By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India has recorded its 1,000th novel coronavirus death, but the head of a government think-tank said on Wednesday that its 1.3 billion people, strained from weeks of lockdown, were not experiencing the feared exponential surge in infections.

India has now reported 31,331 cases, including 1,007 deaths, according to figures from the Health Ministry. Neighbouring Pakistan has 15,282 confirmed cases amid concerns about worshippers gathering at mosques during the current holy month of Ramadan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi must decide soon whether to extend the world’s biggest lockdown, now 40 days old, beyond May 3.

Health officials say the shutdown has prevented an explosive surge of infections that would have crippled India’s modest health care system.

“Our analysis finds that the rate of growth in positive cases and fatalities has been consistently lower – linear but non-exponential,” said Amitabh Kant, chief executive of the government thinktank Niti Aayog.

Aayog urged a phased exit from the shutdown, but the government has a difficult decision ahead.

The big cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad – which are also India’s economic growth engines – top the list of cases and there are no signs of the pandemic abating there, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said.

“When I see Delhi’s COVID-19 map, I see only red and orange colours which is extremely worrying.”

Red zones indicate infection hotspots, orange denotes some infection, while green indicates an area with no infections.

Wednesday’s daily increase in cases, 1,897, was the highest in weeks.

Still, the scale of the outbreak is dwarfed by the United States or large western European countries.

In Afghanistan, 46 people tested positive in Kabul prisons, said Farhad Bayani, a spokesman for the prison administration, even as the Afghan government frees thousands of prisoners to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Some of them include Taliban fighters, freed as part of a prisoner swap with the insurgent group under a U.S.-brokered peace process.

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Here are official government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia:

* India has reported 31,331 cases, including 1,007 deaths

* Pakistan has reported 15,282 cases, including 335 deaths

* Afghanistan has reported 1,939 cases, including 61 deaths

* Sri Lanka has reported 622 cases, including seven deaths

* Bangladesh has reported 7,103 cases, including 163 deaths

* Maldives has reported 200 cases and no deaths

* Nepal has reported 57 cases and no deaths

* Bhutan has reported seven cases and no deaths

(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting by Orooj Hakimi in Kabul, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Editing by Kevin Liffey)



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