Pakistan urges calm as cases surge, Sri Lanka stops flights

Pakistan’s prime minister has urged calm after its tally of coronavirus cases rose to 245 while Sri Lanka sealed itself off and shut its stock market on Wednesday, fuelling fears that South Asian countries are struggling to stem the pandemic.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Indian subcontinent rose overnight to 482 as authorities across the region imposed travel restrictions to block the fast-spreading disease that has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 8,000 people.

There are fears that inadequate health facilities will be overwhelmed in many parts of the poor, crowded region.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a late Tuesday address to the nation, urged citizens to remain calm and not rush to get tested.

There is no need to worry. We will fight this as a nation. And God-willing, we will win this war,” Khan said.

His comments came amid a growing dispute in Pakistan between federal and provincial authorities with the latter struggling to secure sufficient coronavirus testing kits and blaming the federal government for failing to properly test and quarantine hundreds of Pakistanis who recently returned home across a land border with Iran.

Late on Tuesday, Pakistan said it would require all arriving air passengers to show they had tested negative for the disease. Land borders have already been shut.

Pakistan’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 75 bps to 12.50% on Tuesday, the first cut in four years, as the coronavirus roiled markets across the region.

Sri Lanka, which has recorded 43 coronavirus cases, said it would ban all incoming flights for two weeks from Wednesday to combat the spread of the virus.

Officials also implemented price controls on lentils and sardines to ensure that no price gouging.

In India, where 147 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, authorities on Tuesday cancelled nearly two dozen long distance train services in a bid to curb the disease and also because of a fall in passenger numbers.

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