Doctors examines people during a free medical camp in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums in Mumbai – AP
India’s capital has reserved hospital beds for residents as the country again recorded a record spike in coronavirus cases and the sick flocked in from the provinces.
The world’s second most populous nation on Sunday announced close to 10,000 new infections, while neighbouring Pakistan passed 2,000 deaths.
The sharp acceleration in the neighbouring countries has added to fears that a region that is home to a fifth of humanity is becoming a new hotspot for Covid-19.
The mounting figures in South Asia’s neighbours heightened concerns among international health officials that the region is poised to become a new hotspot for the pandemic.
Both countries are easing months of restrictions on commerce, travel and gatherings, just as cases and deaths are gathering speed.
India reported 9,971 new coronavirus cases Sunday in another biggest single-day surge, a day before it prepares to reopen shopping malls, hotels and religious places after a 10-week lockdown.
India has now passed Spain as the fifth hardest-hit by the pandemic with 246,628 confirmed cases and 6,929 fatalities.
The worst affected cities have included the capital, New Delhi, the commercial capital, Mumbai, as well as the Western city of Ahmedabad.
New Delhi city alone has registered more than one-in-ten of total cases, making it the third worst-affected part of the country after the western state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital Mumbai, and southern Tamil Nadu state.
India’s prime minster, Narendra Modi, has already partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen. Online companies have started to deliver goods, including those considered non-essential, to places outside containment zones.
Schools and cinemas remain closed.
Major cities in India risk being overwhelmed as rural families bring their sick in from the provinces, officials said.
“Delhi is in big trouble . . . corona cases are rising rapidly,” state Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a video message on Twitter, where he announced that private and city government-run hospitals will be reserved for Delhi residents.
“If we open Delhi hospitals for patients from all over, where will Delhi residents go when they get infected with coronavirus?”
India and Pakistan both share potentially fertile breeding grounds for the virus, with shaky health systems, densely crowded cities and poverty which makes economic lockdown prohibitively painful.
A food delivery boy walks past a hotel gate painted with Pakistan’s national flag on a street in Rawalpindi on June 6 – AFP
Pakistan passed its own grim milestone as the number of deaths from Covid-19 crossed the 2,000 mark on Sunday.
Pakistan is also nudging 100,000 confirmed infections as the prime minister, Imran Khan warned the country of more than 220 million it would have to learn to live with the virus.
He has repeatedly said the country is too poor to go into a full lockdown, which he warned would devastate a failing economy, already dependent on billions of dollars in loans from international lending institutions.
The government’s mixed messages have led many to reject social distancing rules.
Pakistan’s medical professionals have pleaded for more controls and greater enforcement of social distancing directives. They’re infuriated that Khan’s government bowed to the radical religious right to keep open mosques, which have been one of the leading causes of the spikes in infections.
Pakistan says the numbers of cases and deaths is still below early estimates and it says that while the demands are increasing, there are still many intensive care beds available.
Doctors tell a different story, warning there has been a leap in cases after socialising to mark the end of Ramadan last month. Wards have filled up in recent days they warn.