The police said that at least 10 Maoists have reportedly died, likely due to COVID-19 or food poisoning, in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. The police said even some senior rebel leaders are suffering from the viral infection.
"According to local villagers, naxals burnt the bodies of at least ten colleagues in the forest along the border of Bijapur and Sukma districts on Monday night," said Dantewada Superintendent of Police Abhishek Pallava.
"We suspect the deaths were caused by COVID-19 or food poisoning. But we are trying to get more details," he said.
The police had confirmed information that around 500 Maoists had gathered near Pidia village two weeks ago and some of them consumed medicines and packaged foods whose expiry date had expired, the SP said.
Following the meeting, several cadres complained of food poisoning or developed cough, cold and fever, Mr Pallava said, citing inputs from locals.
Senior leaders of the central regional company (CRC) of Maoists were also reported to be suffering from COVID-19 and trying to bring medicines and vaccine doses to the interior of Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada districts, he said.
The infection can spread among locals due to Maoists, he claimed.
"Maoists do not follow any safety norms. They do not wear face masks and are holding meetings of villagers in interior pockets, ignoring social distancing. This negligence could lead to the spread of the viral infection among villagers in the interior areas of Bastar," Mr Pallava said.
He appealed to Maoists to surrender, saying they will be provided necessary medical treatment.
After a new strain of coronavirus was detected in Andhra Pradesh, the administrations in Bastar region last week intensified monitoring on state borders, officials said. Passenger and cargo vehicles are being stopped and their occupants are tested.
As of Monday, the tribal-dominated Bastar division, comprising seven districts including Dantewada, had reported 67,478 COVID-19 cases including 452 deaths.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)