Millions in cyclone evacuation shelters face Covid-19 contagion risk

4 days ago

As the biggest cyclone to hit in two decades loomed over the Bay of Bengal, emergency relief officials realised they were facing a nightmare: They needed to evacuate over 5 million people to safety at the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Right after the weather office elevated the cyclone warning to the maximum, government officials had the onerous task of evacuating hundreds to storm shelters while at the same time attempting to keep social distancing rules in place.

“Disasters wreak havoc on fighting the pandemic,” said Bhuputra Panda, associate professor of Public Health Foundation of India. “The possibility of increasing the rate of transmission rises sharply as it becomes almost impossible to maintain social distancing, hygiene, wearing mask. Even quarantine centers are converted into cyclone shelters.”

Of the initial plan to evacuate more than 5 million, Bangladesh ended up evacuating about 2.4 million people, while eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha moved about 700,000 people before the cyclone hit the region.

“At relief centers, we are providing masks,” Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim said. “There are so many people that it’s difficult, but we are trying to maintain social distancing."

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