Bangladesh and parts of India look to lockdowns as a wave of cases hits South Asia.


NEW DELHI — As a new wave of coronavirus infections grips the densely populated region of South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population, Bangladesh on Saturday announced a second lockdown and officials in Mumbai, India’s largest city, said they were on the verge of declaring one.

The authorities in Bangladesh said the nation of 165 million people would go into a weeklong lockdown beginning on Monday to curb the spread of the virus. The country shut down for two months starting in March last year.

Bangladesh on Friday registered nearly 7,000 cases in 24 hours, the highest since the spread of the virus in the country last year. The daily death toll has been around 50 for the past week, but what has particularly alarmed officials is the high test positivity rate, with 24 percent of virus tests conducted coming back positive.

Farhad Hossain, Bangladesh’s state minister for public administration, told the local news media that “industries and factories will remain open,” but would operate in shifts and follow strict health protocols. The exceptions appeared to be aimed at reducing the economic impact and avoiding the kind of exodus of laborers that led to a humanitarian crisis in India last year.

Infections have also been rising sharply in Pakistan, which has struggled to source vaccines for its population, and in India, where a vaccination drive is only now picking up pace — despite the country being home to one of the world’s largest suppliers of vaccines.

Just a few weeks ago, India was a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was using that to exert influence in South Asia and around the world. But as infections soared, the country decided to cut back on exports and is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses that the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, makes each day.

India on Saturday recorded its biggest single-day spike in cases since September, with government officials reporting nearly 90,000 cases and 714 deaths over the past 24 hours. Single-day figures sometimes contain anomalies, but the country’s seven-day average of new cases, a more reliable gauge, has been rising sharply since early March.

Nearly half of deaths and new infections in recent weeks have been traced to the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, the country’s financial hub.

Uddhav Thackeray, the state’s chief minister, warned in a televised address on Friday that a lockdown was imminent if people continued with their relaxed attitude. Even when people are vaccinated, he noted, protection from infection is not absolute.

“The vaccine is like an umbrella in the rain,” Mr. Thackeray said. “But what we are facing right now is a storm.”

As cases rise, law enforcement officials across India are adopting stringent measures, including fining violators who don’t wear masks. India has also expanded its vaccination drive, now administering over three million jabs a day.

But the government’s messaging is at times contradictory, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many senior officials continue to hold large rallies in several states where local elections are underway.

The government has also allowed a huge monthlong Hindu festival to go ahead on the banks of Ganges River. One million to five million people are expected to participate in the festivities in the city of Haridwar each day, officials say.





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