Asia

Social distancing ditched as Cyclone Amphal batters India, Bangladesh

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MIDNAPORE, India: Social distancing was futile for one frightened group of people fleeing Cyclone Amphan, who herded cows and chickens to a packed Indian evacuation bunker on Wednesday (May 20) despite fears of coronavirus infection.

The shelter, west of Kolkata in Midnapore district, opened just before the strongest storm in decades collided into the nearby coast packing winds of up to 190 kilometres per hour.

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Twenty people were cramped in one small room and only two were wearing facemasks, even though authorities had pledged to reduce crowding in shelters and make the wearing of protective gear compulsory.

Cyclone Amphan is set to cut a devastating path through eastern India and neighbouring Bangladesh at a time when both countries are struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks.(AFP/Munir Uz zaman)

"I don't think I have a mask," said Kavita Lahiri, who brought her three children to the concrete building but had to leave her two cows tethered outside.

Amphan is set to cut a devastating path through eastern India and neighbouring Bangladesh at a time when both countries are struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks.

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At least 650,000 people fled to evacuation shelters in India's West Bengal and Odisha states and an estimated 2.4 million were relocated on other side of the border ahead of the cyclone's landfall.

A man rides his bike past fallen tree branches along a road ahead of the expected landfall of cyclone Amphan in Digha, West Bengal. (Dibyangshu SARKAR/AFP)

Authorities fear that migrant workers who recently returned from major cities could be carrying the virus to impoverished rural districts around the Bay of Bengal that now lie in the storm's path.

"Cyclone Amphan is the perfect example of how interconnected our crises are – with the poor having to cram into crowded cyclone shelters and put themselves at risk of catching the virus," said leading Bangladesh social activist Risalat Khan.

The West Bengal government said it had sent masks and sanitiser to evacuation centres, but at most shelters there was little sign of protective equipment.

'ONLY ALLAH CAN SAVE US'

Across the border in Bangladesh's Khulna district, more than 200 anxious villagers packed the Momtaj Begum school.

"We are worried because of the cyclone and the coronavirus," said 25-year-old Rumki Khatun as she cradled her infant son.

"The room is already packed and maintaining social disRead More – Source