The coronavirus pandemic was expected to be a perfect storm for poor and densely populated South Asia, home to one-fifth of the world's population.
The fears were rising as the coronavirus outbreak reminded experts of the devastating impact of the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago when some 18 million people in this sub-continent, or 6 percent of the world's total population, are thought to have died.
But low death rates of Covid-19 in the region compared to the richest countries such as the USA, the UK and some other European countries are still baffling scientists.
Bangladesh confirmed 12.5 deaths per million of its population, India 14.3, and Pakistan 21.6 whereas the UK recorded 651 deaths, Italy 576 and the USA 392.
Do people in South Asia have better immunity system against Covid-19 or is there any miracle working here to keep the death toll low?
Many reasons have been discussed behind these low death rates. Some experts consider the tropical climate and BCG vaccine as the reasons behind it. Others say a relatively young population with a median age of 27.6 years holds the key.
But nothing has been scientifically proven. If it is proven, this can be a breakthrough in fighting Covid-19.
The other side of the story is, however, not equally good for South Asia as new cases in India and Bangladesh – two major countries in the region – are still spiking. So, that good news – low death rates – may not last for long if the virus continues spreading unabated.
European countries such as France, Italy and Spain that were worst hit by Covid-19 have been able to flatten the virus curve within two to three weeks after they enforced lockdown. The daily death toll has also decreased there.
They have now focused on reopening their economies. They have made trillion dollars of stimulus packages to save their economies from the pandemic fallout. They have equipped further their already well-resourced healthcare system to fight resurgent of new cases.
But Bangladesh and India have failed to do so even after enforcing more than two-months-long shutdown countrywide that crippled economies and threw millions of workers out of jobs. The countries are struggling to reopen their economies amid virus surge that overwhelmed the fragile healthcare system.
Experts are now predicting that India may be the next global virus hotspot as last week it overtook Russia to become third in the global tally of new infection cases.
That forecast is equally applicable for Bangladesh because of its similar geographic location.
The latest situation in Bangladesh is not inspiring. In the last two days, the infection rate jumped above 24 percent even four months after its detection of the first cases.
Due to low testing capacity of the countries in the region, the actual scenario of the virus cannot be assessed.
Yet, one thing is still curious. Though the virus curves are rising, death toll is not seeing any abnormal jump as happened in the USA and European countries.
However, the present low death rates in South Asia should not be a cause for complacency.
The World Health Organisation has already warned that Covid-19 may last for years. The only hope is for an effective vaccine against it. In the last six months, it has been clearer that nothing will return to normalcy without a vaccine. And it may take some more months to have a vaccine.
Until then the poor and densely populated South Asian nations will have to learn to live with the virus. This means economies may continue to suffer as efforts to nurse their ailing health may not yield desired results as long as the virus remains uncontained.
In such a situation, every mistake may make the fight – be it for containing the virus or for economic recovery – hard and force the countries to pay heavily.