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Indian cops enforce lockdown as cases expected to spike

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI : The police enforced lockdowns across large parts of India yesterday, with curfews in some places, as health officials warned that the coronavirus was spreading out of big cities where it first appeared into the small towns that dot the landscape.

India has found 485 cases of the coronavirus and nine people have died from the Covid-19 disease it causes, but alarm is growing across the region about prospects for its spread into impoverished communities and the ability of resource-starved public health sectors to cope.

A health official in the western state of Maharashtra said new cases were starting to appear in small towns after a first wave emerged in big cities like Mumbai.

"This trend is worrying as rural areas have limited infrastructure to deal with the outbreak," said the health official.

A new concern in the northern state of Punjab was the risk of infection from an estimated 90,000 overseas Indians who had travelled back to their homeland, said the state government's top health official, Mr Balbir Singh Sidhu.

TALLY COULD JUMP

A team of scientists based mainly in the US said this week that India's tally of infections could jump to 1.3 million by mid-May if the virus maintains its rate of spread.

"Even with the best-case scenarios, probably, you are in a very painful crisis," said professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan Bhramar Mukherjee.

India probably has only around 100,000 intensive care unit beds and 40,000 ventilators, said president of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine Dhruva Chaudhry.

"We can handle it if an even number (of cases) come over a period of time," Mr Chaudhry said. But he warned that there was not sufficient infrastructure or staff to handle a sharp spike in critical patients.

The scientists said projections could change as the country conducts more testing, while also putting in place stricter restrictions and measures to stem the spread of the virus. - REUTERS

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