Two images stood out in stark contrast in the early days of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. Deserted city streets, and their polar opposite—long columns of an exodus snaking out of these urban agglomerations into the countryside. Thousands of migrant labourers left adrift because everything has shut down are retreating to their roots—by any desperate means they can, some on goods lorries, others on foot. Large parts of rural India, to where they are heading, had so far remained at arm’s length from COVID-19. But these are also places where healthcare is far from optimal. How will they cope now?
The concerns were already visible—overzealous district authorities in Bareilly hosed down returning folk with bleach; from a remote village in West Bengal’s Purulia came the unusual story of seven villagers just back from Chennai quarantining themselves on banyan trees so as to protect their families living in huts, and themselves from elephants.