By Sanjeev Miglani and Syed Raza Hassan
NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – About 500 people entered self-isolation in staff quarters of India’s presidential palace on Tuesday, and Pakistan’s prime minister was due to be tested, as the coronavirus spreading through South Asia hit the heart of the region’s governments.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his wife tested negative for the coronavirus, his spokesman said, after at least 20 palace officials were infected last week. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan will undergo testing after it was confirmed that the head of the country’s biggest charity organisation, Faisal Edhi, whom he met last week, had contracted COVID-19.
In India, the alarm was raised at President Ram Nath Kovind’s residence in Delhi after the daughter-in-law of a sanitation worker living in employee quarters tested positive. Neither Kovind, 74, nor his aides would self-isolate as they would not have come into contact with lower-level workers, officials said. The president has a mostly ceremonial role.
The families of palace workers living in 114 apartments on the grounds were ordered to stay inside, and seven members of the sanitation worker’s family were moved to quarantine.
India’s 1.3 billion people have been ordered to remain indoors for 40 days under a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the virus.
Indian authorities have confirmed 18,984 cases of COVID-19, including 603 deaths, a low toll compared with Western countries with much smaller populations, though officials say a lack of testing may mean many more cases have not been reported.
An employee of India’s parliament has also tested positive, but did not come to work, an official said. The administrative wing of the legislature reopened on Monday as part of a staggered exit from the lockdown.
MOB ATTACKS AMBULANCE
Police in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu arrested 21 people for attacking an ambulance carrying the corpse of a doctor who succumbed to the coronavirus, officials said.
The mob attacked the ambulance early on Monday as they thought it was unsafe for the neighborhood and would result in locals contracting the virus, they said.
The state’s Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy assured citizens that the state was carrying out necessary safety precautions before burying the deceased and that incidents like these were worrying.
“I assure doctors and health workers that the government will prioritize the safety of doctors and health workers,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
While the total number of confirmed infections is rising, Indian health officials said the speed of transmission was slowing thanks to the lockdown, in place until May 3.
The “doubling rate” – the number of days it takes infections to multiply by two – had increased to 7.5 days, up from 3.4 days before the lockdown, health ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal said. “This is an extremely positive trend,” he said.
CORONVIRUS SCARES CLOSE TO POWER IN AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN
In Pakistan, Edhi, the charity group leader diagnosed with COVID-19, said he had met Prime Minister Khan last week to hand him a cheque to help fund the nation’s fight against the coronavirus. Neither was wearing a mask in the picture the government released after the meeting in Islamabad.
During a televised briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s personal physician, who is also the country’s focal person for COVID-19, said Khan would heed advice to undergo testing. Khan was present at the briefing too.
The prime minister has held a number of meetings over the last few days, including chairing a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. He met the president and intelligence chief a day earlier.
Pakistan has relaxed its lockdown to allow essential industries and services to resume operations. It also lifted restrictions on mosque congregations as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts later this week.
In Afghanistan, Ghani, 70, had limited most of his contact with staff to digital communication after some came down with COVID-19.
“The president is healthy and is leading government efforts on all fronts. All precautions are in place to make sure his work environment is safe and healthy,” his spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter.
Here are official government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia:
* India has reported 18,984 cases, including 603 deaths
* Pakistan has reported 9,216 cases, including 192 deaths
* Afghanistan has reported 1,092 cases, including 35 deaths
* Sri Lanka has reported 310 cases, including seven deaths
* Bangladesh has reported 2,948 cases, including 101 deaths
* Maldives has reported 34 cases and no deaths
* Nepal has reported 32 cases and no deaths
* Bhutan has reported six cases and no deaths
(Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty, C.K.Nayak in New Delhi, Gibran Peshimam and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Writing by Sanjev Miglani; Editing by Mark Heinrich)