Jun 6th 2020DELHI AND ISLAMABADOVER THE past week Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have largely lifted nationwide lockdowns intended to curb the sprea
OVER THE past week Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have largely lifted nationwide lockdowns intended to curb the spread of covid-19. The freeing of 1.7bn people—more than a fifth of humanity—from varied restrictions will bring relief to the region’s battered economies. Alas, it promises no relief from the pandemic itself. In luckier countries, stay-at-home rules reduced the number of new infections. In South Asia they managed only to moderate the disease’s acceleration, but not to halt it (see chart). The lifting of the lockdowns, in turn, is likely to hasten its spread again.
With some 350,000 confirmed cases and fewer than 9,000 deaths so far, the region’s toll looks relatively modest. Yet those numbers disguise both widespread undercounting and a rate of growth that was frightening even before the lifting of restrictions. At the current pace, the numbers are doubling every two weeks, suggesting that by the end of July, when some models predict the outbreak will peak, the official number infected may reach 5m and the death toll could approach 150,000.
Low levels of testing mean that the real numbers could be far worse. One foreign health official in Pakistan reckons the death toll is between two and three times the government’s count. John Clemens of icddr,b (formerly the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh),…