India will organise special trains to get at least 3.6 million migrant workers stranded by the pandemic lockdown back home, authorities said Saturday as fresh coronavirus cases in the country hit a new daily high.
With fears rising over the spread of the disease in Mumbai and other major cities, the government said 2,600 special trains would run over the next 10 days to help the workers who lost jobs when the lockdown started two months ago.
Millions of migrant workers have been stranded in the densely populated cities and many have walked hundreds of kilometers to get home.
Scores have died in accidents and even from exhaustion and hunger in the struggle to reach their villages.
Vinod Kumar Yadav, chairman of the Indian Railway Board, said about 80 percent of the new "Shamrik", or labourer, trains would go to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states, the biggest source of domestic migrant workers. About four million have already been moved on the special trains.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is gradually easing the world's biggest virus lockdown, which has caused mass unemployment among India's 1.3 billion population.
But at the same time, the number of new cases is rising each day, with at least 6,600 reported Saturday. The health ministry has confirmed at least 125,101 cases and 3,720 deaths.
Experts say the outbreak will not peak in India until June or July and authorities face an increasing struggle to contain the pandemic in Mumbai, Delhi and other cities that account for the bulk of cases. But Health Minister Harsh Vardhan called for calm over the crisis.
"There is no need to panic due to COVID-19 as the world has learnt to live with hundreds of viruses," Vardhan said on Twitter.
"Have faith in your government as we are following the best possible strategy, due to which we have one of the lowest fatality rates in the world."
India's caseload is fast catching up with that of Iran, one of the worst-hit countries with 131,000 positive cases but 7,300 deaths.