South Asia's coronavirus infections have crossed 37,000, with more than half in India, official data showed on Thursday, complicating the task of governments looking to scale back lockdowns that have destroyed the livelihoods of millions.
Authorities in India sought this week to ease a stringent 40-day lockdown of the population of 1.3 billion by allowing farm and industrial activity in the least-affected rural areas.
But more than 1,400 new cases reported on Wednesday, for one of India's biggest single-day jumps in recent weeks, carried its tally to 21,392 infections.
"We have to remain focused in this fight, the effort is to stop the spread at any cost," said Satyendra Jain, the health minister of Delhi, one of India's top three virus hotspots.
"If we want end the lockdown, we have to bring down the number of red zones."
Pakistan Pm Tests Negative
In neighbouring Pakistan, which has roughly half as many cases as India, Prime Minister Imran Khan tested negative for the virus, the information and broadcasting minister said.
Khan was tested after a meeting last week with the head of one of the country's biggest charity organisations, who later proved to have the virus.
"I am happy to report that his test is negative," said Firdous Ashiq Awan, the minister.
But concern is growing over Pakistan's move, in response to appeals from religious groups, to allow mosque gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, despite experts' warnings that they could fuel uncontrollable spread of the virus.
The fasting month is expected to begin on Friday.
Until now, South Asia, home to a fifth of the world's population, has suffered fewer infections in the pandemic than rich nations such as Britain, Spain and the United States.
But that could be the result of lower rates of testing that health experts believe may allow the virus to lurk undetected.
"We have repeatedly said there is no alternative to a testing, trace and quarantine programme," said Sonia Gandhi, the chief of India's main opposition Congress party.
"Unfortunately, testing still remains low and testing kits are still in short supply and of poor quality."
Here are official government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia:
* India has reported 21,392 cases, including 681 deaths
* Pakistan has reported 10,513 cases, including 224 deaths
* Afghanistan has reported 1,176 cases, including 40 deaths
* Sri Lanka has reported 330 cases, including seven deaths
* Bangladesh has reported 3,772 cases, including 120 deaths
* Maldives has reported 34 cases and no deaths
* Nepal has reported 45 cases and no deaths
* Bhutan has reported six cases and no deaths