Patna: Fear and panic are slowly gripping rural parts of Bihar, and dozens of villages have decided to seal themselves by putting up makeshift barricades and closing the primary entrance. Villagers have also pasted hand-written posters and banners that prohibit entry of outsiders and restrict locals from crossing the village boundary.
Over the last 48 hours, thousands of migrant workers arrived in their native villages from across the country following the outbreak of COVID-19. The rural folk were not apprehensive a couple of days ago, unlike the situation in urban and semi-urban areas. But, with arrival of migrant workers in each and every village, they are now fearful and are adopting measures like social distancing and covering their face with a thin cotton cloth (gamcha).
Several villages in rural Patna, Gaya, Banka, Madhubani, Jehanabad, West Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur and Darbhanga districts have sealed themselves to minimise outside contact and ensure social distancing during the countrywide lockdown.
In Kataiya village of Benipatti block in Madhubani district, villagers have sealed the area with a difference. Not only have they barricaded the primary entry point, they have also restricted mixing of neighbours and issued a diktat that villagers cannot cross a certain fixed line marked outside each house. It is to maintain complete social distancing and isolate to fight the coronavirus.
“We have asked villagers to use mobile phones to talk to each other and maintain social relations through social media during this crisis period. Precautions are essential to save ourselves,” said village mukhiya Dulariya Devi.
Another villager, Kapil Mandal, said that they are allowing the entry of native migrant workers who had proof of a medical examination and a negative stamp on their hand. "We have asked half a dozen of our own people to first visit a nearby hospital for a checkup since they did not have a medical examination stamp," he added.
Rajesh Yadav, former Zila Parishad member from the village said that arrangements for handwash and soap have been made at the entrance of the village for its people, those who go out and come in later.
At least half a dozen villages under Banke Bazar block in Gaya have been sealed by barricading all entrances, with banners requesting outsiders to not enter without a proper medical check-up. Villages like Saifganj, Hasanpur, Bhulhar, Sindhpur, Barheta, Sonepur, Juri-Nawadih and Jaunghi have barricaded themselves in with old bamboo and tree-trunks. "In our banner, we have made it clear that outsiders are neither welcome nor allowed to enter the village. We have asked people to take precautions against coronavirus,” said Bindeshwari Yadav, a panchayat member from Sindhpur.
Yadav told NewsClick that hundreds of migrant workers had arrived at his village and in neighbouring villages over the last two days after the lockdown was announced, mentioning that they had made it "mandatory to show medical check-ups and negative corona stamps for entry in the village."
More than two dozen villages under Bodh Gaya, Amas, Mohanpur, Konch, Tekari and Barachatti blocks in Gaya have also been sealed by villagers. "What can we do except call for a ban on the entry of outsiders. We are also not allowing the entry of migrant workers who had returned, without them being subject to medical examination. It has become a must for them,” Rampravesh Prasad said.
Authorities have conducted screening of migrant workers who had arrived at different railway stations in Bihar over the last three days and detected dozens of suspect cases, sending them to isolation wards in hospitals.
“There was no stress surrounding the coronavirus in our village till migrant workers reached from Mumbai, one of the cities affected by COVID-19. Now we have to take precaution because no one knows if people with travel history are carriers and spread it in the village,” said Dinesh Manjhi from Mohanpur.
Similarly half a dozen villages of Panjwara panchayat in Banka have totally sealed themselves from the outside world.Villagers have barricaded themselves in and there is a complete ban on the entry of outsiders. "It is a call we have taken," said Rahit Kumar of Kumharadih village.
Nearly 50 villages close to Valmiki Tiger Reserve in West Champaran have ordered a total ban on the entry of outsiders and on those inside from going outside. "We have sealed our village to ensure a total lockdown,” said Thagai Mahto, a resident of Bhadhjhi village.
Mahto said their banners made it clear that no outsiders are allowed inside.
After thousands of migrant workers arrived in the state, the government issued an instruction that all non-resident Biharis, including migrant workers and those visiting from foreign countries, have to stay in government school buildings and any other government building in the village in isolation for a few days. It is before they will be allowed to go home after a medical examination,
Experts say that thousands of migrant workers, who work across the country and used to visit their homes in Bihar only to celebrate different festivals or during the marriage season, have been forced to return amid the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.
Most of the Bihari labour concentration can be found in Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Pune also have a sizeable number of people from Bihar.
The state government, however, has no official records. Various estimates suggest that over one crore migrants from Bihar permanently work outside the state. Besides, there are thousands who work as seasonal migrants. While the majority of migrants from Bihar work in farms, factories, construction and infrastructure sites and other such unskilled work, many are also skilled professionals.
Till date, Bihar has reported 6 confirmed cases of coronavirus including one death. Dr. Pradeep Das, the Director of Patna-based Rajendra Memorial Research Institute (RMRI) where COVID-19 tests are being done in Bihar, confirmed the same.
Bihar Health secretary Sanjay Kumar said that 404 samples have been examined in the state and 398 were found negative. Kumar said that 1228 people are under observation in the state.
However, Bihar's poor health infrastructure in Bihar is a real worry. Government hospitals face shortage of doctors and there is a shortage of 1,210 sub-centres, 131 primary health centres (PHCs), and 389 community health centres (CHCs).
According to health officials here, testing facilities had started at Patna based IGIMS and similar tests will begin at PMCH and DMCH soon.