While concerns of Coronavirus (COVID-19) started surfacing in January 2020 in India, it was not paid attention to. The approach was akin to other nations who did not pay heed to, initially. Social distancing was continually publicised. Soon perceived threats became real. In the formal sector, Work from Home (WFM) option became readily available, and, in March, it became perhaps the only option for those who could ‘work from home’. Many would have thought initially to explore this option to meet our needs for vacationing out. Then, there was cancellation of flights, trains and other modes of transport. India was in lockdown. Those who had a decent travel plan was soon in shambles.
While 1.3 billion Indians remain under lockdown, are Indians really sedentary at this point? Certainly not, amid subsequent measures undertaken to curb mobility, there is a lot of things that are quite mobile, barring essential services. Indian railways remain at halt, until now, as perceived pressure of economic migrants to return to their home state, has forced railways to run special services to North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. State Governments are also forced to run road transport services to ferry them. Those on their own certainly have options to pay bus drivers and get through, if they are lucky and successful, at the same time. There are many, however, who are on foot to travel several hundred kilometres from big cities to their hometowns and villages.
Cargo services as in other parts of the world are operating through air and surface transport. Indian air carriers are doing their bit to support the Government. Indian carrier Spicejet has offered to fly the migrants in metro cities to their home state. All major airports are operating non-commercial services. Going through the website of Delhi Airport, one may witness Air India operating along Delhi-Bombay route on Sunday (29 March 2020). Then there are foreign nationals. India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) through a notification has already extended the validity of the visa of all the foreigners, expiring during the lockdown period. At the behest of respective governments, various international airlines have also launched their evacuation services. On Sunday, Air France is in operation from Delhi to Paris.
Various hotel chains have prepared themselves to cater to those who may need quarantine, or simply a place to stay, if they are out of the cities where they usually reside. Surprisingly, I can find newsletters of hotel booking platforms and hotel chains pouring into my inbox, marketing themselves to be a sanitised place to shift their Workspaces. While business institutions equip themselves to cater to the opportunity in disguise, it would be perhaps the first-ever experience of Indians opting as well as forced to Work from Home. A desire realising at an undesirable point of time.
What Indians abroad are doing? While the desire to fly back home remains at the surface, only students are being brought back, in several batches like from Wuhan and various cities in Europe. As the situation worsens in India, the desire hopefully would subside. Some are busy disseminating ‘as of now’ conspiracy theories related to the origin and spread of COVID-19. There are many who are relying on the traditional Indian forms of medicine to boost their immunity and save themselves from COVID-19.
However, what about those who were on leisure or official visit outside India before lockdown came into effect. They have limited options than to do what others are doing. There are few countries which have witnessed an outbreak like that of China, Italy and the United States. They can continue their plans until flight operations into India resume. Even otherwise, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) puts the figure (as on 18 March 2020) of 276 Indians abroad infected by a coronavirus, which includes those in Iran. Hence, the situation is no better otherwise.
The situation in reference to the Middle East is a bit different. The immediate impact emerged in the Middle East, where Indian workers account for one of the most substantial overseas contract labour (more than 3,21,721 as per 2018 figures).
Suspension of work, imposed travel bans on several nationalities (including Indian nationals) and ban on commercial operation of passenger airlines has left them on their own. How long, the situation would continue, would be nothing beyond a mere guess! Let us hope for the best.
Note- The photos used for the blog post are not recent ones.