West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said that migrants returning from five states – Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh – will be put under mandatory institutional quarantine, preempting a rise in coronavirus infections, The Times of India reported. Workers coming from other states will be asked to stay in home quarantine.
Banerjee said it was important to take specific measures ahead of the return of thousands of migrants, especially from states having a high incidence of infections. The state’s Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha will set up task forces under district magistrates in the state, who will monitor the workers returning from the five states. “They may have home cooked food, but they will have to stay in quarantine centres for 14 days,” she added. “Those coming from other states may go for home quarantine for the same period.”
The chief minister criticised the Centre for unleashing an “unplanned influx” of workers in the state, adding that West Bengal’s fragile healthcare infrastructure will not be able to take the load. “I got information that 36 trains were coming from Mumbai,” Banerjee said. “A dozen more trains have been scheduled. How can I accommodate 48 trains at a time? I got in touch with the Maharashtra government and was told that they themselves came to know about it at 2 am.”
“The Centre wants to turn West Bengal [into] Maharashtra, Delhi or Gujarat,” she said. “Will you take responsibility if the disease spreads across Bengal?”
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However, media reports suggested that Banerjee’s plan of quarantining migrants from five states is facing hurdles because of the sheer number of workers pouring into the state in a short time. A total of 17 trains from Maharashtra alone are expected to reach West Bengal in the next few days, according to The Telegraph. Meanwhile, five trains from the state had already reached Malda district between Wednesday night and Thursday evening.
“The issue was discussed during a video conference between [Cabinet Secretary Rajiv] Gauba and chief secretaries of all states on Thursday,” an unidentified official from the state Secretariat said. “The Centre also agreed on the possibility of spread of Covid-19 in rural areas because of the returnees to the state.... We are trying our best to prevent the spread of the disease in rural areas.”
About 3,500 migrant workers have been put up at institutional quarantine centres in Malda, while the remaining 2,500 returnees are in facilities in nearby districts. “So far, the process was smooth, but I am not sure what would happen when more trains reach the state in the next few weeks,” the official added.
Moreover, officials expressed concern over local resistance in the state against the establishment of quarantine centres, making it difficult for the government to get schools to set up quarantine centres. On Friday, locals in Asansol city protested against converting a school in the area into a quarantine facility, reported ANI.
At two places in Howrah on Thursday, people agitated after some returnees, who were sent to home quarantine, allegedly flouted the protocol.
Similar protests were reported from remote areas of South 24 Parganas district where a number of gram panchayat pradhans had to convene all-party meetings to ensure that returnees were sent to institutional quarantine if they didn’t adhere to home isolation norms.
West Bengal has reported 4,536 cases of the coronavirus as of Friday, including 295 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.