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An overview of impact of Coronavirus on South Asia

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Coronavirus

Taking a toll on the lives of people, the Coronavirus pandemic has had serious implications on various sectors across the world. Besides wreaking havoc in the healthcare sector, the pandemic outbreak has led the economy to its worst depression in the wake of worldwide lockdown. Amid the crisis, South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are facing serious challenges due to the global health crisis.

Geographically, among the eight South Asian nations, India has the highest number of Coronavirus infections with over 35,000 cases. Pakistan holds the second spot with more than 16,800 cases, followed by Bangladesh at over 8,000 infections. As per reports, South Asian nations account for almost 2% of the world’s total Coronavirus cases. The number appears to be low due to a lack of COVID-19 testing across the region as compared to other countries.

The World Bank has released a report revising the 2020 GDP growth forecast of South Asian economies from 6.3% to between 1.8 and 2.8%, owing to global economic fallout. Even as the leaders of the South Asian nations have stepped up their actions to tackle COVID-19 by prolonging lockdowns in their countries, it will lead to the worst annual economic performance of the region in many decades.

Besides, the economic crisis, the plight of the migrant workers is looming upon these countries. Thousands of migrant workers are out-of-work, displaced, and hungry across the region. While the governments have announced some relief measures for their underprivileged, it is not enough for their survival in the health crisis.

Bangladeshi government had announced a stimulus of $11.3 billion so far for the people affected by lockdown. The country also opened its garment market amid protests from the workers over their safety. In Nepal, even though the number of infections is significantly low, PM Oli has extended the restrictions till May 7, while flights have been suspended till May 31. With over 600 cases, Sri Lanka extended its lockdown till May 4.

The Sri Lankan authorities also reported that out of the 31 main virus clusters, at least 27 have been totally curbed. Bhutan, which has reported 7 cases so far, has imposed strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus across the country. With a few scattered cases, the Maldives has also extended its lockdown till mid-May. Several Bangladeshi workers are stranded in the Maldives due to the movement restrictions. Amid the pandemic battle, the Afghan government is dealing with stalled peace negotiations with the Taliban.

There are over 2,000 cases in the country.In an attempt to overcome the crisis, the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations have initiated a joint COVID-19 emergency fund wherein all the leaders of the eight countries have pledged funds to support the region in the fight against the pandemic. India has pledged $10 million, following by Pakistan which has committed $3 million. Subsequently, Nepal and Afghanistan pledged $1 million each; the Maldives $200,000; Bhutan $100,000; Bangladesh $1.5 million, and Sri Lanka has pledged $5 million to the fund. Some of these countries are also working on easing their restrictions after reviewing their Coronavirus curves.

Among many suggestions to mitigate the economic implications, the World Bank has advised the South Asian governments to adopt temporary expenditure measures and coordination with international financial partners in order to avoid unsustainable long-term debt levels and fiscal deficits once the restrictions ease up.

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