DHAKA: Bangladesh on Sunday (Apr 12) announced a relief package worth about US$1.7 billion to help farmers struggling because of restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, with neighbouring India expected to further extend its nationwide lockdown.

Bangladesh has extended its lockdown by 11 days to Apr 25, a move that could exacerbate the difficulties faced by the country’s hundreds of thousands of rice, fish, dairy, poultry and vegetable farmers.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the relief package, which includes US$590 million for cheap farm loans and US$1.1 billion for fertiliser subsidies, is designed to help farmers who are struggling to sell their produce during the lockdown.

“Disasters come. We’ll have to face it boldly,” Hasina said. “We want to make sure that our farming sector continues its smooth production.”

The number of coronavirus cases in the South Asia region crossed 14,500 on Sunday. India, with 8,356 cases and 273 deaths, was the worst hit.

Concerns are rising that India’s financial hub Mumbai, which accounts for around 1,250 cases, was becoming a hotspot for the coronavirus. Local authorities there are also battling the infection’s rapid spread through its densely populated slum areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to extend India’s 21-day lockdown due to end Tuesday, according to a state chief minister with knowledge of discussions among top officials, but the federal government has yet to make an announcement.

States such as Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, and at least three others have already independently said they will extend lockdowns to the end of April.

In Pakistan, authorities expressed alarm at a sharp rise in the coronavirus cases in Karachi, the country’s largest city. The provincial government there has decided to seal 11 densely populated neighbourhoods in Karachi, officials said.

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