An Indian health worker sprays disinfectant on the luggage of migrant workers and labourers along with their families stuck in the national capital, as they wait to board buses to return to their native villages, as nationwide lockdown continues over the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts New Delhi, India. (Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

INDIA faces a new risk of spreading coronavirus as India’s poorest are fleeing major cities in large numbers.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are slowly making a desperate journey on foot back to their villages.

India’s 21-day lockdown has dried up work in urban areas. Construction workers, handymen, food sellers, truck drivers and household help are suddenly wondering how they’ll pay rent or buy food.

“We have to go to our village — we will starve here,” said Rekha Devi as she walked with her husband and two young children down a highway outside of Delhi, heading to see her family some 370 kilometres (270 miles) away. The couple lived on the construction site where they worked, but the job stopped suddenly more than a week ago.

Many migrants were dead while trying to escape from urban pockets in trucks and tankers.

Reports say that many landowners asked these workers to leave immediately after the lockdown was announced by the prime minister on March 24.

These workers in many parts of the country are complaining that they are not getting enough food and other essentials as promised by the state governments.

The grim scenes playing out across the nation of 1.3 billion people are some of the worst across the world since the virus crisis shut down much of the global economy.

Media reports liken the exodus to the mass migration sparked by deadly religious riots when the subcontinent was split up after the British left in 1947.