When COVID travel bans work and don’t

New Delhi: As states impose new lockdowns of varying duration and intensity to stop the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study shows that medium-duration travel bans are counterproductive – they trap migrants in cities that are COVID-19 hotspots long enough to expose them to the virus, which they then transport to their home neighborhoods.

These results are based on the study of return migration out of Mumbai between March and August 2020, covering the first confinement and the following “unlocking” phases. The study also took into account epidemiological data on the increase in infections in the districts of origin of migrant workers.

The study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, of which the preprinted (unpaired) version was published, came to the same conclusion for other developing countries such as Kenya , South Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines and China.

The researchers used simulations to project the growth of infections in what they called the “rural sinks,” or districts of origin, of migrant workers. These have shown that shorter travel bans correspond to fewer infections. During longer bans, infections fell in source cities, again limiting the spread of the pandemic.

“For intermediate durations, we risk a situation where we force people to stay in an area where the COVID (case) is increasing rapidly, and then we allow them to leave at a time when many of them are likely to be infected. . This is what creates the finding of intermediate bans being potentially counterproductive, ”said Anant Sudarshan, study co-author and executive director (South Asia) of the Energy Policy Institute.

Different states have imposed restrictions of different duration and intensity, triggering movements of migrants – albeit less significant than last year. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a ‘mini lock ‘ in the state on April 13. The initial lockdown lasted 15 days and went into effect from 8 p.m. on April 14. The lockdown closed public places, activities and services and only essential services were exempted. The new restrictions have once again triggered a 2020-like return migration from Mumbai –migrants went to the stations before and after the announcement, but in smaller numbers.

A few days later, on April 19, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ad a six-day lockdown in Delhi. On May 9, the Delhi government expanded the lockdown until May 17.

Even before Thackeray announced new restrictions in Mumbai, Bhopal saw many migrants returning from Mumbai and Delhi on buses, fearing they would be trapped again as during the 2020 lockdown.

Reverse migration

“Mumbai’s travel bans result in a natural experiment with a common source of infection and three separate travel spells,” the research paper says. Mumbai has one of the largest migrant populations in the country: around 43% of its population is from another state or district, according to 2011 census data cited by the document.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ad a national lockdown on the evening of March 24, 2020, which came into effect from midnight, to limit the spread of COVID-19. Maharashtra, like all states, has banned travel by bus, train or plane, trapping millions of migrant workers. Afflicted by the loss of jobs and income and without a safety net, migrant workers began go home In large numbers.

Travel restrictions have been lifted in stages, the research noted, providing examples of what different durations of travel bans can do for the pandemic to spread across India. These three phases represent the short, medium and long term scenarios of the study:

  • The duration from March 25 to May 8 was considered a short-term ban. Interstate migrants were allowed to return to their countries of origin from the beginning of May. The government of Maharashtra used the buses, Since the first week May, to transport migrant workers to state borders. The first train for migrants (Shramik Special) left Mumbai on May 8 for Basti in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
  • The period from March 25 to June 5 was considered to be medium term. Migrants leaving for the districts of the Mumbai metropolitan area were permit to return from June 5.
  • The period from March 25 to August 20 was considered a long-term travel ban. Finally, the State allowed the resumption of inter-district bus services on August 19, 2020.

The government of Maharashtra Told Supreme Court, in June 2020, that approximately 1.2 million migrant workers had returned home and more than 500,000 had been transported by public transport buses. At the same hearing, the central government said 5.72 million migrants had been transferred to destinations in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh by train.

Need to estimateideal blackout period

A study of these different phases of relaxation of travel and workload in the neighborhoods of origin of migrant workers revealed that infections increased when the bans were of intermediate duration. “The analysis takes into account the average levels and trends of coronavirus infections in these districts and then looks for ‘sudden spikes / changes’ as the ban is lifted,” Sudarshan said. The challenge for governments is to decide on the sufficient duration, he said.

“Before restricting movement, governments should consider whether they can actually prevent movement for a very long time. If the answer is no, then imposing the ban may amount to delaying travel and creating a situation where people leave later, while carrying more infections ”. he said.

The research applies to countries with a lot of migrant labor, Sudarshan pointed out, adding that this does not imply that lockdowns are not useful more generally.

The article stops before defining an ideal duration because the theoretical model of the spread of the disease shows that the effect of the different durations depends on how the disease progresses inside the hotspot. “This is exactly why we argue that it is dangerous to impose these bans in the first place, because it is difficult to predict how long a ban is going to be long enough … the key question is, when a small restriction is. worse than no restriction, we should be very careful in this way. ”

Patna-based epidemiologist Tanmay Mahapatra said India Spending that travel bans must be considered in the light of several factors, and duration is only one of them. “The conclusions of the document are interesting but I would like to add that it must be interpreted with caution,” he said, adding that other factors that must be taken into account include “the state of the epidemic during travel ban, testing and case management, COVID-19 appropriate behavior both at source and destination and the willingness of local authorities to implement restrictions.

As India plans its third wave infections with COVID-19, he must find the best way to implement the travel bans, Mahapatra said. “This second wave shocked us so much that simple solutions such as [travel] bans and lockouts won’t help anymore. They must be part of the overall response with the early identification and management of cases, ”he said.

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