New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday said the country will pull out of the three-week lockdown in phases, as officials battle to contain the country’s biggest cluster of coronavirus infections in the national capital. The shutdown, which has brought Asia’s third-largest economy to a shuddering halt, is due to end on April 14.
The lockdown had pushed the country’s 1.3 billion people indoors to avert a massive outbreak of coronavirus infections, but the world’s biggest shutdown has left millions without jobs and forced migrant workers to flee to their villages for food and shelter.
Addressing the state chief ministers in a video conference Modi said the shutdown had helped limit infections but that the situation remained far from satisfactory around the world and there could be a second wave. The Prime Minister said that “it is important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once lockdown ends.”
India has had 1,965 confirmed infections, of which 50 have died, low figures by comparison with the United States, China, Italy and Spain. But the big worry is the emergence of a cluster in Delhi because of a gathering held by a Muslim missionary group last month that has spawned dozens of cases across the country, officials said.
Thousands of people visited the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat in a cramped corner of Delhi over several days in March, including delegates from Muslim-majority countries Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. About 9,000 people linked to the Tablighi have been tracked down including 1,300 foreigners and transferred to either quarantine centres or hospitals, a top official said.
These people had either attended prayers, lectures at the Tablighi’s headquarters in the densely packed area or came into contact with them later. “This has emerged as a critical node in our fight against the coronavirus,” the official leading the operation to trace potential virus carriers said on condition of anonymity.
Health experts have warned that the death toll could surge across South Asia, home to a fifth of the world’s population and with weak public health systems. Bangladesh, home to about 160 million people, has extended a lockdown that was initially intended to last 10 days by a week, so it will last till April 11, the Public Administration Ministry said in a statement.
Pharmaceuticals and export-oriented factories such as the garments industry, which account for over 80 percent of overseas shipments, can keep running, the ministry said. “If the garment factory owners want, they can run their factories following proper health guidelines,” Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said.
Sri Lanka’s central bank asked Sri Lankans overseas to deposit their foreign currency holdings in Sri Lankan banks to help the country tide over the economic pain. The island nation’s key export earners, including tourism, textiles and garments and worker remittances, have ground to a halt.
Following is data on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia, according to government figures:
Pakistan has registered 2,291 cases, including 31 deaths.
India has registered 2,038 cases, including 58 deaths.
Sri Lanka has registered 148 cases, including three deaths.
Afghanistan has registered 239 cases, including four deaths.
Bangladesh has registered 56 cases, including six deaths.
Maldives has registered 28 cases and no deaths.
Nepal has registered six cases and no deaths.
Bhutan has registered five cases and no deaths
(With input from News Agencies)
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