India’s neighbors close borders as wave of Covid spreads across region

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India’s neighbors close borders as wave of Covid spreads across region


In April, along with millions of others, former King of Nepal Gyanendra Shah, 73, and his wife, 70, Komal, traveled to India for the Kumbh Mela religious festival. There he took a holy dip in the Ganges at Boldiwar and interacted without a mask with officials, Sadhus and other pilgrims.

On their return to Kathmandu airport, hundreds of people gathered to welcome the couple who, in a few days, would test positive for Covid-19.

Thousands of Nepalese migrants who work in India have also returned infected, and cases have increased rapidly not only in the Himalayan kingdom, but also in India’s other neighbors including Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Amid fears over India’s catastrophic second wave and more contagious variants of the virus, neighboring countries have canceled flights and closed their borders, anxious to try to protect themselves from a similar outcome. Many wonder if they reacted strongly and quickly enough.

The neighbor that appears to have been the hardest hit to date is Nepal, which has recorded three consecutive days of more than 7,000 new infections, including cases of the double mutant variant first detected in India and the United States. UK.

Nepal shares a border – closed for some time during India’s first wave last year – with five Indian states, and large numbers of Nepalese live and work in India.

Authorities on Wednesday extended a lockdown in Kathmandu and surrounding districts for a week, with the country recording its highest daily rates of Covid infection and death. The health ministry said on Tuesday that an additional 7,660 people had tested positive and 55 people had died, out of a population of 24 million.

“The situation is really scary,” said Prakash Thapa, a doctor at Bheri Hospital in Nepalgunj, a town in the southwestern plains bordering India.

Scenes in India in recent weeks are replayed in Kathmandu, as hospitals report they are on the verge of being overwhelmed and crematoriums at Pashupatinath Temple, the capital’s largest Hindu shrine, face an increase in numbers dead.

Like other countries in the region, Nepal is struggling with a vaccine shortage. “People who have already received the first dose will be in difficulty if they do not receive their second dose within the allotted time,” said Samir Adhikari, an official at the Ministry of Health.

This led Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to urge foreign donors to provide critical care vaccines and drugs to prevent a collapse of the country’s creaky health infrastructure.

People line up for the Covid vaccination in Lahore, Pakistan. Photography: Arif Ali / AFP / Getty Images

Pakistan, too, has been facing a growing sense of crisis in recent days and there are fears that the religious holiday of Eid which marks the end of Ramadan could cause another outbreak of infections, as it has. Last year.

Earlier this week, Pakistan announced that it was reducing the number of inbound international flights to 20% of normal service from May 5 and that it would extend the Eid holiday.

The Pakistani province of Sindh last week detected cases of South African and Brazilian coronavirus variants. Pakistan recorded 161 new deaths on Monday, its second-highest number in the pandemic.

Only around 2 million people have been vaccinated to date in the country of 220 million, the lowest rate in South Asia. The reluctance to vaccinate, fueled by propaganda, is proving to be an obstacle.

Pakistan’s largest public hospital, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, is running out of beds and its doctors are barred from speaking to the media.

“The situation is horrible,” said a doctor, speaking anonymously. “We are exhausting our resources. Most of the non-Covid neighborhoods have been turned into Covid neighborhoods, but we don’t have space for [incoming] the patients. We need more nurses, more medicine, and most importantly, space. We need intensive care experts and doctors.

“First and foremost, we have not imported enough vaccines and some are reluctant to get vaccinated,” added the doctor. “The authorities need to prevent the situation from becoming like India’s. We should go on lockdown, educate people to vaccinate. Otherwise, we risk seeing chaos in the country. “

The rapid spread of infections from India is also raising alarm in Bangladesh, where authorities have closed borders, recommending not to reopen until the situation in its neighbor improves.

The surge in infections in Bangladesh started at the same time as India’s second wave in mid-March. Bangladesh has stepped up testing but struggled with its vaccine supply, originally relying on the Serum Institute of India, which diverted doses for India’s use.

Bangladesh has so far received around a quarter of its promised 30 million doses and is in talks to import vaccines from elsewhere, including China and Russia.

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