Indian migrant workers crowd trains, defying virus curfew

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An elderly couple bangs pans and cheers health care workers following coronavirus outbreaks, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, March 22, 2020. India is observing a 14-hour "people's curfew" called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to stem the rising coronavirus caseload in the country of 1.3 billion. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI – Indian migrant workers attempting to reach their home villages crowded a railway station in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, defying a 14-hour “people's curfew” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi called to stem a surge in coronavirus cases in the world's second-most populous country.

Modi asked India's 1.3 billion people to stay at home on Sunday, but also to collectively cheer front-line health care workers at 5 p.m.

Shortly before 5, the cacophony in New Delhi, the capital, began as people on balconies and rooftops clapped, rang bells, banged pots and pans, played music recordings and exploded fireworks, sending crows and parakeets streaming from treetops, and stray dogs and cows into the deserted streets.

Late Sunday, the government of Delhi, a federal territory, issued weeklong stay-at-home orders, canceling public transport services, closing shops, offices, factories and houses of worship, and allowing people to leave their homes only for basic necessities. Services such as police and health care were exempted from the rule.

Delhi joined the neighboring state of Haryana, home to the multinational corporate hub of Gurugram, as well as the states of Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Telangana and the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir with near-total bans on public movement.

There were at least 329 active cases of the new coronavirus in India, including the first death in the largely impoverished eastern state of Bihar, according to health officials. Seven people have died in the country from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Earlier Sunday, thousands of people from Mumbai and elsewhere in the western state of Maharashtra, which has confirmed the highest number of cases in India, jostled at a railway station in the city of Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state. Police struggled from a distance to control the crowds, who were waiting to be taken to their villages by buses and taxis that appeared unlikely to come.

“We are playing with our health by crowding railway stations and bus stands,” Modi said in a tweet.