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This morning 15 migrant workers, part of a group of 21 trying to return to Madhya Pradesh, were run over by a cargo train in Maharashtra's Aurangabad district. They had been sleeping along the tracks, railways officials said, and had been run over by the passing train at 5.15 am. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "anguished by the loss of lives" and said "all possible assistance" would be offered. Rahul Gandhi said he was "shocked" by the deaths of "nation builders".
Late Thursday night two special flights returning Indians stranded abroad amid the coronavirus lockdown landed in Kerala, carrying 363 passengers from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. All passengers were screened and will be quarantined for seven days. The government has said Air India will bring back 15,000 people on 64 flights between May 7 and May 13. Passengers taking these flights will charged between Rs 50,000 (from Europe) and Rs 1 lakh (from the US). More than 3 lakh have requested a flight home.
Earlier on Thursday the Karnataka government, which met with heavy criticism after it stopped stranded migrants from leaving the state, made a U-turn, allowing central-run "shramik (worker)" trains to carry migrants to their home states. The state had stopped the trains claiming the migrants were needed for the construction sector, prompting the Congress to question if "bonded labour" was still in practice.
Karnataka's stopping of migrant trains came a day after the BS Yediyurappa government announced a Rs 1,600 crore relief package for groups worst hit by the lockdown. However, there was little for migrants forced to stay back; it was directed at small and medium enterprises, handloom weavers, flower growers, barber and taxi drivers, among others.
As tens of thousands of migrants make their way home - whether on special trains or on foot - states are gearing up for a possible spurt in COVID-19 cases. Three states have been identified as potential hotspots - Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Odisha. Sources said the expected surge in cases could be made worse by inadequate testing and medical facilities.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed state officials to ensure that no migrant labourer stranded in another state is forced to walk back home. The state government "has been actively engaged in bringing them (migrants) back safely", a statement from the Chief Minister's office read.
The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has decided not to go ahead with proposals forwarded by the centre's Jal Shakti Ministry to undertake clinical studies for treatment of COVID-19 patients with Ganga water, saying it needs more scientific data.
Maharashtra remains the worst-hit state, reporting 17,974 cases and 694 deaths. Mumbai is the worst-hit metro with 11,219 cases and 437 deaths. Gujarat, the second worst-hit state has 7,012 cases and 425 deaths. The state has followed Tamil Nadu in enforcing a complete lockdown of major cities; Ahmedabad was locked down from midnight and Surat will be similarly shut from Saturday. Only milk and medicine shops will be allowed to open.
Around 500 security forces personnel stationed in Delhi and operating on the frontlines of the war against the novel coronavirus have been infected. The BSF (Border Security Force) tops the list with 195 soldiers testing positive; two BSF soldiers died Thursday. The CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) has also been hit, with 159 confirmed cases, two of whom were soldiers deputed to the Union Home Ministry. Nearly 900 CRPF soldiers in quarantine.
On Friday the US and China agreed to "create favourable conditions" for a trade deal signed in January, despite tension over the pandemic. The US, which is also in the middle of an extended trade dispute with Asia's largest economy, has repeatedly accused China of involvement in the spread of the COVID-19 virus. China has denied all such claims.