- Lack of tests a problem across South Asia
- 20,000 worshippers quarantined in Pakistan
- Lanka may extend quarantine time to 4 weeks
India, like a lot of countries plunged into crisis by the pandemic, is struggling to ramp up testing for the coronavirus, but in few places would the odds of containing the disease appear so bleak should domestic transmission start to multiply.
Officials hope to be testing 20,000 people daily by the end of the week, four times the current rate.
Since India's first case was confirmed on Jan 30, they have only conducted 90,000 tests, having focused efforts on identifying people who had come in contact with anyone who has tested positive.
The results show 4,067 people are infected, and 109 have died of the respiratory disease. John Hopkins University data shows the case and death numbers as 4,314 and 118 respectively. 32 people died yesterday and 693 fresh cases were reported in the last 24 hours alone, the highest toll so far.
Officials believe the three-week nationwide lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have slowed the spread of the virus in communities, giving them a chance to catch up in the race to stop a full blown epidemic.
Modi yesterday heaped praise on the public for the "maturity and seriousness" shown by them during the lockdown. But said the crisis is not going to fade away soon.
"It is going to be a long war, we can't be tired. Our resolve and mission are to emerge victorious in fight against this pandemic," he told BJP workers on the party's 40th foundation day.
Testing had already doubled in the last two days from 5,000 samples a day, a health official said.
"This is expected to reach 20,000 in the next three days and increase further over the next few weeks as per the plan," the official said.
Worldwide, more than 1.25 million people have been reported infected by COVID-19, and far wealthier countries than India have been fiercely criticised for their slow initial response, particularly regarding testing.
But in a country like India, with 1.3 billion people, hundreds of millions of poor, living in unhygienic and crammed conditions, there is a very real fear that if the testing starts too far behind the curve, the confirmed cases won't even account for the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Doctors say the campaign for mass screening is handicapped by a lack of both testing kits and protective gear for staff carrying out the tests.
Elsewhere in South Asia, the medical infrastructure can be even more inadequate, and authorities are playing catch up as testing kits become available to them.
Afghanistan has had 367 cases from the 2,737 people it has tested.
In Bangladesh, with a population of 160 million, the government has faced criticism also over a lack of testing. "We are testing at 14-15 different places. We will increase the number of tests to 1,000-1,500 per day in future," Health Minister Zahid Malik said at a briefing on Sunday. The testing rate has varied from 300 on Sunday, to barely 50 to 100 last week.
Pakistan's health ministry said it had conducted 35,875 tests so far. It has quarantined 20,000 worshippers and is still searching for tens of thousands more who attended an Islamic gathering in Lahore last month.