Dhaka: Bangladesh on Monday extended a strict nationwide lockdown, confining people to their homes for another week as coronavirus cases and deaths both hit new records.
Authorities said a record 164 people had died in the previous 24 hours, while almost 1,000 tested positive -- the most single day-infections since the first case was detected in March last year.
Nazrul Islam, a top virologist and member of a high-powered national technical committee that asked the government to extend the lockdown, said the situation is "extremely bad". "The Delta variant is responsible for 70 percent of the infections. This variant is highly transmissible. And we still have not seen the peak yet," he told AFP.
Bangladesh has so far reported nearly 950,000 infections and more than 15,000 deaths, figures experts say are likely to be three to four times less than the actual caseload and fatalities. Under the lockdown imposed at the start of the month, and now extended until July 14, Bangladesh’s 168 million people can only leave home for emergencies and to buy essentials.
The army and police are patrolling the streets, there is no public transport and shops and offices are shut. Food markets can open for a few hours a day. In the capital Dhaka, home to some 20 million people, authorities have arrested more than 2,000 people for breaching lockdown rules.
Garment factories, a key pillar of Bangladesh’s export-oriented economy, are exempted from the shutdown. The health department said some 50 percent of infections are occurring outside the cities, with districts bordering India, where the Delta variant first originated, worst hit. "The situation is worsening every day. The lockdown seems to be working. We hope the extension of the lockdown will improve the situation," a spokesman of the health department told AFP.
Meanwhile, Indonesia on Monday called for the nation’s oxygen supplies to be sent to hospitals overflowing with coronavirus patients as fresh cases and deaths hit new records.
Oxygen producers had been told to allocate their stocks to the medical sector as the country is battered by an unprecedented wave of infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, said senior minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
"We have enough oxygen supply, but demand is up three-to-four fold so there have been distribution gridlocks," he said. "There’s supply from five oxygen producers and we’ve asked them to allocate 100 percent of their oxygen to the health sector," he added.
Southeast Asia’s worst-hit nation may turn to imports if supplies dry up, he added. Apart from hospitals, the steel and mining industries are major buyers of mineral-rich Indonesia’s oxygen supplies. An emergency refilling station was set up in central Jakarta, while rickshaw drivers in the city of Bandung delivered tanks to homes where virus patients were isolating.
On Monday, the country reported 29,745 new infections and 558 deaths, both daily records, after the government last week ordered fresh virus curbs in the hard-hit capital Jakarta, across Java and on holiday island Bali. Mosques, parks, shopping malls and restaurants were shut in hotspot areas, while non-essential employees were ordered to work from home.
Dozens in Jakarta were arrested Monday for operating cafes and entertainment venues in violation of the new rules. In Java’s Semarang city, authorities sprayed water hoses at street-side restaurants still serving customers.
The world’s fourth most populous nation has seen its daily caseload more than quadruple in less than a month and its tally stands at 2.3 million cases and 61,140 deaths. In a related development, Norway on Monday said it was postponing the lifting of anti-coronavirus measures, fearing a potential fourth wave of cases brought on by the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus.
The near total lifting of all virus restrictions would be pushed back "until the end of July, beginning of August" at the earliest, the government said. "The development remains positive," Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a press conference, adding the government would wait and see how the Delta variant affects the situation.
Reopening too quickly would raise the risk "that the Delta variant could create a fourth wave in the part of the population that is not vaccinated, in groups who have received only one dose and in vulnerable groups with weakened immune systems," she said.
Norway, where the Covid-19 epidemic has largely been brought under control, started the third of its four-phase plan to ease restrictions on June 18 and was due to review the next phase three weeks later.
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