Bangladesh announces coronavirus farm relief package, India seen extending lockdown

DHAKA/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Bangladesh on Sunday announced a relief package worth about $1.7 billion to help farmers struggling because of restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, with neighbouring India expected to further extend its nationwide lockdown.

A doctor scans residents from Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, with an infrared thermometer to check their temperature as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mumbai, India, April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Bangladesh has extended its lockdown by 11 days to April 25, a move that could exacerbate the difficulties faced by the country’s hundreds of thousands of rice, fish, dairy, poultry and vegetable farmers.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the relief package, which includes $590 million for cheap farm loans and $1.1 billion for fertilizer subsidies, is designed to help farmers who are struggling to sell their produce during the lockdown.

“Disasters come. We’ll have to face it boldly,” Hasina said. “We want to make sure that our farming sector continues its smooth production.”

The number of coronavirus cases in the South Asia region crossed 14,500 on Sunday. India, with 8,356 cases and 273 deaths, was the worst hit.

Concerns are rising that India’s financial hub Mumbai, which accounts for around 1,250 cases, was becoming a hotspot for the coronavirus. Local authorities there are also battling the infection’s rapid spread through its densely populated slum areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to extend India’s 21-day lockdown due to end Tuesday, according to a state chief minister with knowledge of discussions among top officials, but the federal government has yet to make an announcement.

States such as Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, and at least three others have already independently said they will extend lockdowns to the end of April.

In Pakistan, authorities expressed alarm at a sharp rise in the coronavirus cases in Karachi, the country’s largest city. The provincial government there has decided to seal 11 densely populated neighbourhoods in Karachi, officials said.

Officials government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia are as follows:

* India has 8,356 confirmed cases, including 273 deaths

* Pakistan has 5,038 cases, including 86 deaths

* Afghanistan has 607 cases, including 19 deaths

* Sri Lanka has 198 cases, including 7 deaths

* Bangladesh has 621 cases, including 34 deaths

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* Maldives has 20 cases and no deaths

* Nepal has 12 cases and no deaths

* Bhutan has five cases and no deaths

Reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Mayank Bhardwaj in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi; Editing by Aditya Kalra and Tom Hogue

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