Sri Lanka became the latest of India’s neighbors to seal its borders with the South Asian giant as it battles a record coronavirus surge.
India saw record new jumps in COVID-19 cases and deaths on Thursday, dashing tentative hopes that the catastrophic recent surge that has stretched hospitals to the limit might be easing.
Health ministry numbers showed 3,980 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 230,168, and 412,262 new cases, pushing India’s caseload since the pandemic began to over 21 million.
Many experts suspect that with low levels of testing and poor record-keeping for the cause of death – and crematoriums overwhelmed in many places – the real numbers could be much higher.
The rise follows several days of falling case numbers that had raised government hopes that the virus surge may have been easing.
The sharp rise in cases since late March has overwhelmed hospitals in many places, with fatal shortages of beds, drugs and oxygen.
Bangladesh and Nepal have also banned flights and sought to close their borders with India, where a huge rise in numbers in the past three weeks has taken deaths past 230,000 and cases over 21 million.
All three countries are fighting their own pandemic surges, which Red Cross leaders have described as a “human catastrophe.”
The Sri Lankan government banned flight passengers from India from entering, as the country reported its highest daily toll of 14 deaths and 1,939 infections in 24 hours.
Sri Lanka’s navy said it had stepped up patrols to keep away Indian trawlers, adding that on Tuesday it stopped 11 such vessels which had crossed the narrow strip of sea dividing the two neighbours.
Bangladesh halted all international flights on April 14 because of its own surge and shut its border with India on April 26.
It has reported 11,755 Covid-19 deaths and 767,338 cases, but experts say the real figures are higher in all South Asian countries.
Bangladesh has had 10 million vaccine doses from India, but the supply has been halted and the government is now negotiating to get Chinese jabs.
Nepal suspended international flights a week ago, until May 14.
Just two return flights a week are allowed to India, to bring back stranded nationals. Most border crossings are also closed and only returning Nepalis can use those still open.
Many hospitals in Nepal are overflowing with Covid-19 patients, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).