On Sunday morning, June 7, the chief medical officer of Jaunpur district sat in his office, shooting muffled instructions to his staff from behind his N-95 mask.

“Arrange 10 mattresses quickly,” he told a man who tentatively stood next to his desk. “We need to prepare 100 beds immediately.”

“Why have 25 thalis fallen short?” he asked irately on the phone. “How much food did you cook?”

“Get the RO [water purifier] fitted,” he instructed another member of his staff.

From thermocol to line sample boxes to copper pipes needed to prepare a hospital ward, Ramaji Pandey, the chief medical officer, was busy clearing purchase orders.

“Baaraat aayi hai, vyavastha karni hogi,” he quipped. The wedding party has come, arrangements have to be made.

He was referring to the migrant workers pouring into the district on trains, buses, trucks, mostly from Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat. “More than 2.5 lakh migrants have returned,” he said. “And this is the number for which we have a record.”

Their return had led to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in Jaunpur. The district had only 18 cases till May 15. Twenty one days later, the number had shot up to 284 – of these, 249 were migrants who had returned from Mumbai.

With 301 confirmed cases,...

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