Coronavirus: Poor Indian workers flee to villages amid strict COVID-19 measures

Thousands of poor city migrants whose livelihoods have collapsed due to India’s coronavirus measures headed back to their villages on Saturday, raising fears that the exodus could carry the virus to the countryside.

About one fifth of India’s 271 confirmed coronavirus cases has been reported in the western state of Maharashtra — home to Mumbai, the country’s largest city and economic powerhouse. So far, India has registered four deaths due to the virus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged Indians to stay at home to fight the outbreak. Maharashtra state authorities ordered on Friday the closure of all shops and offices, apart from those providing essential services, until March 31.

For Indians who drive rickshaws or run food stalls, the economic shock of such control measures has been huge, pushing them to leave for family homes where they typically do not pay rent and food is cheaper.

“Work has stopped. I’ll go back and work on the farm,” said Rakesh Kumar Gupta, 40, who sells mosquito nets and was heading back to his family house in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

On Saturday, hundreds of people, many young men wearing masks and lugging backpacks, jostled in long queues to board trains at Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus station.

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