As India welcomed 2021, the country was reporting less than 15,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day between mid-January and mid-February. Soon, however, there was an increase and on April 7 the number of daily infections reached 126,260, the seven-day daily average exceeding 100,000. By that time, it was clear that the second wave of Covid-19 in India would be much more serious than the first. The sharp rise in infections and deaths made headlines around the world, as images of mass pyres and people lining up for free oxygen cylinders at the temple grounds toured the world. social media.
Today, as the number of active cases has declined in many major cities, the pandemic is spreading rapidly in rural districts, with the largest increases recorded in the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala (See Figure 1). A State Bank of India (SBI) report noted that as of mid-May, rural districts accounted for 50% of all new cases in the country. Rural areas of Amravati in Maharashtra are the hardest hit with a large number of new cases, and those in Nagpur in the same state have also become hot spots. About 35% of all Covid-19 deaths in Haryana have been reported in rural districts, with the heaviest toll in Hisar (258), followed by Bhiwani (217), Fatehabad (159) and Karnal (150 ). The second wave also affected rural areas of Gujarat. The state has reported 90 deaths in 20 days in a single village, Chogath, which has a population of 13,000. Two of India’s largest and most populous states – Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – have also seen a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases in their rural districts.
Granted, the actual number of Covid-19 cases in rural India could be much higher than official figures due to low testing rates and people’s reluctance to get tested, to begin with. Given the severe shortage of medical facilities in rural India, managing the spread of the pandemic would prove to be even more difficult than what urban cities experienced earlier this year.
The main reasons are the lack of internet connectivity, poor access to smartphones, digital illiteracy and concerns about the safety of vaccines. In addition, there is also a problem of availability of doses, which has aggravated the delay. A December 2020 household survey in 60 districts in 16 states found a low preference for vaccines, with just 44% willing to pay for it.
Since 65.5% of the total population of India is rural, adequate measures must be taken at the earliest to avoid the occurrence of a health disaster in rural India. An economic crisis makes the challenges more acute. In response to the increase in infections, many states such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are on lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, villagers who are mostly daily wage workers or street vendors in nearby towns have lost their livelihoods. While remittances from family members working in large cities were used to increase the incomes of rural households, the increase in cases in urban areas from early February led to another exodus of migrant workers from these cities, similar to what happened in 2020 during the first wave and the nationwide lockdown. As a result, rural households have suffered loss of income, causing many to take on more debt and worsen hunger. Media reports suggest that people in rural India eat less and often cannot afford nutritious foods like pulses and vegetables. Overall, an October 2020 survey of urban and rural communities in 11 states found that nearly 70% of households do not consume nutritious meals, with about half of them skipping at least one meal per day. . If India is to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in its hinterland, it takes an effective strategy to control the spread of the virus, as well as sincere and focused efforts to revive the rural economy and provide social services to the people.
This special report describes the specific challenges posed by Covid-19 in rural areas of India and presents a ten-point agenda for effective pandemic management and the revival of the rural economy. The rest of the report provides an overview of government efforts to manage Covid-19 in rural areas; discusses the specific challenges in these regions; and presents a ten point strategy for immediate action. Among other things, the report recommends the establishment of a working group and the provision of a special economic package for rural areas.
(The study was Malancha Chakrabarty and Shoba Suri)