India bans incoming international flights

India banned international flights on Thursday, restricted public gatherings and blocked roads to seal Kashmir after the region torn apart by the insurgency reported its first coronavirus infection.

Elsewhere in densely populated South Asia, Sri Lankapa postponed parliamentary elections, as the coronavirus epidemic has spread to a relatively free region compared to elsewhere in the world.

New cases in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are accelerating, with the total number in the region approaching 700. Six people have died.

The authorities are concerned that these countries could be particularly at risk if the virus started to spread locally, due to the lack of sanitation facilities and infrastructure.

India, the world’s second most populous country after China, said it would ban all international commercial passenger flights from landing on Sunday for a week. The country has already suspended visas for the vast majority of foreigners wishing to enter.

In Indian-dominated Kashmir, claimed as a whole but partly ruled by India and Pakistan, dozens of people told Reuters that they had been prevented from leaving their neighborhoods by police and paramilitary units.

Srinagar chief police superintendent Haseeb Mughal told Reuters that roadblocks across the valley had been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I had to take my mother to the Srinagar hospital, but the police closed the road,” said Mohammed Ayub, from the nearby town of Budgam.

“I’ve been waiting here for two hours. I can’t even go home now because the road is blocked because of a traffic jam.”

Muslim-majority Kashmir has not been relatively affected by the virus, reporting its first case on Wednesday. But the picturesque valley of seven million people is one of the most militarized places on the planet due to a decades-long insurgency against Indian rule, and its inhabitants have been subjected to prolonged restrictions on movement.

An internet shutdown that started in August following sweeping constitutional changes in Kashmir has just been eased.

Election sidelined

Sri Lanka said Thursday that it would delay the legislative elections scheduled for April 25.

The island nation has banned all incoming flights for two weeks from Wednesday and has imposed a curfew in certain areas. There have been 53 confirmed cases in Sri Lanka.

Confirmed cases in Afghanistan remained static at 10 p.m. Thursday, despite what experts say is a brewing crisis in the war-torn nation, particularly in the border province of Iran, one of the most affected countries.

In India, several regions have introduced restrictions on assemblies as the number of coronavirus cases has increased to 166.

Late Wednesday, the desert state of Rajasthan invoked colonial-era laws that prevent the unlawful assembly of four or more people – powers more often used to quell riots.

Similar restrictions have been introduced in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi.

The Mumbai financial center on Thursday extended the partial closure of its offices to government buildings, with at least half of the staff expected to work from home.

Online retailers say they are struggling to keep up with demand while consumers store their supplies.

“We are seeing unprecedented order volumes in every city in India,” said Hari Menon, managing director of BigBasket online grocery store.

The spread of the virus continued to hit markets and businesses in the region. Both Indian and Sri Lankan currencies fell to a record low against the dollar, with Pakistani stocks reaching their lowest level in five years.

Indian airline IndiGo has announced that it will cut the salaries of most of its staff, while competitors SpiceJet and Vistara have suspended international flights.

Since its appearance at the end of last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the flu-like coronavirus has infected more than 218,000 people and killed nearly 9,000 people.

(REUTERS)