ISLAMABAD/COLOMBO (Reuters) – Pakistan’s prime minister has urged calm after its tally of coronavirus cases rose to 245 while Sri Lanka sealed itself off and shut its stock market on Wednesday, fuelling fears that South Asian countries are struggling to stem the pandemic.

A worker checks a man’s temperature following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a railway station in Peshawar, Pakistan March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Indian subcontinent rose overnight to 482 as authorities across the region imposed travel restrictions to block the fast-spreading disease that has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 8,000 people.

[For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser]

There are fears that inadequate health facilities will be overwhelmed in many parts of the poor, crowded region.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a late Tuesday address to the nation, urged citizens to remain calm and not rush to get tested.

“Even the U.S. doesn’t have the resources to test everyone who comes,” he said. “Only those with intense symptoms should go to hospital.”

“There is no need to worry. We will fight this as a nation. And God-willing, we will win this war,” Khan said.

His comments came amid a growing dispute in Pakistan between federal and provincial authorities with the latter struggling to secure sufficient coronavirus testing kits and blaming the federal government for failing to properly test and quarantine hundreds of Pakistanis who recently returned home across a land border with Iran.

Late on Tuesday, Pakistan said it would require all arriving air passengers to show they had tested negative for the disease. Land borders have already been shut.

Pakistan’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 75 bps to 12.50% on Tuesday, the first cut in four years, as the coronavirus roiled markets across the region.

Sri Lanka, which has recorded 43 coronavirus cases, said it would ban all incoming flights for two weeks from Wednesday to combat the spread of the virus.

Officials also implemented price controls on lentils and sardines to ensure that no price gouging.

Sri Lanka also said its stock market would remain shut for the rest of the week as it attempts to minimise interactions and curb the disease.

In India, where 147 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, authorities on Tuesday cancelled nearly two dozen long distance train services in a bid to curb the disease and also because of a fall in passenger numbers.

(This story has been refiled to correct garbled paragraphs)

Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Robert Birsel



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