March 26, 2020 / 7:45 AM / 6 days ago

India's coronavirus cases tick up despite immense lockdown

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    By Sanjeev Miglani
    NEW DELHI, March 26 (Reuters) - Three more people infected
with coronavirus died overnight in India as the government
sought on Thursday to improve basic services to 1.3 billion
people locked indoors to slow the spread of the disease. 
    Streets were silent across India's cities and towns on the
second day of a three-week, 24 hour shutdown as people heeded
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call not to step out of homes
except in emergencies or to buy food and other necessities.
    Lines of people, wearing masks and some with gloves, could
be seen outside small neighbourhood shops in Delhi and Mumbai,
among other cities. 
    Trucks were stranded at state borders and public transport
was withdrawn. Police have strictly enforced the lockdown even
though Modi said essential services would be maintained. 
    Ram Prakash, a shopkeeper in Delhi's Nizamuddin area, said
supplies of some essential goods had improved although bottled
water was still a problem.
    "We are still facing supply issues with a few things, but
slowly things are getting better,” he said.
    The health ministry said the number of cases of coronavirus
had risen to 649, of which 13 had died. 
    The numbers are still small compared with those in China,
Italy and Spain, but health experts have warned that the world's
second most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if
tough steps are not taken.
    Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO's top emergencies expert, told a
Geneva news conference that with the lockdown in place, India
had a window of opportunity to expand testing, surveillance and
quarantine facilities and said its success with eliminating
polio was an example.
    "India got rid of polio by breaking it by breaking it down
to the village level. All the way through the system, it broke
down the problem, it went after the polio virus district by
district by district by district. And India won."
    "If India does the same thing, breaks down the problem, puts
in place the measures that are needed, then there is a way out."
    India has tested 24,254 people as of Wednesday, according to
the government run Indian Council of Medical Research, a small
number compared to the population. 
    Only recently has the government authorized the private
sector and some nongovernmental research laboratories to run the
tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.  
    The number of cases rose to 1,102 in neighbouring Pakistan
with eight deaths, with most cases in Sindh province that is
under a lockdown. But infections in Punjab, the most populous
province, are picking up now, government data showed. 
    On Wednesday, Pakistan said it was seeking a fresh $1.4
billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help
it deal with the economic slowdown from the coronavirus.
    Pakistan is already on a three-year rescue package that
began last year as the country of 208 million people wrestles
with a balance-of-payments crisis.
    In Nepal, authorities were trying to evacuate tourists
stranded in different parts of the country due to a nationwide
lockdown, bring them to Kathmandu and arrange to send them home,
the government said.
    Shyam Thapa of the Himalayan Expedition company said about
125 foreign hikers were stranded at Lukla, the gateway to Mount
Everest. “They are safe and have no problem,” Thapa told
    Following is the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia's
eight nations:    
     Confirmed cases, government figures        
     Pakistan                                    1,102
     India                                         649
     Sri Lanka                                     102 
     Afghanistan                                    84
     Bangladesh                                     39
     Maldives                                       13 
     Nepal                                           3
     Bhutan                                          2  
     TOTAL                                       1,871

 (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Gibran Peshiman in
Islamabad, Aftab Ahmad in Delhi and Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu;
Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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