Leaders call to extend Indian coronavirus lockdown
India has, so far, escaped a big surge in cases after it told its 1.3-billion people to stay indoors, but the economic fallout is affecting the poor
New Delhi — India’s 21-day lockdown is set to end next week but several state leaders have called for an extension, or only a partial lifting of restrictions, saying it is the only way to avoid a surge in the coronavirus pandemic that will be difficult to tackle.
India has, so far, escaped a big surge in cases after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked its 1.3-billion people to stay indoors in the world’s biggest lockdown last month that authorities have tightly enforced.
But shuttering down the $2.9-trillion economy has left millions of people without work and forced those who live on daily wages to flee to their homes in the countryside for food and shelter.
The chief minister of the southern state of Telangana, which has been hit by a rash of cases tied to a Muslim religious gathering in Delhi, said the country can take the hit to the economy and that it is more important to save lives. “I am for the lockdown of the country after April 15, because, we can recover from the economic problem, but, we cannot get back lives,” K Chandrasekhar Rao told reporters.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned of a big outbreak this month. “We have got some reports, which said there will be a massive hike in cases in Bangladesh. So, we have to be very careful to overcome the crisis,” she told government officials.
Hasina said the garment industry will also have to remain shut as part of the lockdown until April 14, even though businesses had asked for an exemption for the country’s top export earner.
As of Tuesday, the densely packed country of 160-million has 164 cases including 17 deaths.
Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said risks to the landlocked country sandwiched between India and China are rising because people are not following quarantine properly. “The coming two weeks will be of additional challenge for us. This is the high-risk period for the spread of the coronavirus,” he said in an address to the country.
The following are the latest figures for the coronavirus in South Asia:
• India has 4,585 cases, including 137 deaths
• Pakistan has 4,004 cases, including 54 deaths
• Afghanistan has 423 cases, including 11 deaths
• Sri Lanka has 180 cases, including six deaths
• Bangladesh has 164 cases, including 17 deaths
• Maldives has 19 cases and no deaths
• Nepal has nine cases and no deaths
• Bhutan has five cases and no deaths
By Tuesday, India had more than 4,800 Vovid-19 cases and 137 deaths, comparatively less than some countries, such as the US, where fatalities from the respiratory disease are close to 11,000.
Modi, who has faced criticism for ordering the lockdown with barely four hours’ notice is due to make a decision this week about whether to extend it.
The leaders of the eastern states of Assam and Chhattigarh said they would like to keep the state borders closed or allow only restricted entry while they dealt with the infections.
“As and when the lockdown is withdrawn, we have to regulate those wanting to come to Assam,” said health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Bangladesh, Nepal expecting surge
Across South Asia, home to one fifth of the world’s population, there are growing concerns that it won’t escape the surge seen in other parts of the world.