March 21, 2020 / 9:00 AM / 15 days ago

South Asian governments impose coronavirus curfews, border controls

DHAKA/COLOMBO, March 21 (Reuters) - Bangladesh tightened border controls while Sri Lanka arrested more than two dozen people for violating a nationwide curfew as part of increased efforts on Saturday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in densely populated South Asia.

The region, home to 1.9 billion people, appears to have been less hard hit than elsewhere in the world but the rate of new infections in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka has accelerated, with 869 detected cases and seven deaths.

A senior Indian health ministry official in New Delhi said India had tested some 15,00 people in about 70 state-run labs, one of the lowest testing rates in the world.

Bracing for the inevitable, India is scaling up testing.

“At this point we really don’t know what is the extent of the spread,” the health ministry official said, on condition of anonymity.

Officials worry that countries in the region will prove particularly susceptible to the virus, given poor health facilities and infrastructure in many areas.

Bangladesh banned the arrival of all flights from midnight except from China, Hong Kong and Thailand, after 20 people tested positive, a senior civil aviation official said.

At Dhaka airport, authorities started marking the hands of passengers who had been instructed to home quarantine.

In Sri Lanka, which has reported 72 confirmed cases, police arrested 30 people from various parts of the country for violating curfew, a police spokesman said, adding the curfew has been imposed till Monday morning.

Indians in urban centres were scrambling to buy essential commodities, ahead of a self-imposed day-long curfew on Sunday promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to practice social isolation.

India, the world’s second most populous country, also plans to halt all incoming international flights to help stem the number of cases, which passed 271 on Saturday.

The Pakistan government requested people self-quarantine for at least another 45 days as the country reported its third coronavirus death and the total number of confirmed cases rose to 481. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Editing by Rupam Jain and Jane Wardell)

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