AP

Life in South Asia returns to normal as COVID cases decline

Mar 3, 2022, 10:05 PM | Updated: 10:08 pm

Shoppers buy produce at an open air market in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, March 3, 2022. Slowly but...

Shoppers buy produce at an open air market in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, March 3, 2022. Slowly but steadily, life in South Asia is returning to normal, and people hope the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind them. Experts are optimistic that the omicron surge, which brought relatively low levels of death, has reinforced immunity from vaccines, which are widespread in the region. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

(AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

The markets are crowded again. Traffic is jamming the roads. Migrant workers have returned to the cities. And young people are back at schools and universities — many of them for the first time in years.

It isn’t quite how things were before the COVID-19 pandemic — mask mandates still exist in some places — but with infections steadily declining, life in South Asia is returning to a sense of normalcy.

The mental scars from last year’s delta-driven surge persist — especially in India, where health systems collapsed and millions likely died — but across the region high vaccination rates and hope that the highly contagious omicron variant has helped bolster immunity are giving people reasons to be optimistic.

While experts agree that opening up was the right move amid falling case numbers, they caution that optimism should be tempered with lessons from the past two years.

Dr. Gagandeep Kang, an infectious disease expert at the Christian Medical College in Vellore city in southern India, said the government should start preparing now for the next medical emergency, “whether that is COVID-19 or something else.” She said that new variants remain a concern, especially if the virus mutates into a more lethal version while retaining its infectiousness.

Those concerns were put aside in Nepal this week, as hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu for a festival of the Hindu god Shiva.

“I had to wait for hours — since morning — and was finally able to visit the temple,” said Keshav Dhakal, a pilgrim.

Sri Lanka’s pristine beaches are full again. Young people sway to music and devour spicy curries with friends. Some restrictions remain on the island — masks are mandatory in public places — but the government hopes that foreign tourists will return soon, helping bolster its faltering economy.

The island nation was so short of hard currency during the pandemic that authorities had restricted imports of cars and fertilizer. Now it’s using its dwindling reserves to pay for ever more costly oil needed to keep the economy running.

“I am happy that life has come back,” said Ruwan Chamara, a construction worker who says he has attended several concerts in recent weeks after nearly two years of “living in an open prison.”

The Indian government’s focus is also on economic rejuvenation. Apart from the loss of human life, the pandemic also made millions poorer, including many who were among the most vulnerable. The stringent lockdown, announced with a few hours’ notice in 2020, forced thousands of people to walk home to their villages from the cities where they worked. Those workers have now begun returning to cities, as activity picks up at factories and construction sites.

“Because of the lockdowns, we have nothing. If we don’t work, we don’t eat. If we don’t eat, we die,” said Devendra Kumar, a young laborer working at a construction site in New Delhi.

Kuldeep Singh Tomar, 38, who owns a shoe shop in New Delhi, said that sales have increased from around $400 daily in January to twice that in February. Before the pandemic, he said he’d earn over $1,300 daily.

In Bangladesh too, people are cautiously taking off their masks while dealing with the fallout of the pandemic. For many, the virus itself now feels like a minor problem compared to others people are facing, such as inflation and job losses, said Mir Arshadul Hoque, a former student at Dhaka University.

“Overall, I think people have mentally distanced themselves from the coronavirus,” he said.

But no amount of distance can fully eradicate the difficult memories of the past two years: the overwhelmed hospitals, the overflowing cemeteries, the exhausted doctors.

“The last two years were unbearable for us,” said Habibul Bashar, a former captain of Bangladesh’s cricket team.

“We definitely don’t want to go back to earlier times,” he said.

Al-emrun Garjon in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Binaj Gurubacharya and Updendra Man Singh in Kathmandu, Shonal Ganguly and Rishi Lekhi in New Delhi and Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

1 hour ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

2 hours ago

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

4 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

5 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

12 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

Life in South Asia returns to normal as COVID cases decline