Cases Per Million
Corona cases in asia continue to rise rapidly in South Asia. For months, South Asia was spared the worst of the pandemic. Now, health-care systems in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are struggling to treat hundreds of thousands of ill patients. Yet most countries are firmly on the path to reopening their economies.
India’s caseload rises to world’s fourth-largest: In early June, the government lifted its lockdown after two months of restrictions. Since then, India has seen a huge spike. At over 366,000 cases as of June 18, India has roughly 27 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the United States is dealing with around 650 cases per 100,000 people.
The Indian lockdown caused a humanitarian crisis as millions of migrants across the country struggled to get home. Goldman Sachs predicted a massive 45% second-quarter contraction in the country’s economy and Moody’s downgraded India’s sovereign rating to the lowest investment-grade level. Many expect the economic situation to recover slowly as unemployment peaked at 24% in May and is now decreasing as restrictions ease.
Indian states are mounting separate and largely uncoordinated measures to combat the rising tide of Corona cases in asia across the country. In Tamil Nadu, the southern state with the second-highest number of cases (over 50,000), authorities in Chennai are set to reinstate a strict lockdown on June 19. On the other hand, Delhi, which has the third-highest number of cases (over 47,000), remains open. Delhi’s neighbor Uttar Pradesh is fighting in the Supreme Court to keep its border with Delhi sealed, while Haryana is allowing movement to and from the capital.
Maharashtra, the worst-affected state with 116,000 cases, saw the COVID-19 response in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, emerge as a surprisingly successful model. Accepting that social distancing was impossible in the slum, where as many as eighty residents share one toilet, authorities rolled out aggressive testing and screening measures. As a result, the rate of daily infections in Dharavi has been reduced to a third since early May.
Some major cities are facing severe administrative crises associated with the Corona cases in asia response. In Delhi, doctors of two municipal hospitals are threatening to resign due to non-payment of salaries. In Mumbai, the police force is spread thin with multiple departments being quarantined.
In Pakistan, cases grow but large lockdowns are over: Pakistan’s caseload has almost doubled since the beginning of June, to over 160,000 cases. The conclusion of the nationwide lockdown and violations of Pakistan’s “standard operating procedures” intended to prevent transmission of the coronavirus during the Eid holidays have driven the increase in cases. The WHO has ranked Pakistan among the ten countries in the world with the fastest-growing number of new Corona cases in asia, and has criticized the hasty removal of restrictions. Though the growth of cases has also been attributed to increased testing, Pakistan’s overall testing rate remains low, indicated by a 22% positivity rate—far greater than the WHO’s recommendation of 5% for reopening.
In response, the government has rolled out a “testing, tracing, and quarantining” strategy rather than reinstate an economically disruptive lockdown. The central government is imposing restrictions on movement in hot spot areas in twenty cities. Pakistan, like the rest of South Asia, is forced to make a difficult trade-off between letting the virus spread and letting its most vulnerable citizens struggle to survive without incomes.
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Prime Minister Imran Khan has ruled out a sweeping lockdown in Punjab, despite the provincial government’s recommendations for tighter restrictions. Instead, the Punjab government imposed a two-week lockdown in certain areas of Lahore, the worst-affected city in Pakistan.
As cases rise, hospitals are operating beyond capacity and doctors are overworked. Adding to the list of public figures who have tested positive for the virus are Shehla Raza, a provincial minister in Sindh, and two former prime ministers, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
“Confusion Reigns Supreme” in Bangladesh, declared the newspaper the Daily Star on June 16. Following the lifting of the nationwide lockdown at the end of May, Bangladeshis now await information about the timing and geographical extent of a new area-by-area lockdown system. In hard-hit “red zones” including much of Dhaka and Chittagong, people will not be allowed to enter or exit zones, leave their houses, or go to work. However, the nationwide roll-out of the system, which could ultimately place a quarter of the country’s area into red zones, has been delayed by a lack of granular data on where cases are located.
On June 16, over 4,000 cases were identified, a new daily high for a country with over 100,000 cases overall and 1,300 deaths. Like Pakistan, Bangladesh has a persistently high test positivity rate of 20%. A senior health official told the Dhaka Tribune, “It will be hard to assume when the peak day will come.” A report published by Transparency International Bangladesh uncovered many deficiencies in the country’s COVID-19 response. For example, only one lab in the entire country was authorized to test for the virus until March 25. Over the past two weeks, the daily testing rate has been just over half of laboratories’ capacity (24,000 tests per day) due to staffing shortages.
Afghanistan’s health care system flounders: The number of coronavirus cases in Afghanistan exceeds 27,000. COVID-19 adds more pressure to the country’s public health-care system, which is already overwhelmed by victims of conflict and malnourishment. Afghanistan is the poorest country in South Asia, with a GDP per capita that is around half of Nepal’s and one-third that of its neighbor, Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban is ramping up attacks , targeting an already vulnerable health-care system and putting the health of millions at risk.
Acknowledging that public hospitals are operating beyond capacity, the government authorized private hospitals to perform COVID-19 tests for the first time on June 14, a move that was criticized by Kabul residents as they come with a price tag of around $100 per test, making them unaffordable for most Afghans. Additionally, the ability of private hospitals to conduct the tests has been called into question. Citizens have also claimed that certain hospitals in Kabul are running out of oxygen, an allegation that the hospitals have rejected. Desperate citizens are reaching out to dubious natural remedies as the health-care system fails them.
As Afghanistan struggles to cope, the EU has sent an aircraft with life-saving equipment, and also pledged an aid package of nearly $44 million to the country. However, the health organization Doctors Without Borders has had to withdraw from of a hospital in Kabul, following a tragic attack last month that killed 24 people and wounded 16.