When I spoke to him on the phone, he had just returned home to his village in the northern state of Rajasthan from neighbouring Gujarat, where he worked as a mason.
In the rising heat, Goutam Lal Meena had walked on macadam in his sandals. He said he had survived on water and biscuits.
In Gujarat, Mr Meena earned up to 400 rupees ($5.34; £4.29) a day and sent most of his earnings home. Work and wages dried up after India declared a 21-day lockdown with four hours notice on the midnight of 24 March to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (India has reported more than 1,000 Covid-19 cases and 27 deaths so far.) The shutting down of all transport meant that he was forced to travel on foot.
"I walked through the day and I walked through the night. What option did I have? I had little money and almost no food," Mr Meena told me, his voice raspy and strained.
He was not alone. All over India, millions of migrant workers are fleeing its shuttered cities and trekking home to their villages.
These informal workers are the backbone of the big city economy, constructing houses, cooking food, serving in eateries, delivering takeaways, cutting hair in salons, making automobiles, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things. Escaping poverty in their villages, most of the estimated 100 million of them live in squalid housing in congested urban ghettos and aspire for upward mobility.
Last week's lockdown turned them into refugees overnight. Their workplaces were shut, and most employees and contractors who paid them vanished.
Sprawled together, men, women and children began their journeys at all hours of the day last week. They carried their paltry belongings - usually food, water and clothes - in cheap rexine and cloth bags. The young men carried tatty backpacks. When the children were too tired to walk, their parents carried them on their shoulders.
They walked under the sun and they walked under the stars. Most said they had run out of money and were afraid they would starve. "India is walking home," headlined The Indian Express newspaper.
Migrant labourers feel they have more social security in their villages
The staggering exodus was reminiscent of the flight of refugees during the bloody partition in 1947. Millions of bedraggled refugees had then trekked to east and west Pakistan, in a migration that displaced 15 million people.
This time, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are desperately trying to return home in their own country. Battling hunger and fatigue, they are bound by a collective will to somehow get back to where they belong. Home in the village ensures food and the comfort of the family, they say.
Clearly, a lockdown to stave off a pandemic is turning into a humanitarian crisis.
Among the teeming refugees of the lockdown was a 90-year-old woman, whose family sold cheap toys at traffic lights in a suburb outside Delhi.
Kajodi was walking with her family to their native Rajasthan, some 100km (62 miles) away. They were eating biscuits and smoking beedis, - traditional hand-rolled cigarettes - to kill hunger. Leaning on a stick, she had been walking for three hours when journalist Salik Ahmed met her. The humiliating flight from
the city had not robbed her off her pride. "She said she would have bought a ticket to go home if transport was available," Mr Ahmed told me.
Others on the road included a five-year-old boy who was on a 700km (434 miles) journey by foot with his father, a construction worker, from Delhi to their home in Madhya Pradesh state in central India. "When the sun sets we will stop and sleep," the father told journalist Barkha Dutt. Another woman walked with her husband and two-and-a-half year old daughter, her bag stuffed with food, clothes and water. "We had a place to stay but no money to buy food," she said.
Then there was Rajneesh, a 26-year-old automobile worker who walking 250km (155 miles) to his village in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. It would take him four days, he reckoned. "We will die walking before coronavirus hits us," the man told Ms Dutt.
The fleeing migrants could spread the disease all over the country
He was not exaggerating. Last week, a 39-year-old man on a 300km (186 miles) trek from Delhi to Madhya Pradesh complained of chest pain and exhaustion and died; and a 62-year-old man, returning from a hospital by foot in Gujarat, collapsed outside his house and died. Four other migrants, turned away at the borders on their way to Rajasthan from Gujarat, were mowed down by a truck on a dark highway.
As the crisis worsened, state governments scrambled to arrange transport, shelter and food.
But trying to transport them to their villages quickly turned into another nightmare. Hundreds of thousands of workers were pressed against each other at a major bus terminal in Delhi as buses rolled in to pick them up.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal implored the workers not to leave the capital. He asked them to "stay wherever you are, because in large gatherings, you are also at risk of being infected with the coronavirus." He said his government would pay their rent, and announced the opening of 568 food distribution centres in the capital. Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologised for the lockdown "which has caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people", adding these "tough measures were needed to win this battle."
Whatever the reason, Mr Modi and state governments appeared to have bungled in not anticipating this exodus.
Mr Modi has been extremely responsive to the plight of Indian migrant workers stranded abroad: hundreds of them have been brought back home in special flights. But the plight of workers at home struck a jarring note.
There is a precedent for this kind of exodus during crisis
"Wanting to go home in a crisis is natural. If Indian students, tourists, pilgrims stranded overseas want to return, so do labourers in big cities. They want to go home to their villages. We can't be sending planes to bring home one lot, but leave the other to walk back home," tweeted Shekhar Gupta, founder and editor of The Print.
The city, says Chinmay Tumbe, author of India Moving: A History of Migration, offers economic security to the poor migrant, but their social security lies in their villages, where they have assured food and accommodation. "With work coming to a halt and jobs gone, they are now looking for social security and trying to return home," he told me.
Also there's plenty of precedent for the flight of migrant workers during a crisis - the 2005 floods in Mumbai witnessed many workers fleeing the city. Half of the city's population, mostly migrants, had also fled the city - then Bombay - in the wake of the 1918 Spanish flu.
When plague broke out in western India in 1994 there was an "almost biblical exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from the industrial city of Surat [in Gujarat]", recounts historian Frank Snowden in his book Epidemics and Society.
Half of Bombay's population deserted the city, during a previous plague epidemic in 1896. The draconian anti-plague measures imposed by the British rulers, writes Dr Snowden, turned out to be a "blunt sledgehammer rather than a surgical instrument of precision". They had helped Bombay to survive the epidemic, but "the fleeing residents carried the disease with them, thereby spreading it."
More than a century later, that same fear haunts India today. Hundreds of thousands of the migrants will eventually reach home, either by foot, or in packed buses. There they will move into their joint family homes, often with ageing parents. Some 56 districts in nine Indian states account for half of inter-state migration of male workers, according to a government report. These could turn out to be potential hotspots as thousands of migrants return home.
Partha Mukhopadhyay, a senior fellow at Delhi's Centre for Policy Research, suggests that 35,000 village councils in these 56 potentially sensitive districts should be involved to test returning workers for the virus, and isolate infected people in local facilities.
Ninety-year-old Kajodi Devi is walking from Delhi to her village
In the end, India is facing daunting and predictable challenges in enforcing the lockdown and also making sure the poor and homeless are not fatally hurt. Much of it, Dr Snowden told me, will depend on whether the economic and living consequences of the lockdown strategy are carefully managed, and the consent of the people is won. "If not, there is a potential for very serious hardship, social tension and resistance." India has already announced a $22bn relief package for those affected by the lockdown.
The next few days will determine whether the states are able to transport the workers home or keep them in the cities and provide them with food and money. "People are forgetting the big stakes amid the drama of the consequences of the lockdown: the risk of millions of people dying," says Nitin Pai of Takshashila Institution, a prominent think tank.
"There too, likely the worst affected will be the poor."- (BBC report)
Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection (CHP) reported on Monday 41 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19, taking the total to 682.
Of the newly-diagnosed patients, 34 have travel history with half as students returning from overseas, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the CHP's communicable disease branch, said at a daily press briefing on Monday afternoon
Seven people became infected locally, including one who has been to a bar in Tsim Sha Tsui and two as close contacts of patients diagnosed earlier. Infection sources of the other four remained unclear.
Hong Kong has witnessed an upsurge in imported cases over the past two weeks as quite a number of its residents working or studying overseas rushed back home in fear of a global pandemic, which has put great pressure on its medical resources, including isolated beds.
Thirty-nine patients still waited for hospitalization on Monday afternoon as isolated beds were almost used up in some hospitals, according to Hong Kong's Hospital Authority.
Lau Ka-hin, chief manager (Quality and Standards) of Hong Kong's Hospital Authority, said hospitals will put in place about 400 second-line beds this week for patients who only have mild symptoms or are getting better to ease the strain, so that newly confirmed cases could receive treatment in time.
A total of 554 COVID-19 patients have remained in the hospital as far, with five in critical condition.
India is adding more resources to tackle the inevitable rise in its number of coronavirus cases by announcing that private hospitals may be requisitioned to help treat virus patients, and turning railway cars and a motor racing circuit into makeshift quarantine facilities.
The steps were taken after a nationwide lockdown announced last week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi led to a mass exodus of migrant workers from cities towards their villages — often on foot and without food and water — raising fears that the virus may have reached to the countryside, where health care facilities are limited.
Indian health officials have confirmed more than 1,000 cases of the coronavirus, including 29 deaths.
Experts have said that local spreading is inevitable in a country where tens of millions of people live in dense urban areas with irregular access to clean water, and that the exodus of the migrants will burden the already strained health system.
As India's under-resourced health care system prepares to confront a wave of coronavirus cases, some state governments have asked liquor factories and breweries to ramp up the production of liquid sanitizer after the initial supply failed to match the demand. Designers, nonprofit groups and prisoners in various jails have stepped up to help overcome shortages of masks and other personal protective equipment.
India has less than one allopathic doctor and only 1.7 nurses per thousand people, the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization. The dominant share of India's doctors and beds are also in the private health care sector, which the country's poor often cannot afford.
"India's big city hospitals are well equipped to deal with the surge in virus cases," said public health expert T. Sundararaman. "But the same can't be said about district hospitals in rural areas, barring some exceptions in states that fare well when it comes to health care."
The need for broader support for strong measures to avoid the spread of the virus has continued to mount as opposition leaders, analysts and health experts say the government appears to have been caught off guard.
The governments of the states of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have announced in the past few days that intensive care units, ventilators and staff of private hospitals might be requisitioned to treat COVID-19 patients.
Joining the fight against the virus, New Delhi's top hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said it was converting its trauma center into a COVID-19 hospital, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The Buddh International Circuit, India's first Formula One racing track, was being readied to be used as a shelter and quarantine facility, officials said.
Indian Railways announced on Saturday that it is converting some of its train coaches into isolation units for rural and remote areas. All passenger trains in the country have been suspended until April 14.
On Sunday, after tens of thousands of migrant workers had already made arduous days-long journeys home by foot, Modi apologized for the 21-day lockdown he ordered and said that he had "no choice."
On Saturday, state borders were opened as hundreds of buses were sent by the authorities to ferry the migrant workers, who live in squalid housing in congested urban ghettos, earning meager wages and having no savings to fall back on.
The government's late response, however, struck a jarring note in comparison to its quick response to the plight of Indian workers stranded abroad, hundreds of whom were brought back home on special flights.
Ram Bhajan Nisar, a migrant worker from the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh who was earning a living in New Delhi as a painter, set off from the capital last week with his wife and two children. Government buses and hitchhiking took the family part of the way, but the remainder of the journey to their village near the border with neighboring Nepal was made on foot.
"I walked two days, two nights to reach here, and both the children have blisters on their feet," said Nisar, who was then sent for quarantine in a government school.
People who have been quarantined in India for suspected exposure to the virus say conditions inside government facilities were unsanitary and could potentially foment the outbreak.
Azad Ahmad Padder, a 40-year-old doctor, was sent to a quarantine facility in northern Jammu city along with his ailing brother on March 24. The duo, with no foreign travel history, had expected clean quarantine facilities at the converted university campus.
Instead, the two brothers found stained bedding at the facility, with five people in a room, dirty floors and clogged washrooms that were full of bird droppings.
Apart from the squalid living conditions, the facility, Padder said, was already housing more than 200 people who rushed through its corridors in groups, risking the spread of the virus.
"The way that they have been treating us is absolutely terrifying," he said.
Padder's account of the conditions was corroborated by other people at the facility, along with photographs of washrooms covered with excrement.
Others at the facility lamented the lack of medical facilities, including sanitizers and masks. They said that they were not being adequately screened for the virus or treated for existing conditions, and that their days passed with a nagging concern about possible virus cases around them.
Padder said the situation was particularly worrying for his 60-year-old brother, who is recovering from lung-related ailments and is at risk of getting pneumonia if he catches the coronavirus.
"The conditions here are so filthy that if a person spends a few days here, even if they are healthy, they will get the virus," he said. "It feels like we are living in a detention center." ___ Associated Press photographer Manish Swarup contributed to this report.
Chinese health authority said Sunday it received reports of 45 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Chinese mainland on Saturday, of which 44 were imported.
A new domestic case was reported in Henan Province, the National Health Commission said.
Also on Saturday, five deaths and 28 new suspected cases were reported on the mainland, with all the deaths in Hubei Province, according to the commission.
India has been criticised for its poor record of testing people in the battle against coronavirus. That, however, is set to change, thanks in large part to the efforts of one virologist, who delivered on a working test kit, just hours before delivering her baby, reports BBC.
On Thursday, the first made-in-India coronavirus testing kits reached the market, raising hopes of an increase in screening of patients with flu symptoms to confirm or rule out the Covid-19 infection.
Mylab Discovery, in the western city of Pune, became the first Indian firm to get full approval to make and sell testing kits. It shipped the first batch of 150 to diagnostic labs in Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Bengaluru (Bangalore) this week.
"Our manufacturing unit... is working through the weekend and the next batch will be sent out on Monday," Dr Gautam Wankhede, Mylab's director for medical affairs, told the BBC on Friday.
The molecular diagnostic company, which also makes testing kits for HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and other diseases, says it can supply up to 100,000 Covid-19 testing kits a week and can produce up to 200,000 if needed.
Each Mylab kit can test 100 samples and costs 1,200 rupees ($16; £13) - that's about a quarter of the 4,500 rupees that India pays to import Covid-19 testing kits from abroad.
Virologist delivered kit, then her baby
Minal Dakhave Bhosale says Mylab's testing kit was developed 'in record time'
"Our kit gives the diagnosis in two and a half hours while the imported testing kits take six-seven hours," says virologist Minal Dakhave Bhosale, Mylab's research and development chief.
Ms Bhosale, who headed the team that designed the coronavirus testing kit called Patho Detect, said it was done "in record time" - six weeks instead of three or four months.
And the scientist was battling with her own deadline too. Last week she gave birth to a baby girl - and only began work on the programme in February, just days after leaving hospital with a pregnancy complication.
"It was an emergency, so I took this on as a challenge. I have to serve my nation," she says, adding that her team of 10 worked "very hard" to make the project a success.
In the end, she submitted the kit for evaluation by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) on 18 March, just a day before delivering her daughter.
That same evening, just an hour before she was taken to hospital ahead of her Caesarean, she submitted the proposal to the Indian FDA and the drugs control authority CDSCO for commercial approval.
"We were running against time," says Dr Wankhede. "Our reputation was at stake, we had to get everything right on the first go, and Minal was leading our efforts from the front."
Before submitting the kits for evaluation, the team had to check and re-check all the parameters to ensure its results that were precise, and accurate.
"If you carry out 10 tests on the same sample, all 10 results should be same," said Ms Bhosale. "And we achieved that. Our kit was perfect."
The government-run Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), under which NIV operates, agreed. It said Mylab was the only Indian company to achieve 100% results.
India has tightly controlled the number of people who could be tested for the coronavirus
'Gaping holes in Indian health system'
India has been criticised for not testing enough. It has one of the lowest rates in the world, with just 6.8 tests per million.
Initially, India insisted on testing only those who had travelled to high-risk countries or had come in contact with an infected person or health workers treating coronavirus patients. It later said that anyone admitted to hospital with severe respiratory distress should also be tested.
But with the circle of infection widening daily, the numbers are expected to grow hugely.
In the past few days, India has scaled up testing. Initially, only the state labs were allowed to test for coronavirus, but permission has now been extended to several private labs too.
And on Thursday, India also gave approvals to 15 private companies to commercially sell diagnostic kits based on licences they have obtained in the US, European Union and some other countries.
Dr Wankhede says with the number of suppliers and labs increasing every day, the testing will go up exponentially.
Increased testing would be a huge help, but experts say India has gaping holes in its health infrastructure that need to be plugged urgently to deal with the growing threat of coronavirus.
"South Korea - that's so tiny - has 650 labs testing for the coronavirus, how many do we have?" asks Sujatha Rao, former federal health secretary.
India has only 118 government laboratories and officials say 50 private labs will also be roped in.
For a population of 1.3 billion, that is far from adequate.
"India will have to identify many more labs, then the testing kits have to reach there, and technicians have to be trained. And getting the infrastructure ramped up will take time," Ms Rao says.
And once the test results start coming in and if a large number of people test positive and require hospitalisation, India will find it difficult to cope.
"You know the state of the healthcare facilities in the country? They are all bunched up in urban areas, there's very little facility in rural India. That will be a big challenge," she says.