India overtakes Brazil, Bangladesh orders shutdown as surge hits South Asia

MUMBAI (AFP) – India overtook Brazil as the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus infections and Bangladesh halted international flights and shut offices yesterday as a new wave battered South Asia.

The region has been hit by soaring infection rates in recent weeks.

India reported a new daily record of more than 168,000 cases yesterday to take the total toll to 13.5 million cases, above Brazil’s 13.48 million. Experts have blamed coronavirus complacency and frustration for the surge. Hundreds of thousands of maskless Hindu devotees thronged the banks of the Ganges River for a ritual bath as part of the Kumbh Mela festival in the city of Haridwar.

In neighbouring Bangladesh there was a mad scramble for buses and trains after the government ordered an eight-day closure of all offices and international and domestic transport tomorrow.

Tens of thousands of people flocked to Dhaka’s main bus, train and ferry stations to flee the capital ahead of the shutdown. The country of 160 million people has recorded 684,756 cases and 9,739 deaths, but the number of daily cases has increased sevenfold in a month.

People wait to register themselves for the Covid-19 coronavirus test at a testing centre in Allahabad. PHOTO: AFP

Hospitals across the nation say they are being overwhelmed by the new cases, and daily deaths have more than doubled. “There is no alternative now to this in order to curb the Covid-19 surge,” Junior Minister Farhad Hossain said ahead of the clampdown announcement.

Indian authorities have also warned of tougher restrictions unless the public keeps to social distancing and the wearing of masks.

“The whole country has been complacent – we allowed social, religious and political congregations,” Rajib Dasgupta, a health professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told AFP.

India has recorded more than 873,000 cases in the last seven days – an increase of 70 per cent compared to the previous week, according to data compiled by AFP.

In comparison, Brazil recorded about 497,000, about 10 per cent higher from the previous week. The United States – the worst-hit country – reported just under 490,000 cases with a rising trend of nine per cent. The spike in India, after daily rises in cases fell below 9,000 in early February, has seen many badly affected states and territories imposed restrictions on movement and activities.

India’s wealthiest state Maharashtra, which has been the main driver of the infection spike, last week imposed a weekend lockdown and night curfew.