Sunil Singh Narpal Singh Sikh tested positive for COVID-19 on 21 March. The 23-year-old, a migrant from Uttar Pradesh who was working as a daily-wage mason in the state, had been having difficulty breathing and is now scared that he will die, his friend, Pyarelal Yadav, told me. Yadav said Singh would keep crying in his isolation ward, in the Kolhapur district’s Kagal Rural Hospital, where he had been separated from all other patients. “We tried to give him some medicines we bought across the counter at a local medical but he was not improving so we got him to the hospital,” Yadav, who is also a mason, said. They earn between Rs 300–500 per day, and send money to their landless families in their native village of Janghai, near Allahabad. Yadav had been advised to quarantine himself. Before hanging up, he asked in earnest, “Do you think I will also end up like Sunil?”
As the number of fatalities to the novel coronavirus in India reached 19 and confirmed cases rose to over eight hundred, Maharashtra has seen among the highest number of cases in any state. The rapid outbreak of the virus in the state has not been limited to the crowded cities such as Mumbai and Pune, but has affected interior districts such as Amravati and Sangli as well. As of 8.30 am on 28 March, Maharashtra had reported 154 confirmed cases and six deaths, according to state health officials. Public-health experts believe a variety of reasons contributed to the pandemic rising in Maharashtra, ranging from the government failing to recognise the gravity of the crisis, the high-density of population, and a demographic that includes a large number of international travellers.
When the total cases in Maharashtra jumped quickly from 64 to 101 within 72 hours, from 20 to 22 March, the state government went into a huddle and decided to place the state under lockdown. Since 23 March, Maharashtra, like Delhi and Punjab, has been under lockdown, one day before the prime minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown. “Nothing much changes for Maharashtra,” Anil Deshmukh, the state home minister, told me. “People should not panic. The same curfew which was working like a total lockdown will now go on till April 15.” Deshmukh added, “We are working to ensure all essential supplies like grocery, milk, medicines and cooking gas are not affected and people are not inconvenienced. Stepping out in panic to buy essentials and crowding shops and markets will be wrong. We will work that out so that both safety and convenience are balanced.”