How the Coronavirus Is Impacting South Asia and the World

Regular updates on how the disease and its response affects the world outside India.

New Delhi: With nations shutting down to combat the threat from the spread of coronavirus, it is even more crucial to keep track of information on the pandemic and the impact of measures taken to prevent its spread.

Here is The Wire’s daily roundup of important news on coronavirus from South Asia and beyond: 

In India’s neighbourhood, Myanmar had been the only country which had not reported any cases of COVID-19. In fact, Myanmar had been the largest populous country to have no cases till now. 

That changed around midnight on Monday, when the Myanmar government announced that there were two cases of confirmed detection of coronavirus from two nationals returning from UK and US, the central government finally announced tough new restrictions on all arrivals on Tuesday.

From March 25, all incoming Myanmar nationals and foreign travellers will be subjected to mandatory quarantine of 14 days, Myanmar Times reported. 

Yangon region’s social affair minister U Naing Ngan Lin was put into home quarantine after he met one of the two positive case, a student who had returned from UK two days ago.

The 26-year-old student had tested positive while he was supposed to be in mandatory quarantine after arrival. The second patient, a 36-year-old arrived in Yangon on March 13 and went home. He only developed fever a week after his return. 

According to the Myanmar government spokesperson, the patient’s entire village in Chin region has been put under lockdown.

Meanwhile, Myanmar also suspended all university examinations across the country. 

In neighbouring Bangladesh, the number of patients with coronavirus stood at 39. On Monday, Bangladesh government declared a 10-day lockdown from March 26 till April 4 to stop the spread of the virus. Bangladesh prime minister is scheduled to address the nation on March 25.

The government announced that low income group persons, who were dependent on daily wages, should go back to their hometowns or villages.

Bangladesh had constructed a separate facility for Rohingya refugees at Bhashan Char, an island. While refugees had refused to leave Cox’s Bazaar, the facility had largely remained empty. The government said that that the 1,00,000 capacity facility at Bhashan Char would be opened for people from the low income group.

While government didn’t say that there was a connection to the outbreak, Dhaka announced on Tuesday that it has decided to release opposition leader, Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia and suspend her jail sentence for six months. She had been behind bars since February 2017.

Bangladesh also announced that all educational institutions will be closed down from Tuesday. A day earlier, India decided to stop all passenger traffic at all immigration check posts with immediate effect. 

Around 70 Kashmiri students studying in Bangladeshi medical institutions went to ICP check post of Benapole to cross over to India. 

As per videos being circulated, they have been stuck at the Bangladesh border posts for over 12 hours on Monday and appealed to the Indian government to allow them inside to India. They claimed that hostel authorities had asked them to leave their accommodation.

The Indian high commission in Dhaka tweeted that Indian students should “stay in your hostels and stay protected”.

The high commission added that they have “reached out to principals of colleges & they have assured that hostel facilities continue to be available for Indian students”.

Bhutan closed its border on Monday, but allowed for the entry of essential goods through Phuentsholing. Kuensel reported that Bhutan authorities were working to devise mechanism to ensure that there was no physical contact between people working at the land port.

Till now, Bhutan has reported two positive cases, an elderly US tourist and his wife. 

Bhutan health minister Dechen Wangmo announced that all travellers from abroad will now have to undergo quarantine at a separate facility, after some returnees were found to have violated the conditions of home quarantine. 

The health minister also said that 48 Bhutanese doctors, who were undergoing specialisation abroad, have been recalled back. Some of them had already arrived and were in quarantine, reported state-run BBS.

Nepal began its nation-wide lockdown on Tuesday at 6 am, which has stranded thousands of Nepali migrants at the border points with India. All border points with India and China have been closed for a week.

Also read: ‘Coronavirus Lockdown has Already Done More Damage to Economy than Demonetisation’

It was finally decided by Nepal government on Tuesday that Nepali nationals will be allowed to enter through the border points till midnight, Kathmandu Post reports. They will be sent to quarantine facilities in their home districts.

Nepal has, so far, reported two positive cases of the virus.

Republica reported that a district had started door-to-door distribution of social security allowances to avoid crowding at banks and financial institutions.

In Sri Lanka, over 2,000 people were arrested within three days for violating nationwide curfew which was imposed on March 20. Sri Lankan police also took into custody 501 vehicles, including motorbikes and three-wheelers. Sri Lanka has so far reported 100 positive COVID-19 patients.

The Daily FT carried photographs of people standing patiently in queues outside supermarkets, with sufficient physical distance, when there was a brief lifting of curfew to allow people to buy groceries. But, this was not the scenario in all outlets. 

In districts declared as high risk zones, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced that a mechanism would be devised for supplying groceries directly to households.

With the parliament dissolved ahead of now postponed elections, opposition and ruling regime were at odds on whether the government can unilaterally obtain additional funds for combating COVID-19 outbreak.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa hosted an all-party meeting, where leaders sat with suitable distance between them and wore masks.

Sri Lanka Air Force had to issue an official statement denying a fake social media post that had gone viral, that it was planning to spray disinfectants from the air on Tuesday.

In Afghanistan, the public health minister Ferozuddin Feroz said that more than 80% of the population could be infected by coronavirus, with the possibility of 1,00,000 deaths. Afghanistan has already reported 42 positive cases. 

Herat province, which borders Iran and has reported the largest number of cases, may be put under lockdown from tomorrow, as per Afghan health minister.

NATO’s Resolute Support office in Afghanistan tweeted that four service personnel have tested positive for covid-19, while 34 more were exhibiting flu like symptoms.

Besides, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday to discuss the regional coronavirus response.

Pakistan continues to report the highest number of positive cases in South Asia. It reported 916 confirmed cases on Tuesday, with the highest number – 407 – from Sindh province.

Pakistan army chief announced that army was being deployed to enforce lowdown. Pakistan’s provinces of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Paktunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (known as POK) are under lockdown for periods ranging from two to three weeks. 

The Express Tribune reported that the response to the crisis showed that central and provincial governments were “not on the same page”. 

“However, the federal government institutions like banks, Pakistan Stock Exchange, NADRA, Passport, Foreign Affairs, Aviation Division, TDAP, Steel Mills, etc, would continue to operate in the provinces. So in effect, if one family member is working for the federal government, he or she would go to work, while another person from the same family would remain in isolation at home if he or she works for the private sector or the provincial governments,” reported Tribune.

While most transport services like railways have been suspended, Pakistan’s Supreme Court refused to close down courts, despite appeals from Supreme Court Bar Association.

On Tuesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that government had allocated 200 billion Pakistani rupees as welfare measure for labourers affected by the coronavirus outbreak and measures taken to combat it.

He claimed that the coronavirus pandemic was not the real danger, as much as the decisions taken by people fearing the threat.

Opposing imposition of curfew, he said that impact on the economy would be immense. “If I am living in Defence, I have a big garden, why would I care about how the poor people will be impacted?” he said in a media briefing, according to Dawn.

Across the globe, countries were closing down one by one. 

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramphosa announced a lockdown of three weeks from Thursday night. “Ramaphosa said that although the decision would negatively affect the economy, “the human cost of delaying this decision would be far greater”,” the Mail and Guardian reported.

The South African leader that temporary shelters with proper hygiene standards will be identified for homeless people.

South Africa has reported the highest number of cases in the African continent with 554 infected patients

Both Japan government and the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the 2020 Olympics till next year. 

This is the first time ever that the modern Olympics, which dates to 1896, has been postponed. It has been cancelled thrice, due to first and second world wars.

Reflecting the changing behaviour forced by the outbreak, the New York Times reported how Ireland’s funeral services have had to adapt to ban on large gatherings and need for social distancing.

“Mourners stay and have tea or a drink, and sit and share memories of the dead as the entire town circles through. Funerals draw equal attention, with packed pews and Communion the norm. Death notices are read out daily on local radio stations, and, a national obituary repository, is widely used.

Now, in a time when the nation has virtually shut down, those death notices have gone from public calls to commiserate with the family to messages like “house private at all times” and notes that funerals will come at a later date.”

The Financial Times reported that the video chat app Houseparty has gone viral due to the lockdown measures across the planet.

Last week alone, the San Francisco-based app, which is owned by Fortnite developer Epic Games, raked in 2m downloads worldwide, compared with around 1,30,000 the same week a month ago, according to data from App Annie. It currently ranks at number one in the Apple app store in 17 countries including the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.  

Meanwhile, Politico EU reported that France was planning to change its testing strategy, in the face of the criticism about its limited scope, especially due after the success of South Korea’s mass testing.

In Italy, three big unions were negotiating through video with the Italian government to lengthen the list of non-essential services. The three unions had threatened to strike, unless the list was increased and workers got more job protection, ANSA reported. Italy has reported the largest number of confirmed cases after China.