Train cars have been transformed into hospital wards to house coronavirus patients, Guwahati, India, Sunday, March 29.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologized to the public on Sunday for imposing a three-week national lockdown, calling it harsh but "needed to win" the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The lockdown measures are taking a huge toll on India’s poor, including millions of migrant laborers whose jobs in cities have vanished.

With all transportation, such as trains and buses, suspended, many are making arduous journeys of hundreds of kilometers on foot, lugging bags or clutching small bundles.

Following reports of an exodus of workers from cities, authorities have tightened surveillance to prevent people from crossing states amid fears that they could carry the virus to the vast countryside, defeating the effort to contain its spread.

The clampdown caught migrant workers in its teeming cities unaware. Numbering about 100 million and coming from poorer states, they build roads and swanky buildings, work as shop assistants, security guards and cooks, and do other casual jobs to keep the wheels of metropolises like Delhi and Mumbai running.

The federal government has asked local authorities to provide food, sanitation and accommodation to migrants, but rolling out those benefits will take time.

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Associated Press 11 May 2020 11:44 CEST

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