India saw a record 6,000 new coronavirus cases today as it piles up infections at the fastest rate in Asia, while the death toll is mounting in Indonesia and fears of a second wave are growing in Iran.
The 6,088 new cases in India have sent the total soaring to 66,330 in a country of 1.3billion where the lockdown has been partially eased and where some hospital wards are at full capacity.
India made up nearly a quarter of Asia’s new infections yesterday, with the continent as a whole accounting for 23 per cent of the world’s daily tally – up from a figure as low as eight per cent in March and April.
Turkey has seen 152,587 cases, the most in Asia, and suffered 4,222 deaths, although new infections have slowed and the government says it has the outbreak under control.
China and Iran – the birthplace of the pandemic and an early hotspot respectively – are both facing fears of a second wave, and there are doubts about the accuracy of both regimes’ figures.
Meanwhile in south-east Asia, Indonesia has already seen 1,242 deaths after confirming only 19,189 cases so far amid a shortage of testing capacity.
This graph shows the daily number of coronavirus cases in six of the worst-affected countries. China was the early leader after the outbreak began in Wuhan late last year, but India is now becoming Asia’s epicentre
India is also recording the highest number of daily deaths, while the death toll is also mounting in Indonesia. Iran’s crisis has declined from its peak but there are fears of a second wave of the disease
After the outbreak began in China, Asia accounted for the vast majority of new cases in January and still made up more than 90 per cent of new infections throughout most of February.
That figure plummeted in early March when the virus began to ravage Europe, which first recorded more new cases than Asia on March 6.
As virus cases then started to pile up in the United States, Asia’s share of new cases fell as low as 7.5 per cent on March 24 and 7.8 per cent on April 4.
However, it has since increased again – passing 20 per cent on May 11 and only once falling below that threshold since then.
Asia has now overtaken Europe again, although North America is still seeing more cases while South America is now the continent with the fastest growth in infections.
The fastest growth is occurring in India, where the health ministry today reported more than 6,000 new cases in a day for the first time. Only the United States, Brazil and Russia recorded more new cases than India yesterday.
An epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India acknowledged that ‘this surge in cases has happened after movement of people has been partially allowed’ following a nationwide lockdown.
‘But if you see overall, this is a much lower exponential trajectory as compared to the rest of the world,’ said Giridhar Babu.
Indian PM Narendra Modi ordered the world’s largest lockdown in late March, which has been extended until May 31 but relaxed in some areas.
Airlines will be allowed to resume flights with about a third of operations as of Monday, but only on domestic routes and under strict rules.
India’s contagion hotspots include the capital New Delhi, financial hub Mumbai, Modi’s home state of Gujarat, and the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The country has seen 3,583 deaths.
‘Our Covid wards have been full for the past week, and we are expanding capacity to enable us to admit more patients,’ said Dr Lancelot Pinto at the P. D. Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai.
INDIA: Health personnel wearing white and blue protective gear carry the coffin of an 80-year-old woman from a mortuary to an ambulance in Srinagar, after she died following a coronavirus infection
INDONESIA: A motorcyclist gestures as he is questioned by an Indonesian official at a checkpoint in Jakarta today, as the government urges people not to travel unnecessarily to mark the end of Ramadan
In the Middle East, Iran has seen 126,949 cases and revealed yesterday that around 10,000 health workers are among those infected, admitting that ‘some of them have died’.
Iran was blamed for exporting the virus around the region in the early weeks of the pandemic, with many cases linked to the Shi’a pilgrimage site of Qom which was initially not shut down.
The Iranian regime now fears a second wave of the disease, urging people not to travel at the end of Ramadan because 90 per cent of the population in some areas has not yet been exposed to the virus.
The official death toll is 7,183, the highest in Asia, and since the start of the epidemic there has been suspicion that the regime’s figures are far too low.
A report by a parliamentary research centre suggested that the actual tally of infections and deaths in Iran might be almost twice that announced by the health ministry.
However, Iran has been easing lockdown measures in the hope of reviving an economy which was already battered by US sanctions.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia has suffered 62,545 cases, the fifth-most in Asia, although authorities have only announced 339 deaths – a very low mortality rate of 0.5 per cent.
Saudi Arabia is also facing an economic crisis after oil prices collapsed because of the pandemic, at one stage falling into negative territory.
The kingdom has also lost revenue from the suspension of Muslim pilgrimages to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which were closed to visitors due to Covid-19.
The country’s finance minister says it will need ‘strict and painful measures’ including sharp spending cuts to deal with the crisis.
SAUDI ARABIA: People pray during Ramadan while practising social distancing at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which has been closed to pilgrims because of the coronavirus pandemic
IRAN: People wear masks on the Tehran metro on Wednesday, after Iran started to lift lockdown restrictions despite a continuing increase in infections – amid fears of a second wave
Elsewhere, Turkey is home to Asia’s largest outbreak but yesterday saw the daily number of new cases drop below 1,000 for the first time in weeks.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began easing lockdown restrictions earlier this month, allowing inter-city travel in some provinces and easing a curfew on vulnerable people.
Health minister Fahrettin Koca said the country is ready to start accepting ‘medical tourists’ from 31 countries and said played down fears of a second wave of infections.
‘If we continue to abide by the rules of social distancing, wearing a mask and a limited social life, then we don’t see a risk of second wave,’ Koca said yesterday.
‘Like the rest of the world, we are also monitoring actively such a risk around September or October. But we are in a position to take necessary measures in the case of a second wave.’
Turkey has recorded 152,587 cases in total, but the government says that more than 110,000 of those have already recovered from the disease. The country has seen 4,222 deaths.
In south-east Asia, Indonesia has the region’s highest death toll with 1,242 as the government struggles to increase its testing capacity.
Indonesia has so far conducted around 50 tests per 100,000 people, compared with 2,500 per 100,000 in neighbouring Singapore.
President Joko Widodo promised in April that 10,000 tests would be carried out per day, but the goal is yet to be reached, with testing rates hovering at less than half that figure.
On top of that, there are fears that millions of people will leave Jakarta at the end of Ramadan in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
The government has banned people from travelling for the holiday, but some people have been allowed to go if they provide proof of reasons to travel and a health certificate.
Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo said this week he expected one million people to return to his province from greater Jakarta this year.
TURKEY: Municipal morgue workers in Istanbul wear protective suits and face mask as they pull the coffin of a coronavirus victim out of the building in Turkey’s largest city yesterday
CHINA: A foreign journalist is tested by a medical worker wearing a blue protective suit and a face shield ahead of the Chines People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing yesterday
By contrast, Vietnam has not yet reported a single coronavirus death and has limited total cases to just 324 after taking early action to close borders and quarantine thousands of people.
By mid-March, Vietnam made the wearing of masks in public places mandatory nationwide, well ahead of most other countries.
Kidong Park, the World Health Organisation’s representative in Vietnam, has said there is no indication of any outbreaks beyond what the government has reported.
China has reported only a trickle of new cases and deaths in recent weeks after sealing off Wuhan for more than two months, but has recently found a cluster of cases in two north-eastern provinces.
A medic on the National Health Commission has also voiced fears that the pathogen is changing after finding that patients in the provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang were reacting differently to those in Wuhan.
Patients in the northeastern clusters were also carrying the virus for longer than earlier cases in Wuhan, and they were taking longer to recover, said critical care expert Qiu Haibo.
Patients in the northeast also rarely exhibited fever and tended to suffer damage to the lungs rather than across multiple organs, he said.
South Korea has been widely hailed as a model for its handling of the outbreak, although it recently saw a new cluster of cases linked to bars and nightclubs in Seoul.
Some nightclubs and bars in the capital have been ordered to close again, and authorities have also delayed the planned reopening of schools by a week.
The country has carried out more than 800,000 tests, which have shown 11,142 positive results – leading to 264 confirmed deaths.
Secretive North Korea claims it has no virus cases at all, but many experts and North Korean defectors regard this as implausible.