India braces for an ‘onslaught’ | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 05, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:05 AM, April 05, 2020

India braces for an ‘onslaught’

Says report as coronavirus cases, deaths begin to surge; infections doubled in south Asia last week

India yesterday reported its biggest jump in number of new coronavirus cases as top doctors warned of an "onslaught" that could cripple the health system to levels far beyond what Europe and the United States are experiencing.

The warning came as global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic crossed 60,000 since it emerged in China in December.

In South Asia, which so far hasn't faced crisis like that of Europe and America, the number of cases neared 6,000 yesterday, even after the countries tightened restrictions on movement and warned lockdowns could be extended in a bid to rein in the pandemic.

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, Pakistanis 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 told Reuters.

India has been hardest hit by the disease in South Asia with some 3,072 cases, of which 75 have died, according NDTV.

The country, which saw its first case on January 30, experienced an unprecedented surge in the number of COVID-19 cases over the last one week. From 900 cases last Saturday, including 19 deaths, COVID-19 count has crossed the 3,000-mark in a week's time.

India reported more than 230 new cases on Friday. Yesterday it reported more than 600 cases.

India blamed the surge in cases on a controversial religious gathering held by Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat in South Delhi in March. More than 1000 people who participated there tested positive.

But new worrying hotspots are emerging.

Five COVID-19 cases in Asia's largest slum - Mumbai's Dharavi- have emerged as a major concern. More than a million people live in Dharavi, a five square kilometre slum.

A 56-year-old man, who had no travel history, died due to Covid-19-related illness there slm on Wednesday.

Doctors say the situation would be unmanageable if a sustained coronavirus outbreak spread rapidly through one of India's many slums, where there is little sanitation or running water and thousands of people live cheek by jowl -- making social distancing physically and economically impossible.

This is the second coronavirus-related death reported in Mumbai's slums since the outbreak began, government officials confirmed with CNN. A 63-year-old man who tested positive for the virus on Tuesday was a resident of Malvani slum area and passed away later that evening.

Doctors in the country told CNN that India needed to prepare for a large-scale community transmission and it was essential that the public abide by the 21-day national lockdown that was imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week.

"We are already seeing evidence of it (community transmission). How widespread it is, we don't know," said Trehan.

"My fear is, is that no matter how much preparation we do, if it peaks, we will not have even a fraction of what we need, by way of beds, by way of ventilators, by way of PPEs (personal protective gear), everything."

Worsening the situation, tens of thousands of migrant workers, who fled India's largest cities to their rural homes, are left without jobs or pay. Doctors say rural medical infrastructures are utterly inadequate to treat this high risk group.

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