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South Asia: Urgent action needed to prevent further human catastrophe

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Kuala Lumpur/Kathmandu/Delhi/Geneva, 5 May 2021 – Urgent international support is needed to prevent a worsening human catastrophe in countries across South Asia as India’s total COVID-19 infections soar past 20 million.

In Nepal, many hospitals are full and overflowing with COVID-19 patients. Southern towns near the Indian border are unable to cope with the growing number of people needing medical treatment. Nepal is recording 57 times more cases than this time last month.

South Asian countries, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan have all experienced recent record death rates due to COVID-19. Hospitals and intensive care departments remain full or close to capacity in many areas across Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Across Nepal, 44 per cent of tests returned positive results last weekend according to government authorities, indicating many thousands of infections are undiagnosed. There are grave fears of mass deaths if the virus continues spreading unchecked across the country.

Nepal Red Cross Chairperson, Dr Netra Prasad Timsina, said:

“What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal’s future if we cannot contain this latest COVID surge that is claiming more lives by the minute.

“Every effort is being made to save lives right now across Nepal with increased medical treatment. Nepal Red Cross volunteer health teams are also reducing record infections by helping with testing, vaccinations, handwashing, mask-wearing and isolating infected people.

“It is beyond distressing to see that people cannot say goodbye to their loved ones as cremations are taking place at record levels due to these new COVID variants, which are striking down people of all ages in Nepal.”

All South Asian countries have started vaccinating people who are most at-risk, yet in Nepal only 1 per cent of the population has received two doses of the vaccine, while in India, 2 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Asia Pacific Director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Alexander Matheou, said:

“We need to act now and we need to act fast to have any hope of containing this human catastrophe. This virus has no respect for borders and these variants are running rampant across Asia.

“We must do more to prevent this tragedy unfolding in India and across South Asia. All eyes are on India this week, but we must also consider what we may be facing in the coming weeks and how best to prepare for it.

“Nepal urgently needs support, to save more lives and treat people who are suffering. We will not succeed in overcoming this terrible disease until vaccines are available to protect everyone, regardless of nationality or income.”

Media contacts

In Kathmandu: Azmat Ulla, +977 985 104 7071, azmat.ulla@ifrc.org

In Kuala Lumpur: Antony Balmain, +60 12 230 8451, antony.balmain@ifrc.org

In Wellington: Ellie van Baaren, +64 21 774 831, ellie.vanbaaren@ifrc.org

In Geneva: Ann Ann Vaessen, +41 79 405 77 50, ann.vaessen@ifrc.org