COLOMBO/ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) - One prisoner died and three others were injured when fighting broke out on Saturday in a Sri Lankan jail over rumours of coronavirus, as governments across South Asia tightened restrictions on movement to try to stem infections.
The pandemic appears to have been slow to take off in the region, home to 1.9 billion people, but the rate of infections in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan is increasing.
As a whole, by 1400 GMT on Saturday, the region had registered 957 coronavirus cases and eight deaths.
Instructions to stay indoors are a challenge for millions of day labourers who can scarcely afford to stay at home, and there are fears that the region will prove particularly vulnerable because of its poor health facilities and overcrowded infrastructure.
In Sri Lanka, which has confirmed 76 cases, police arrested 110 people from various parts of the country for violating a weekend curfew, a police spokesman said.
In Anuradhapura prison, scene of frequent protests against ill-treatment in recent years, inmates fought staff, fearing that the virus had entered the jail.
“Contrary to rumours floating around, no one has tested positive at the Anuradhapura prison,” said lawmaker Namal Rajapaksa.
At Dum Dum, the largest jail in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, police fired tear gas after prisoners attacked wardens and tried to start a fire after visits were banned because of the virus, a prison official said.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, all incoming flights except those from China, Hong Kong and Thailand were to be banned from midnight onwards 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 follow home quarantine.
Pakistan, with 534 confirmed cases and three deaths, suspended all international flights for two weeks. Officials there said a self-quarantine programme would continue for at least another 45 days.
In India’s towns and cities, people were scrambling to buy essential commodities ahead of a day-long curfew on Sunday promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a way of practising social isolation.
India is also banning all incoming international flights from 2001 GMT on Sunday.
With over 1.3 billion people, India has confirmed 283 cases of coronavirus, but has tested only 15,000 samples in 70 state-run labs, according to a senior health ministry official in New Delhi, one of the lowest testing rates in the world.
“At this point we really don’t know what is the extent of the spread,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
Indian Railways, which carries more than 25 million passengers every day, said some people had tested positive after travelling by train, forcing officials to try to track down fellow passengers.
Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in South Asia:
Pakistan - 534
India - 283
Sri Lanka - 76
Afghanistan - 24
Bangladesh - 24
Maldives - 13
Nepal - 1
Bhutan - 2
TOTAL - 957
Additioanl reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Devjyot Ghosal in New Delhi; Editing by Rupam Jain
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