By Rajendra Jadhav and Rupam Jain
MUMBAI (Reuters) – The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases in South Asia approached 6,000 on Saturday, although authorities in some cities tightened restrictions on movement and warned of barriers to contain the pandemic.
"If people don't follow the rules seriously and the cases continue to increase, there may be no choice but to extend the ban," Maheshashtra State Health Minister Rajesh Tope, which includes the Mumbai financial center, told Reuters. "It could be extended by two weeks in Mumbai and the urban areas of Maharashtra."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week that the country would gradually withdraw from the planned three-week ban. India is the most affected by the disease in South Asia, with around 2,902 cases, 68 of whom died.
Maharashtra has 516 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – and 26 people have died.
While the government plans to review the blockade, which is due to end on April 14, three senior officials told Reuters that this would depend on an assessment of the situation in each state. Bans and restrictions would be extended to districts where the coronavirus case had spread.
Public transportation on major subways such as Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi may be gradually restored only a few days after the closure, officials said who asked not to be mentioned as the plans were still under discussion.
The number of COVID-19 cases in South Asia has more than doubled in the past week. Health experts warn that an epidemic in the region, which is home to one fifth of the world's population, could overwhelm public health systems, which are already weak.
But the Muslim majority in Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as India, home to the largest Muslim minority in the world, have tried to convince conservative religious groups to maintain social distance.
On Friday, Pakistani Muslims clashed with the police at a Karachi mosque and tried to impose new restrictions on gatherings to prevent Friday prayers and curb coronavirus infections.
This happened after the government in the southern province of Sindh, where the Karachi financial center is located, imposed a three-hour curfew on Friday afternoon to persuade Muslim worshipers to pray at home.
Pakistan has so far reported 2,547 coronavirus infections caused by an increase in cases involving members of the Tablighi Jamaat, an orthodox Muslim proselytizing group.
According to the government, data on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia follow:
* India has registered 2,902 cases, including 68 deaths.
* Pakistan has registered 2,547 cases, including 37 deaths.
* Afghanistan has registered 281 cases, including 6 deaths.
* Sri Lanka has recorded 159 cases, including 5 deaths.
* Bangladesh has recorded 61 cases, including six deaths.
* Maldives has registered 32 cases and no deaths.
* Nepal has registered six cases and no deaths.
* Bhutan has registered five cases and no deaths.