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article imageNew lockdowns ordered as India virus cases near one million

By Mohammed Imran Khan (AFP)     Jul 16, 2020 in World

One of India's most impoverished states went into lockdown Thursday, but near-normal traffic on Bihar's streets showed the difficulty of corralling over 125 million people.

The lockdown in the northern state bordering Nepal started as India reported more than 600 deaths in the previous 24 hours, and the Red Cross warned the virus was spreading at "an alarming rate" across South Asia.

With India's caseload fast approaching one million -- and fatalities nearing 25,000 -- local authorities across the country are reimposing restrictions that have only recently been lifted.

Bihar, a largely rural state with feeble health infrastructure, went into a 15-day lockdown at midnight, a day after IT hub Bangalore -- home to 13 million people -- shut down for a week.

All schools, clubs, temples and non-essential businesses were ordered to close in Bihar, but construction and agricultural activity are allowed to continue.

And while public transport was shut down, private vehicles are still permitted to operate, and the streets of the state capital Patna thronged with cars, lorries, bikes and auto-rickshaws.

"The lockdown is not being fully enforced," businessman Ranjeet Singh said. Many people were still shopping for food with little regard for social distancing advice.

A lack of coronavirus discipline forced Goa, another Indian state, to announced a three-day shutdown from Thursday evening and a night curfew until August 10.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said too many people were "stepping out to meet people at parties" and that there was a low level of "awareness and sensitivity".

"We have more than 40,000 people fined for not wearing masks, plus there are many who are detained for flouting rules, but they continue to loiter," Sawant told local media.

"This only establishes that people only understand the language of the law."

- 'Only God can save us' -

Bangalore's lockdown was stricter and the streets were much quieter.

In India's IT hub Bangalore the lockdown was stricter
In India's IT hub Bangalore the lockdown was stricter
Manjunath Kiran, AFP

Many firms that handle the back-office operations of global corporations were little affected by the re-imposed restrictions with staff already working from home.

Still, the health minister of Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital, said Wednesday that "only God can save us" as the state's caseload approached 50,000.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the entire region was fast becoming the next epicentre for the coronavirus.

"While the world's attention has been focused on the unfolding crisis in the United States and South America, a concurrent human tragedy is fast emerging in South Asia," the organisation said.

"COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in South Asia, home to a quarter of humanity."

India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have between them recorded more than 1.4 million cases and almost 33,000 deaths.

Many experts say however that authorities are not testing nearly enough people and that the official figures underplay the seriousness of the situation.

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