India has announced that it is stopping domestic flights and said the majority of the country was under complete lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus as the number of people dying from the disease increased across south Asia.
India has reported 471 cases of coronavirus, but health experts have said that a big jump could be imminent, which would overwhelm the underfunded and crumbling public health infrastructure.
On Monday, India confirmed two more deaths, bringing the total to nine. One was a 54-year-old man with no history of foreign travel, suggesting the start of community transmission of the virus, officials said.
Streets were deserted in the national capital, New Delhi, and offices have been shut at the start of a lockdown that will remain in place till the end of March.
The government ordered commercial airlines to shut down domestic operations from midnight on Tuesday on top of a ban on international flights to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak. About 144 million people travelled on domestic flights last year.
Rail travel, which is hugely popular in India, has already been suspended after thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, crowded in train stations to go home as businesses shut down and jobs dried up.
Narendra Modi, the prime minister, said many Indians were not taking the lockdown seriously. “Please save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously,” he said on Twitter.
Uddhav Thackeray, the chief minister of the western state of Maharashtra, which has had the highest number of coronavirus cases in India, ordered a curfew from Tuesday to force people indoors. “Despite multiple requests, people are not following rules,” he said. “This compelled the government to impose the curfew.”
The country’s main stock exchange located in Mumbai – the capital of Maharashtra – would, however, remain open, an official said. On Monday night, the Indian government said 30 states and union territories – or 548 districts – were under “complete lockdown”.
Newspapers cancelled print runs in Mumbai after vendors refused to distribute them because of fears about the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, on Monday night in Pakistan, the army said it would help to impose nationwide restrictions to contain the spread of coronavirus after a request from the government.
Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar said schools, malls, restaurants, cinemas, marriage halls, swimming pools and markets would be shut as of Monday, with only pharmaceutical companies and medical stores allowed to remain open. Imran Khan, the prime minister, had previously said he opposed such stringent measures because of the economic consequences for poor people.
Nepal ordered all land border crossings with India and China to be shut until 29 March, saying thousands of people, most of them Nepali migrant workers, had crossed into Nepal in recent days from India, believing their homeland to be safer.