Giridhari Lal Thakrey, 50, a school teacher in village Katang Tola, 50-odd km from the district headquarters of Balaghat in eastern Madhya Pradesh, complained of fever, cough, and cold on April 12. He was taken to the government health centre in Waraseoni, the block headquarters, where he died the following day. His wife Tomeshwari Thakrey complained of similar symptoms on April 14 and passed away the same evening. Soon, Giridhari’s elder brother, Kunwar Lal, developed symptoms, tested positive for Covid and was admitted to a hospital in Waraseoni. Katang Tola and adjoining Jhaliwada village have at least 300 people with influenza-like symptoms, but most of them are resisting Covid testing or treatment, believing it to be seasonal flu. Now, following the deaths, a degree of concern has set in.
After overwhelming the health apparatus in cities and towns across states, Covid is spreading into the rural areas, which had largely remained unaffected in the first wave in 2020, creating a myth among many that Covid is an urban phenomenon. It’s not only in MP that villages are witnessing a surge in cases. Rural Maharashtra is perhaps the worst hit and is contributing more cases to the state’s total tally than its urban areas. Rajasthan, too, is reporting a rapid increase in Covid cases from the rural areas while the spread in rural Uttar Pradesh is being blamed, among other things, on the flouting of Covid protocols during the panchayat elections being held through April.
While lack of awareness and reluctance to submit to testing and treatment make the rural population more susceptible to Covid, the problem is compounded by the fact that most of the medical infrastructure, especially the tertiary centres, is concentrated in the cities, where serious patients from the villages are now heading in the hope of finding treatment.
Caught off guard, both the Centre and state governments are exploring strategies to stop the second wave of Covid from sweeping the rural areas, where the bulk of the population lives. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking on the occasion of Panchayati Raj Diwas on April 24, said that the challenge from Covid was bigger this year and efforts were required to stop villages from being affected. “I am confident that if someone is going to emerge victorious first in this fight against the coronavirus, then it is going to be India’s villages and the leadership of these villages. The people of the villages will show the way to the country and the world,” he said.
State governments have mounted a response to this spiralling health emergency. But, as the following reports from states by India today correspondents show, with much of the machinery engaged in battling the challenge in the urban areas, resources are scarce to mitigate the Covid threat looming over the rural belt.
Of the nearly 150,000 people identified, since April 5, with influenza-like symptoms in the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh, around 26,000 have tested Covid positive, indicating a positivity rate of 17.3 per cent, which is not far behind the state’s overall figure of 23 per cent as on April 27. These rural patients constitute about 14 per cent of the total 189,055 new cases reported in MP between April 5 and 25.
Given the woefully inadequate medical facilities in the rural areas, villages are as good as on their own in the fight against Covid. Of the 819 Covid treatment centres, only 69 are located in rural areas. Of the total 21,637 isolation beds in the state, only 3,039 are in the rural areas. While the urban areas have 22,145 oxygen beds and 9,271 ICU beds, respectively, there are only 338 oxygen and 51 ICU beds in the rural belt. Villagers living near the big cities are making a beeline for hospitals there. “About 30-35 per cent of the patients in hospitals in Bhopal are from villages and small towns located within a 200 km radius. It’s the same story in Indore,” says a health department official.
What explains the spread of infections in the hinterland? Large parts of the population in southern and eastern MP have cultural and economic ties with towns and cities in Maharashtra, and public linkages continued even as the second wave of Covid swept the latter. Many migrant workers returned to their villages in MP from Maharashtra around Holi. While symptoms began to show up in the villages in the first week of April, they were largely ignored until deaths began to be reported. “Within MP, the rural population was also exposed to infections in towns such as Waraseoni, Katangi, Baihar, Lanji and Malajkhand in Balaghat district, where most go for accessing citizen services, selling their products or for jobs. For health services, most rural folk in eastern MP rely on Gondia and Nagpur, but hospitals there are full,” says Gaurav Singh Pardhi, a social worker from Ansera village in Waraseoni.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
MUMBAI SHOWS THE WAY
THE LOCKDOWN BLUES
CALIBRATED LOCKDOWNS, DETERMINED BY THE STATES, MAY HAVE RESTRICTED THE ECONOMIC DAMAGE IN THIS SECOND WAVE, BUT CONSUMER DEMAND FOR ALL BUT ESSENTIALS IS LIKELY TO TAKE A HARD HIT
THE STRAINED FORCES
THE ARMED FORCES STEP UP IN THE WAR AGAINST THE VIRUS, BUT GIVEN THE THREAT OF A HOSTILE BORDER THEY MAY NOT BE ABLE TO SCALE UP FROM PRESENT TASKS
The Fight Isn't Over
WEST BENGAL/POST-POLL VIOLENCE
GETTING INTO THE SPIRIT
With her new supernatural series, The Last Hour, releasing on Amazon Prime Video on May 14, actress Raima Sen suggests there are more things in heaven and Earth than we dream of in our philosophies
A RAINBOW CABINET
Mamata Banerjee ensures broad representation for women, Muslims, SCs/STs and first-timers in her 43-member cabinet while entrusting core ministries to party veterans
SHOTS IN THE DARK
EVEN AFTER A BELATED SCRAMBLE FOR MORE DOSES, INDIA’S VACCINE PROGRAMME FACES A DESPERATE SUPPLY SHORTAGE. FEARFUL IN THE WAKE OF A RAMPAGING SECOND WAVE, EVERYONE NOW WANTS IT, BUT THERE ARE JUST NOT ENOUGH DOSES TO GO AROUND
A NEW DAWN BECKONS
Chief minister M.K. Stalin promises a break from the past, a government for all the people. Can he live up to it?
Covid-19 - When Will The Nightmare End?
Top experts weigh in on india’s best hopes to halt the rampaging second wave of covid-19
She had seen him through some difficult times. Could he help see her through the pandemic?
Covid Means There's Even Less Joy in Mudville
Capacity constraints and distancing rules bring big headaches for season ticket holders
Hiring Heroes: Why Veterans Make Great Tech Employees
MILITARY VETERANS COME WITH THE SOFT SKILLS EMPLOYERS VALUE MOST, AND MANY HAVE BACKGROUNDS IN TECHNOLOGY
FLUFFY'S SNO-BALLS SHOP
LONG BEACH’S SNO-LOSOPHY
EIGHT WAYS TO REACH A HEALTH BLOOD PRESSURE
To take care of your heart, it’s important to know and track your blood pressure. Millions of Americans have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, but many don’t realize it or aren’t keeping it at a healthy level.
A year of COVID
MY OH MY, HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED
THE PANDEMIC WILL MAKE KIDS OR BREAK THEM
THE COVID-19 ERA has worked as a stress test for parents and kids alike, breaking some while bringing out reserves of strength and resilience in others.
Have Vaccine, Will Travel
COVID-19 immunization may play a major role as we strive to return to travel.
How Will We Remember The Pandemic?
The science of how our memories form— and how they shape our future
Your Facebook Friend Has Some Thoughts To Share About Your Covid Vaccine
Mark Zuckerberg wanted to make Facebook a source of reliable information about the pandemic. Instead he created a perfect platform for conspiracy theorists