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Coronavirus | South Asia waging a defensive war against COVID-19

The pandemic continues to seep and spread into the region from two hubs — Iran and Tablighi Jamaat clusters

South Asia under the SAARC umbrella continues to wage a defensive war against COVID-19 pandemic, which, right now, continues to seep and spread into the region from two hubs — Iran and Tablighi Jamaat clusters.

Together, they have visibly impacted Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and parts of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

As yet, there were little signs that the novel coronavirus tide in South Asia was turning for the better, though infection rates have been relatively low in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal.

Afghanistan vulnerable

Among SAARC nations, Afghanistan, in particular is in the arc of vulnerability, mainly on account of its proximity with Iran. COVID-19 infections in Iran on Monday surged to 60,500, Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. Afghan authorities are now worried that the heavy influx of Afghan refugees who are returning home in droves from Iran, which is in lockdown, can transmit mass infections in Afghanistan.

Also read: Preparing for SAARC 2.0

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) is spotlighting that 1,36,186 undocumented Afghans have crossed the border from Iran since the beginning of the year. These returnees could potentially seed infections especially in Herat, Nimroz, Kabul and Balkh, which are well connected with Iran. So far, Afghanistan has reported 367 active COVID-19 cases, with Herat, bordering Iran, bearing the brunt.

Three major international congregations of Tablighi Jamaat sect from late February to the middle of March — one in Malaysia, the other in Lahore, and a third in New Delhi continue to threaten the spread of infections from fulcrums in South and Southeast Asia.

Coronavirus | South Asia waging a defensive war against COVID-19

Pak. quarantines 20,000 worshippers

Pakistan has now quarantined 20,000 worshippers, who had attended the March 10-12 Tablighi event that took place in Raiwind near Lahore. The authorities are also on the lookout for tens of thousands more, AFP is reporting, quoting officials on Sunday. At least 154 worshippers who went to last month’s Jamaat, where 1,00,000 people had congregated, had tested positive for coronavirus, with two fatalities. The organisers said that many foreign nationals attended this year’s event from countries, which included worshippers of China, ground zero of the pandemic, as well as from Indonesia, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

The March 13-15 Tablighi congregation in New Delhi has also emerged as a major COVID-19 hotspot, with four hundred people who had stayed at the Jamaat headquarters testing positive for the infection. Earlier Jakarta Post, quoting an Indonesian official, said that 14 Indonesians who were among the participants have tested positive for COVID-19. “As of March 30, at least 731 Indonesian citizens, the participants of a Tabligh, are across Indian States. They are those who have been affected by the lockdown imposed by the Indian government until April 14,” the official was quoted as saying.

On Monday, the death toll in Indonesia had climbed to 200, with infections rising to 2491.

Malaysia on Monday is reporting 3,793 cases in the country. Many of the infections can be traced to the February 27-March 4 Tablighi event near Kuala Lampur, which was attended by 16,000 people, including 1,500 foreigners. The Strait Times newspaper from Singapore is reporting that 696 people from Indonesia, 81 from Brunei and 95 from Singapore — countries that have been hit by the virus were part of the assemblage.

In Sri Lanka COVID-19 cases rose to 178 on Monday, while Bangladesh recorded 117 infections. Maldives has reported 19 cases so far, while media reports said that there were only nine cases in Nepal.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 8:28:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-south-asia-waging-a-defensive-war-against-covid-19/article31276810.ece

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