India closes Taj Mahal, Pakistan cases spike after quarantine errors

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India closed the Taj Mahal, its principal tourist site, and the financial hub of Mumbai ordered offices providing non-essential services to keep half their staff at home in ramped up measures to curb the coronavirus in South Asia.

Mumbai, a densely populated metropolis of 18 million people, also authorized hospital and airport authorities to stamp wrists of those ordered to self-isolate with indelible ink reading “Home Quarantined” and displaying the date the quarantine ends.

The moves, announced late on Monday, come just days after the city shut down schools, cinemas, malls and gyms, and also banned mass gatherings.

India’s western state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, has been the hardest hit with 39 confirmed coronavirus cases, or roughly a quarter of the 126 cases in the country.

A patient in the state died after contracting the virus on Tuesday, Praveen Pardeshi, who heads Mumbai’s civic body, told Reuters: the third death in India.

Along with the Taj Mahal, dozens of other monuments and museums including the Ajanta and Ellora caves and religious sites such as Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple were closed.

India expanded its travel restrictions on Monday, banning passengers from countries of the European Union and European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the United Kingdom.


Pakistan reported the number of confirmed cases had more than doubled for a second consecutive day, reaching 187.

Officials said the jump was largely due to errors in testing and quarantine of travelers who recently returned from Iran through a border crossing in Balochistan province

“If the arrangements were better we could have saved these people from the virus,” Saeed Ghani, a minister in the provincial Sindh government where many of the cases were detected, told a television channel on Monday night.

Pakistan postponed its flagship Pakistan Super League cricket tournament on Tuesday at the semi-final stage.

Authorities in India and the wider South Asian region have struggled to get travelers to self-isolate or stay quarantined in medical facilities that many view as poor and unhygienic.

At least 38 Afghans, who recently returned from Iran and were in isolation, escaped from a facility in western Afghanistan on Monday after breaking windows and attacking hospital staff.

At least one of them was confirmed to have the coronavirus. The country currently has 22 confirmed cases.

Separately, in Navi Mumbai, a suburb of India’s financial hub, local media reported that 11 people, who had been isolated after returning from Dubai, also fled the hospital, forcing police to launch a manhunt.

Although South Asia has been relatively lightly hit by the coronavirus spread, authorities fear that measures used in China and South Korea would be hard to enforce in poor, crowded places that often lack adequate healthcare facilities.

With the overnight spike in Pakistan, the overall number of confirmed cases in South Asia is now approaching the 400 mark.

Sri Lanka, which is heavily reliant on tourism for foreign exchange, saw its currency hit a record low against the dollar on Tuesday. Pakistan’s stock market continued to slide, a day after recording one of its biggest ever one-day declines.

Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Storay Karimi in Herat, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Writing by Euan Rocha and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Andrew Cawthorne.

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