India warns of lockdown extensions as regional virus cases near 6,000

Muslim pilgrims walk towards a bus that will take them to a quarantine facility in New Delhi on Tuesday. (AP pic)

MUMBAI: The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases in South Asia neared 6,000 on Saturday, even as authorities in some cities tightened restrictions on movement and warned lockdowns could be extended in a bid to rein in the pandemic.

“If people don’t obey the rules seriously and cases continue to rise, then there may be no option but to extend the lockdown,” Rajesh Tope, the health minister of Maharashtra state which includes the financial hub Mumbai, told Reuters.

“It could be extended in Mumbai and urban areas of Maharashtra by two weeks.”

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week the country will pull out of the planned three-week lockdown in a phased manner. India has been hardest hit by the disease in South Asia with some 2,902 cases, of which 68 have died.

Maharashtra has 516 confirmed cases of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – and 26 people have died.

While the government does plan to review the lockdown, set to end on April 14, three senior officials told Reuters this will depend on an assessment of the situation in each state, and lockdowns and restrictions would be extended in districts where the coronavirus case spread has continued.

Public transport in large metros such as Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi, may only be restored in a phased manner days after the lockdown ends, said the officials, who asked not to be named as the plans were still under discussion.

Restrictions tightened

The number of Covid-19 cases have more than doubled in South Asia in the last week. Health experts warn an epidemic in the region, home to a fifth of the world’s population, could overwhelm its already weak public health systems.

But Muslim-majority Pakistan and Bangladesh, and India, home to the world’s largest Muslim minority, have struggled to convince conservative religious groups to maintain social distancing.

On Friday, Pakistani Muslims at a Karachi mosque clashed with baton-wielding police trying to enforce new curbs on gatherings to prevent Friday prayers and contain coronavirus infections, officials said.

This came after the government in the southern province of Sindh, home to the financial hub of Karachi, enforced a three-hour curfew on Friday afternoon, in a bid to persuade Muslim worshippers to pray at home.

Pakistan has so far reported 2,547 coronavirus infections, fuelled by a jump in cases related to members of the Tablighi Jamaat, an orthodox Muslim proselytising group.

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