With a surge in coronavirus cases in Delhi and its neighbouring cities, migrant workers and daily wagers fear another round of lockdown could push them into a severe financial crisis from which they might never recover. Delhi has already announced weekend and night curfews, among other restrictions to check crowding, as the city reports a record rise in cases months after a second wave wreaked havoc on its health system and led to a lockdown, leaving many jobless.
On Thursday, the city recorded 15,097 fresh Covid cases, the highest single-day rise since May 8, and six deaths while the positivity rate mounted to 15.34 per cent, according to official figures. “My family is not worried about contracting the virus. The poor never get it. We are more worried that if there is another lockdown, we will not survive a financial crunch,” Meena Devi, a migrant labourer in Karaval Nagar, said.
Besides Delhi, restrictions are in place in states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh that share borders with the national capital. However, no lockdown has been imposed and most businesses and activities, including those involving migrants workers, are working complying with Covid protocols.
“There is no lockdown in Delhi, and construction work will continue as usual; there is no reason for labourers and migrant workers to be concerned,” Satyendar Jain said. The surge in cases, restrictions and even the mention of a complete shut down send jitters down the spine of 60-year-old Pokyala, a domestic help in Lajpat Nagar. “Financially, we just scraped through the first and second waves,” Pokyala said.
The family did not have enough food for days and as people stayed indoors, “my husband took to washing cars to eke out a living”, she said, adding that “we got some help from the Delhi government in the way of 1 kg rice and 1 kg sugar a person”. “I worked in three houses. They asked me no to come during the lockdown, and only one household paid me,” Pokyala said, adding that with three people working meagre jobs in a family of seven, a lockdown could make it difficult for paying for children’s education and food.
Pokyala’s daughther-in-law said some families have not returned to Delhi since the 2020 lockdown. “Lockdown hit us badly. Work has been halved. If a lockdown happens again, I am not sure if employers will pay us for this period. I have saved some money for the marriage of my sister in February. This is all I have,” she said.
In April-May last year, it was the Delta variant of the coronavirus that led to the second wave, and according to experts, the emergence of the third is due to the Omicron variant, which has a high rate of transmission. Laxmi Devi, a domestic help in East of Kailash, is already getting apprehensive about the possibility of a lockdown after the weekend curfew was announced in Delhi.
“Last time, my employer didn’t cut my salary, so I managed it, but many people who live in my colony, who work in households as maids, faced a lot of problems, from managing food for survival to other basic needs,” she said. Lockdown hits the poor the hardest, said Laxmi, who hails from Bhagalpur in Bihar and had moved to Delhi 20 years ago for work. In Delhi, she stays with her two children — son (17) and daughter (15), while her husband, a painter, works in Bhagalpur.
For labourers at construction sites the thought of stricter restrictions and a possible shut down of activities looms large in their minds. Kamlesh Prajapati, who works at the Barapullah Phase-3 construction site, said that so far there is no ban on construction activities but the number of workers has started reducing at construction sites. It is because of a fear of strict restrictions or possible lockdown, he said.
“The vicious cycle of Covid wave has once again started. I am worried about a possible lockdown or ban on construction activities due to rising cases,” he said. “If a ban or lockdown is imposed then I will again be out of work. I am also thinking of going back to home as I don’t want to get stuck here without money,” Prajapati, a resident of Chandausi in Uttar Pradesh told PTI. Ramnath Jatav, who works at the Pragati Maidan Tunnel Project, fears that he might be jobless if the rising trend of Covid cases continues.
“Pandemic is again on the rise. Thousands of cases are being reported every day. It is reminding me of the time and hardships during the second wave. I want to go back home before curbs are put on travelling,” Jatav said. Raj Kumar, a native of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, who earns his living in Delhi by ironing clothes said he works on weekends too. There were already less customers and now weekend curfew is there which will further impact my earning, he said “I had gone back home during second COVID wave and returned in September last year. I can not sit idle here if there is no work and money,” Kumar said.
Ashok Kumar, an auto driver and resident of Bihar’s Motihari, said people like me are worried about livelihood. “There is uncertainty and fear because restrictions mean less people go out that hits us directly. I also feel government may impose lockdown if cases keep on rising. ” “Last time I took my wife and kids and travelled back to Motihari in the auto. This time there is relief because people are not having serious problems and there are not much deaths due to the virus.” Forty-year-old Chandra, a native of Tamil Nadu, who works as a domestic help in Lajpat Nagar, said, “Everyday I live in uncertainty and fear of losing my livelihood. When lockdown was implemented for the first time, I and my family were not only scared for our lives but also of losing our earnings.” Following the Covid outbreak in March 2020, a national lockdown was imposed. Last year, a second wave hit the country, with many states announcing shut down of activities to check the virus’ spread.