Migrant workers killed in latest tragedy amid India virus lockdown

Agence France-Presse . New Delhi | Published: 22:59, May 11,2020


Five Indian migrant workers died when the mango-laden truck they hid in to evade the virus lockdown overturned, police said Sunday, adding to a rising death toll among the country’s poorest labourers.

The victims were among the millions of migrant workers, mostly from rural villages, heading home by any means possible after many lost their jobs under the world’s largest COVID-19 lockdown.

As India’s interstate train and bus systems closed down and state borders shuttered in late March, many headed home by walking or cycling, often for days under blistering heat.

Others hid in cargo trucks and concrete mixers to avoid the police, while those who could not escape were stuck in crowded city shelters.

The latest victims were hiding between hundreds of mango crates when the truck fell sideways late Saturday on a highway in Madhya Pradesh’s Narshingpur district, crushing those onboard.

‘The workers were clandestinely travelling to their homes in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district when the accident took place,’ district police officer Rajesh Tiwari said.

Five of them died and another 15, including the truck’s driver and helpers, were taken to hospital for treatment.

The truck was heading from the southern city of Hyderabad to Agra city in the north.

Their deaths came two days after 16 migrant workers on their way home to central India died when they were run over by a goods train in western Maharashtra state as they slept on the track.

Hours later, a migrant worker couple was killed in northern Lucknow city after a vehicle hit their bicycle as they peddled home to Chhattisgarh some 800 kilometres away.

Their two children survived, but were hospitalised.

In some cities police have clashed with migrants clamouring to be allowed to return home to their families.

According to a study by community data research platform DataMeet, 74 migrants have been killed in road and train accidents as they try to return home during the lockdown, while 26 migrants have died due to exhaustion from walking or cycling.

Another study by non-profit SaveLIFE Foundation said 42 migrant labourers lost their lives in road accidents during the lockdown.

The government last week started special train services for the migrants to help them return home.

Much of China has begun to get back to a form of normality, and on Monday Shanghai Disneyland threw open its gates following a three-month shutdown.

‘We are very much looking forward to the first day of re-opening and wondering what’s the difference inside today compared to before,’ said one eager visitor named Kitty.

But enthusiasm in China was tempered by news on Sunday that one person had tested positive for the virus in Wuhan. There were five more cases on Monday.

Local health officials said the new infections were all from the same residential compound in the city and were mostly older people.

South Korean officials ordered nightclubs and bars closed after a fresh burst of transmission linked to an entertainment district in the capital.

At first it was thought to have been triggered by a 29-year-old man who tested positive after spending an evening at five clubs and bars in the Itaewon in early May.

But officials said there appeared to be multiple origins for the cluster, with Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun adding they are struggling to trace ‘thousands of people’ who visited the area. 

Cautious re-opening nevertheless continues around Asia, with one of the world’s largest train networks set to gradually restart operations from Tuesday as India eases its lockdown despite the nation reporting its biggest single-day jump in cases.

The vast rail system — which usually carries more than 20 million passengers a day — was halted in late March, leaving millions of rural migrant workers unable to return home after losing their jobs in cities.

New Zealand, meanwhile, will phase out its lockdown over the next 10 days, although some restrictions will remain.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned ‘none of us can assume COVID is not with us’, but said the country had only 90 active cases after a seven-week lockdown.

‘Your efforts, New Zealand, have got us to this place ahead of most of the world and without the carnage that COVID has inflicted in many other places,’ she said in a televised address.

‘But there are risks ahead, so please be vigilant.’

Extended periods at home have given some people a chance to gather testimony on life in confinement, with the Museum of London launching an appeal for items that reflect the experience.

‘When we knew there was going to be a lockdown, we started straight away talking about what we needed to collect something for the future,’ Beatrice Behlen, the museum’s senior curator, said.

‘It could be something that gives you comfort — one example mentioned often is maybe your favourite slippers — you’ve been wearing them every day.’

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