NEW DELHI -- Three more people infected with the coronavirus died overnight in India as the government sought on March 26 to improve basic services to 1.3 billion people locked indoors to slow the spread of the disease.
Streets were silent across India's cities and towns on the second day of a three-week, 24-hour shutdown as people heeded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call not to step out of their homes except in emergencies or to buy food and other necessities. Lines of people, wearing masks and some with gloves, could be seen outside small neighbourhood shops in Delhi and Mumbai, among other cities.
Trucks were stranded at state borders and public transport was withdrawn.
Police have strictly enforced the lockdown even though Modi said essential services would be maintained. Ram Prakash, a shopkeeper in Delhi's Nizamuddin area, said supplies of some essential goods had improved although bottled water was still a problem. "We are still facing supply issues with a few things, but slowly things are getting better,” he said.
The Health Ministry said the number of cases of the coronavirus had risen to 649, of which 13 had died. The numbers are still small compared with those in China, Italy, and Spain, but health experts have warned that the world's second-most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization's top emergencies expert, told a Geneva news conference that with the lockdown in place, India had a window of opportunity to expand testing, surveillance, and quarantine facilities and said its success with eliminating polio was an example.
"India got rid of polio by breaking it by breaking it down to the village level," he said. "All the way through the system, it broke down the problem, it went after the polio virus district by district by district by district. And India won."
"If India does the same thing, breaks down the problem, puts in place the measures that are needed, then there is a way out," he added.
India had tested 24,254 people as of March 25, according to the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research, a small number compared to the population. Only recently has the government authorized the private sector and some nongovernmental research laboratories to run the tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The number of cases rose to 1,102 in neighbouring Pakistan with eight deaths, with most cases in Sindh Province, which is under a lockdown. But infections in Punjab, the most populous province, are picking up now, government data showed.
On March 25, Pakistan said it was seeking a fresh $1.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it deal with the economic slowdown from the coronavirus. Pakistan is already on a three-year rescue package that began last year as the country of 208 million people wrestles with a balance-of-payments crisis.
In Nepal, authorities were trying to evacuate tourists stranded in different parts of the country due to a nationwide lockdown, bring them to Kathmandu and arrange to send them home, the government said. Shyam Thapa of the Himalayan Expedition company said about 125 foreign hikers were stranded at Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest. “They are safe and have no problem,” Thapa told Reuters.