By Mayank Bhardwaj and Ruma Paul
NEW DELHI/DHAKA (Reuters) – India said on Sunday its hospital network is adequately prepared to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, with over 100,000 beds ready to cater to a potential surge in patient numbers.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a relief package worth about $1.7 billion to help farmers struggling because of restrictions imposed to stem the disease’s spread.
The number of people infected in India rose to 8,447 on Sunday, a rapid rise from fewer than 1,000 two weeks ago. Some 273 people have died.
Senior Indian Health Ministry official Lav Agarwal told a daily media briefing that the country is being “over-prepared, extra cautious”, and had almost 106,000 hospital beds in 601 hospitals to cater to any surge in patient numbers.
“The country is ready to fight this epidemic,” he said.
Indian officials have said widespread virus infections could be disastrous in a country where millions live in slums, and the health system is already overburdened.
There has been mounting concern that the financial hub Mumbai, which accounts for around 1,250 cases, is becoming a hotspot for the disease. Local authorities are battling the infection’s spread through the city’s densely populated slum areas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to extend a 21-day nationwide lockdown due to end Tuesday, according to a state chief minister with knowledge of discussions among top officials. The federal government has yet to make an announcement on this.
States such as Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, and at least three others have already said independently they will extend lockdowns to the end of April.
Including India, the number of coronavirus cases in the South Asia region neared 15,000 on Sunday.
The agricultural relief package announced by Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday includes $590 million for cheap farm loans and $1.1 billion for fertilizer subsidies.
“Disasters come. We’ll have to face it boldly … We want to make sure that our farming sector continues its smooth production,” Hasina said.
Bangladesh has extended its lockdown by 11 days to April 25, a move that could exacerbate the difficulties faced by the country’s hundreds of thousands of rice, fish, dairy, poultry and vegetable farmers.
In Pakistan, authorities expressed alarm at a sharp rise in cases of the coronavirus in Karachi, the country’s largest city. The provincial government there has decided to seal off 11 densely populated neighbourhoods in Karachi, officials said.
Officials government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia are as follows:
* India has 8,447 confirmed cases, including 273 deaths
* Pakistan has 5,038 cases, including 86 deaths
* Bangladesh has 621 cases, including 34 deaths
* Afghanistan has 607 cases, including 19 deaths
* Sri Lanka has 203 cases, including 7 deaths
* Maldives has 20 cases and no deaths
* Nepal has 12 cases and no deaths
* Bhutan has five cases and no deaths
(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Mayank Bhardwaj in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi; Editing by Aditya Kalra, Tom Hogue and Frances Kerry)