INDIA faces a “human time bomb” as the coronavirus spreads in densely crowded areas of the country, the Leprosy Mission has warned.
The charity said that the coronavirus, like leprosy, was surrounded by superstition, ignorance, and misunderstanding, which stigmatised the sufferers.
The head of programmes for the Leprosy Mission, Sian Arulananthan, said that communities affected by leprosy would be some of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus in India. People with leprosy were more likely to be disabled, have weakened immune systems, and underlying health conditions.
”And like leprosy, malnutrition, overcrowded living conditions and poor sanitation make an ideal breeding ground for the spread of coronavirus,” she said. Social distancing and isolation were “an almost impossible task in densely populated areas. This is a human time bomb waiting to explode.”
India went into lockdown on 25 March, when the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced a “total ban on leaving your homes”, which sparked panic, as many were left without food to last them through the lockdown.
There have been more than 3500 confirmed infections and about 100 deaths from Covid-19 in India, the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University report; but India has the lowest testing rates in the world; so the real figures are thought to be much higher.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that she was concerned by the effect that the lockdown has had on informal migrant workers, who were forced to leave the cities where they were working and walk, sometimes hundreds of miles home, as no public transport was running. Some are reported to have died on the way.
But, on Sunday, in an effort to control the virus, the Indian Home Affairs Ministry ordered states to intercept and quarantine the migrants for two weeks.
Ms Bachelet voiced concerns about measures that have been imposed, including stamping the hands of those quarantined and the posting of notices outside the homes of those quarantined. She said that this would stigmatise those affected.