Crowded, poor South Asia sees steady rise in coronavirus cases

Published March 16, 2020
Containment and social distancing is nearly impossible to enforce in slums, say experts. — AP/File
Containment and social distancing is nearly impossible to enforce in slums, say experts. — AP/File

Health authorities across South Asia reported rising tallies of coronavirus cases on Monday, raising the prospect of rapidly spreading outbreaks overwhelming poor medical facilities in a region that is home to a quarter of the world's people.

South Asia has been relatively lightly hit by the virus compared with neighbours to the east, like China and South Korea, and to the west like Iran and parts of Europe.

But measures that have reined in epidemics in China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, and South Korea are unlikely to work in poor, crowded parts of South Asia, health officials say.

“As compared to developed countries like the United States and China it will be difficult to (enforce) social distancing, especially in slum areas,” said Giridhara R Babu, an epidemiologist at the Indian Institute of Public Health in the city of Bengaluru.

“The living environment itself is crowded and may not be practical to ask them to maintain minimum distance from each other.”

Pakistan recorded a sharp rise in coronavirus cases on Monday, up 40 to 94, according to a Reuters tally of statistics from central and provincial governments.

The majority of new cases were in the southern province of Sindh in patients who had recently travelled from Iran - which has one of the world's worst outbreaks.

Afghanistan saw its tally rise to 21 with the majority of cases in the western province of Herat, which borders Iran and where thousands of Afghans cross back into their home country every day, some after being deported and others to escape a worsening Iranian economy.

Afghanistan's health infrastructure has been devastated by decades of war and a lack of funds and it would be hard pressed to mount any sort of concerted action against a coronavirus epidemic.

Matin Noorzai, a wholesaler in the one of the main markets in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said he had seen unprecedented demand and soaring food prices in recent days as worried shoppers stocked up.

“If the situation continues like this, I am sure in the coming week there will be no food left in the market,” he said.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, reported an almost-doubling of cases to 18 from 10.

India's tally rose to 110, while the total number of cases in the Maldives and Bangladesh rose to 13 and 5, respectively.

On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for regional action to tackle the virus, and he offered $10 million from India to get a regional emergency fund going.

Speaking to fellow South Asian leaders via video conference, Modi said India would also offer rapid response teams and other expertise to deal with the crisis.

Around the world, the coronavirus has infected nearly 170,000 people, killing more than 6,500 of them, according to a Reuters tally of official data.

Opinion

Intolerance grows
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Intolerance grows

Failure to pass the bill undermines the writ of the state, highlights its inability to guarantee citizens’ protection and freedom.
Moral panic
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Moral panic

If conflation of culture with religion is taken as true, there is mounting evidence that society has gone closer to such roots.
Challenges amid discord
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Challenges amid discord

Institutional disharmony and polarised politics are impeding efforts to address the country’s challenges.
Climate & youth
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Climate & youth

Disillusionment and anxiety are on the rise among youth as they confront the diminishing prospects of a better tomorrow.

Editorial

Financial troubles
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Financial troubles

Growing trade gap is fuelling the current account deficit and bringing the already meagre foreign exchange reserves under stress.
18 Oct 2021

Complaint portal

IN a ruling on Thursday, the Mingora bench of the Peshawar High Court held that the Prime Minister’s Performance...
18 Oct 2021

Capital’s master plan

IT is encouraging that on Thursday, the restructured commission formed by the federal cabinet to revise ...
Carnage in Kandahar
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Carnage in Kandahar

Pakistan’s anti-extremism policy is in many ways half-baked and inconsistent.
17 Oct 2021

Sanctity of contracts

PAKISTAN is facing yet another international dispute before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment...
17 Oct 2021

New sports policy

THIS week, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee chief Haroon Malik was in Zurich to hold ...