Why South Asia Might Avoid the Worst of the Coronavirus

China is more connected to South Asia than ever before but experts believe South Asia won’t fall too hard.

GettyImages-1197939980 coronavirus
People wear mask following the coronavirus scare in New Delhi, India on February 1, 2020. (Photo by Muzamil Mattoo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Vidya Krishnan


February 12, 2020

Global health organizations are mounting an all-out battle to control the coronavirus disease (officially COVID-19). The virus (SARS-CoV-2) has infected over 40,000 and killed over 1,000.

South Asians are particularly vulnerable — they are densely populated, share porous borders with China, and trade with China — with historically underfunded health systems, understaffed hospitals, and overcrowded megacities. Several South Asian countries, including India (3), Nepal (1), and Sri Lanka (1), have reported cases. A Bangladeshi worker in Singapore tested positive on February 9.

Yet South Asia has yet to experience an all-out coronavirus outbreak. Unlike the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) outbreak in 2002-3, information on the recent coronavirus has traveled more freely. Developing nations, despite having fewer resources to screen, quarantine, and test for the virus than their wealthier counterparts, are more prepared after living through other zoonotic viruses such as Zika and SARS. And South Asia has yet to become a major travel hub, in comparison to countries like Thailand, which protects the region from the worst of the disease.

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