India extended on Tuesday a nationwide lockdown for its 1.3 billion people until May 3 as its prime minister warned of economic sacrifices to save lives as the number of coronavirus cases crossed 10,000.
Sharp downward revisions to economic growth forecasts in the wake of the pandemic point toward sickening levels of unemployment, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to maintain the discipline shown in the first three weeks of the country's lockdown.
"That means until May 3, each and every one of us will have to remain in the lockdown," Modi said in a televised address to the nation.
"From an economic only point of view, it undoubtedly looks costly right now; but measured against the lives of Indian citizens, there is no comparison itself."
India's neighbour, Pakistan, is also due to take a decision on its lockdown ending on Wednesday.
Modi spoke as latest government data showed the number of people infected with coronavirus in India had reached 10,363, with 339 deaths.
Although the numbers are small compared with hard-hit Western nations, health experts fear that is because of India's low levels of testing, and actual infection levels could be far higher.
Lacking testing kits and protective gear for medical workers, India has only tested 137 per million of its population, compared with 15,935 per million in Italy, and 8,138 in the United States.
Health experts have warned that widespread contagion could be disastrous in a country where millions live in dense slums and the health care system is overstretched.
So far, more than three-quarters of India's cases are concentrated in about 80 of the country's more than 700 districts, including the two big cities, New Delhi and Mumbai.
Since Modi first imposed the lockdown in late March, the unemployment rate has almost doubled to around 14.5%, according data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a Mumbai based private think-tank.
The shutdown sparked an exodus of millions of workers from small industries like textiles and leather, and service industries like retail, tourism, construction and other sectors in urban areas to their villages.
"I am well aware of the problems you have faced - some for food, some for movement from place to place, and others for staying away from homes and families," Modi said.
Agriculture, which employs about 45% of India's labour force, is still faring better though the sector has been hampered by disruptions to logistics.
SLIGHT EASING OF CURBS POSSIBLE
For next five days, the lockdown will be enforced even more strictly, Modi said, adding that the government could then ease some curbs in parts of the country which are not hotspots to allow some essential activities.
But, the number of jobless is only going to get worse as India needs annual economic growth over 8% to absorb the millions of young people entering the work force each month.
Most private economists, and the World Bank have revised down growth forecasts for the current year to between 1.5% to 2.8% as a result of the pandemic. Barclays Bank, in a note to clients on Tuesday, forecast zero growth in 2020.
Presenting its annual budget in February, the government had factored in growth of up to 6.5% for the fiscal year through to March 2021, which now appears a broken dream.
PAKISTAN DECISION DUE
Facing an even more dire economic situation, neighbouring Pakistan is also due to decide on how to proceed once its lockdown ends on Wednesday and the expectation is some curbs would be lifted.
"The business community is asking us that what are the safety measures they need to take, so that they can run their business... and generally we also agree with that, that we have to go to that direction," said Minister for Planning Asad Umar.
The World Bank has warned that Pakistan along with Afghanistan is expected to fall into recession in fiscal 2020/21 and Prime Minister Imran Khan has sought debt relief from international lenders to combat the pandemic.
Official government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia are as follows:
* India has 10,363 confirmed cases, including 339 deaths
* Pakistan has 5,374 cases, including 93 deaths
* Bangladesh has 803 cases, including 39 deaths
* Afghanistan has 714 cases, including 23 deaths
* Sri Lanka has 203 cases, including 7 deaths
* Maldives has 20 cases and no deaths
* Nepal has 14 cases and no deaths
* Bhutan has five cases and no deaths