to provide counselling to the migrants workers to ease their fears. The government had told the top court that no migrant workers were out on the roads and they had all been taken to shelters.