India closes a border, extends travel curbs as regional coronavirus cases rise

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Students wearing protective masks leave after taking their exams in New Delhi, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India ramped up travel restrictions and closed a border with neighboring Myanmar to counter the coronavirus outbreak, as countries across South Asia reported a rise in cases on Wednesday (March 11, 2020).

The virus has hit Europe and the United States far harder than China’s most immediate neighbors in South Asia, where no one has yet died. But as the number of cases in the region topped 80, experts fear that its overstretched medical systems may not be able to handle the type of intensive care required.

Indian suspended issuing visas to citizens of France, Spain and Germany until further notice, a health ministry statement said late on Tuesday. Such restrictions are already in place for citizens of China, Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea – the five countries worst hit by the outbreak of the virus.

It also closed the border with its eastern neighbor Myanmar, although no cases have so far been confirmed there yet.

“As a precautionary measure (to prevent) transmission of Coronavirus/COVID-19, the international border with Myanmar has been closed… until further orders,” N. Biren Singh, chief minister of the north-eastern state of Manipur, which shares a border with Myanmar, said in a tweet on Tuesday.

India, which has confirmed 52 cases of the virus, advised citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to countries affected by the virus, and asked those returning from these places to self-quarantine at home.

The country’s southern state of Kerala, which reported three new cases over the weekend, said on Tuesday it was shutting schools and movie theatres to avoid a further outbreak. Schools in at least two more states have also been closed.

In Afghanistan, the number of confirmed cases rose to 7 from 4, the country’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

Bangladesh’s High Court has directed the government to take measures to curb the soaring prices of masks and sanitizers, after it reported its first three cases of the virus on Sunday.

Two of those cases have since tested negative.

Mobile courts launched after the court directive fined at least 30 pharmacies in Dhaka for hoarding face masks and selling them at up to 40 times the retail price, officials said on Wednesday.

Worldwide, at least 4,296 people have died and almost 120,000 people have been recorded as infected by the coronavirus, which originated in China late last year.

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