COVID Spread in Crowded Storm Shelters a Concern in India as Cyclone Tauktae Approaches

An approaching storm may worsen the already devastating coronavirus crisis in India. The Indian Meteorological Department expects Cyclone Tauktae to make landfall in Gujarat state on Monday evening, which could lead to wind damage, flooding and a greater risk of coronavirus transmission in crowded evacuation shelters.

The South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Udaya Regmi, told the Associated Press that the cyclone is a "terrible double blow" to those already hit with COVID-19 infections and deaths.

"The potential impacts of Cyclone Tauktae are frightening, as this monster storm threatens the state of Gujarat. Every effort must continue to keep people safe from this dangerous storm and the raging pandemic," Regmi said.

India Cyclone
Fishermen try to move a fishing boat to a safer ground on the Arabian Sea coast in Mumbai, India, on May 17. Cyclone Tauktae, roaring in the Arabian Sea, was moving toward India's western coast on Monday as authorities tried to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and suspended COVID-19 vaccinations in one state. Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo

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Virus lockdown measures, meanwhile, could slow relief work after the storm, and damage from the storm could destroy roads and cut vital supply lines for vaccines and medical supplies needed for virus patients.

In Gujarat, vaccinations were suspended for two days and authorities worked to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to temporary relief shelters. The state's chief minister, Vijay Rupani, asked officials to ensure that oxygen supplies for hospitals are not disrupted.

In Maharashtra, operations at Mumbai city's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport were suspended for five hours.

Fishing boats off the coast in both states returned to their harbors and thousands of rescue and relief teams, along with ships and aircraft, were deployed for recovery operations.

India's western coast is no stranger to devastating cyclones, but changing climate patterns have caused them to become more intense, rather than more frequent.

In May 2020, nearly 100 people died after Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm to hit eastern India in more than a decade, ravaged the region and left millions without power.

India Cyclone Evacuation
Police and rescue personnel in Kochi, India, evacuate a resident through a flooded street in a coastal area after heavy rains on May 14. Indian officials fear Cyclone Tauktae will cause an increase in COVID-19 infections as people gather in crowded evacuation shelters. Arunchandra BOSE/AFP via Getty Images