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Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 23:34
WHO official: Coronavirus epidemic 'far from over' in Asia
By Agencies
Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 23:34 By Agencies

A newspaper headline about the coronavirus outbreak is seen on a near-deserted street in Sydney on March 30, 2020. (PETER PARKS / AFP)

TOKYO / SYDNEY /  DUBAI / ANKARA / BEIJING / SINGAPORE / ISTANBUL - The coronavirus epidemic is “far from over” in the Asia-Pacific region, and the current measures to curb the spread of the virus are merely buying time for countries to prepare for large-scale community transmissions, a WHO official said on Tuesday.

Even with all the measures, the risk of transmission in the region will not go away as long as the pandemic continues, said Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Preparations for a large-scale transmission must reach everyone, Kasai said at a virtual media briefing.

Kasai warned that for countries that are seeing a tapering off of cases, they should not let down their guard, or the virus may come surging back.

Australia

Australia reported a sustained fall in the rate of new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, but officials urged people not to become complacent and stressed the need for further strict social distancing policies.

To ensure compliance, state authorities enacted sweeping powers to impose hefty fines and potential jail terms for anybody breaching rules that include a ban on public meetings of more than just two people.

Health Minister Greg Hunt reported there were about 4,400 coronavirus cases nationally, with the rate of growth in new infections slowing from 25-30% a week ago to an average of 9% over the past three days.

Based on the completion of more than 230,000 tests, the death rate for Australian cases was below 1%, significantly under the 10% being reported by some other countries and suggesting “early promising signs of the curve flattening,” Hunt said.

Hunt on Tuesday afternoon also announced that the government has agreed to guarantee the viability of Australia's 657 private hospitals, which will boost the number of publicly available hospital beds during the pandemic by 34,000.

ALSO READ: Indonesia to curb mobility; Israel PM isolates self

Cambodia

The Cambodian government decided to grant a three-month tax holiday, from March to May, for aviation companies, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and tour companies to help offset losses caused by the COVID-19. 

Cambodia on Tuesday confirmed two more cases of COVID-19 in northwest Siem Reap City, bringing the total number of the confirmed cases in the country to 109, according to a Ministry of Health (MoH) statement.

The new patients are a 39-year-old Cambodian mother and her 12-year-old son, who were tested positive for the virus by the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia, according to the statement.

India

Indian authorities sealed off the headquarters of a Muslim missionary group on Tuesday and ordered an investigation into accusations it held religious meetings that officials fear may have infected dozens of people with the coronavirus.

The death toll due to the COVID-19 in India rose to 32 as the number of confirmed cases in the country reached 1,251, the federal health ministry said Tuesday.

One of the coronavirus hot spots that the government of the capital, New Delhi, has flagged is a Muslim quarter where the 100-year-old Tablighi Jamaat group is based, after dozens of people tested positive for the virus and at least seven died.

Clearly lacking in basic medical supplies like ventilators, personal protection equipment (PPEs), face masks, testing kits, etc, the Indian government has decided to allow its business community to produce such medical supplies, and even approached overseas suppliers to meet the urgent requirements.

Tuesday marks the seventh straight day of the 21-day lockdown across the country announced by the center government to contain the spread of the pandemic. 

Motorcyclists drive past closed shops in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 27, 2020. (PHOTO / AP)

Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared a national public health emergency over the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and announced measures to help people with lower incomes.

Widodo said he had signed a regulation to let the government significantly raise spending of US$24.9 billion in its fight against the coronavirus and widen the 2020 budget deficit to 5.07% of GDP.

Meanwhile, the country is set to release about 30,000 prisoners early as it seeks to avoid a possible surge in coronavirus infections in its overcrowded prisons.

The government announced on Tuesday that it would ban all arrivals and transit by foreigners in Indonesia but not yet decided on when it would come into effect.

Medical experts have said the world’s fourth-most-populous country must impose tighter movement restrictions as known cases of the highly infectious respiratory illness have gone from zero in early March to 1,528, with 114 new infections on Tuesday.

Iran

Iran’s death toll from coronavirus has reached 2,898, with 141 deaths in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Tuesday, adding that the total number of infected cases has jumped to 44,606.

“In the past 24 hours, there has been 3,111 new cases of infected people. Unfortunately, 3,703 of the infected people are in a critical condition,” Jahanpur said.

Iran on Monday asked its citizens to avoid celebrating the Nature Day in the parks and countrysides to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus.

To implement the social distancing plan in the country, "all the parks and entertaining centers are closed and attending these places are forbidden," the Corona Management Bureau said in a statement quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

Iraq

The Iraqi Health Ministry on Monday confirmed four more deaths from COVID-19 and 83 new cases, bringing the total number of the infections to 630.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government decided to extend the nationwide curfew until April 11 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

To help Iraq cope with the coronavirus epidemic, a Chinese team of seven experts has been working with their Iraqi counterparts since March 7 in the fight against the viral respiratory disease.

READ MORE: Indian police fire tear gas on workers defying lockdown

Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was tested negative for the novel coronavirus, his office said on Monday, after one of his aides has contracted the virus.

The tests were conducted earlier on Monday after it was found out that his advisor Rivka Paluch had been infected with the virus.

Israel's finance minister announced Monday an 80-billion-new-shekel (about US$22.4 billion) emergency plan to aid the Israeli economy and health system due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

As of Tuesday, the number of the novel coronavirus cases in Israel has risen to 4,831. The toll of the virus has hit 18. 

Members of the Iranian Red Crescent test people for coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms, as police blocked Tehran to Alborz highway to check every car following orders by the Iranian government, outside Tehran on March 26, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

Japan 

Japan’s ruling party proposed the country’s biggest-ever stimulus package worth 60 trillion yen (US$554 billion) as the spreading coronavirus locks the economy in a recession.

The sum includes 20 trillion yen in fiscal measures with private initiatives and other elements likely making up the rest, according to the proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday. 

More than 10 trillion yen, or the equivalent of a 5 percentage point cut in the sales tax rate, would be handed out to the public in a combination of cash, subsidies and coupons, according to the plan.

As a precaution against virus infection, Japan’s prime minister and deputy prime minister will avoid attending the same meeting. If Abe is incapacitated, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso is next in line to step in as the country’s leader.

Meanwhile, Japan is urging its citizens not to travel to 73 countries and regions, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday, as the government fights to prevent an explosive surge in coronavirus cases.

Tokyo recorded more than 70 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday for its highest tally in a single day, as pressure built on Abe to order a lockdown with a minister saying Japan’s containment strategy was stretched to the limit.

Coronavirus infections in Japan topped 2,000 cases on Tuesday.

Jordan 

Jordan's Health Minister Saad Jaber said two more deaths were confirmed since Sunday, increasing the overall number of deaths to five, according to a statement by the Prime Ministry.

He added that a total of nine coronavirus cases were reported on Monday, increasing the number of confirmed cases to 268.

Kuwait 

Kuwait reported 23 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 289.

Eight of the new cases are Kuwaiti citizens who returned from Britain, Iran and France, while 14 have history of contact with infected patients, said the health ministry's spokesman Abdullah Al-Sanad at a daily news briefing.

The other one case is still under investigation, he added.

Malaysia

Malaysia reported 140 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking the total to 2,766, with 43 deaths.

The Ministry Of Health recorded six new deaths on Tuesday. Malaysia has the highest number of reported infections in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar

Myanmar reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, a 69-year-old man who also had cancer and died in a hospital in the commercial capital of Yangon, a government spokeswoman said.

He had sought medical treatment in Australia and stopped in Singapore on his way home, according to the health ministry.

“The patient passed away at 7:25am,” Dr Khin Khin Gyi, spokeswoman for the ministry of health, said.

Myanmar's Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday requested the Myanmar expatriates to return to the country through border gates after April 15 amid fears of COVID-19 spread.

The request came after one national who returned home from Thailand through Myawaddy border town tested positive.

Myanmar has detected 14 cases of COVID-19 so far, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports on Monday.  

ALSO READ: Iran says US sanctions 'doubling' suffering amid outbreak

New Zealand

More COVID-19 tests would be conducted in New Zealand, with the criteria for receiving a test being expanded, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday.

More than 21,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in New Zealand and the country has the capacity to test about 3,500 people a day, Ardern told a press conference.

New Zealand reported 48 new confirmed and 10 probable cases of the COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed and probable infections to 647 in the country.

There were no additional deaths and 74 people had recovered, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield from the Ministry of Health said at a press conference.

Oman

The Omani Ministry of Health announced on Monday 12 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number in the country to 179.

According to a statement issued by the ministry, 29 cases have recovered.

Men wearing protective masks walk past closed restaurants and cafes, in Ankara, Turkey, March 20, 2020.  (PHOTO / AP)

Pakistan

Pakistan's education authority, the Higher Education Commission (HEC), on Monday directed all universities and accredited institutions in the country to start online classes to avoid education loss to the students staying at home due to the COVID-19 spread.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 in the country, the government of Pakistan ordered the closure of schools, colleges, and universities across the country for three weeks earlier this month before extending it to May 31, 2020.

Palestine

A new case of COVID-19 was recorded in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Monday evening, and the number of cases infected with the virus in the coastal enclave climbed to 10, health ministry said.

The number of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip infected with the virus reached 116, including 10 cases in Gaza and 106 in the West Bank; 18 cases had recovered.

Russia

Russia has registered a total of 2,337 cases of COVID-19 in 73 regions of the country as of Tuesday, including a daily record of 500 new cases in the last 24 hours, official data showed.

The death toll rose to 17 after eight patients in four regions died of the disease, Russia's coronavirus response center said in a statement.

So far, 121 people have recovered, including 55 in the last 24 hours, it said.

Moscow remains the worst hit part of the country, with 387 new cases confirmed in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to 1,613 in the Russian capital.

To contain the spread of the coronavirus, President Vladimir Putin declared a week of paid leave for all citizens beginning on March 30.

As of Tuesday morning, 32 of Russia's 85 regions have introduced mandatory self-isolation for all residents, and new regions are joining, Russian media reported.

Also on Tuesday, the Russian Justice Ministry proposed a suspension on registering marriages and divorces until at least June 1.

In cases where it is not possible to change the date, the registration should be carried out only in the presence of the new couple without any guests, it said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday the registration of 154 new COVID-19 cases, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

This increases the total number of COVID-19 cases to 1,453 in the kingdom, of whom 116 recovered and eight passed away, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the health ministry announced on Monday the order by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to provide free treatment for all coronavirus cases inside the kingdom. 

Singapore

Singapore said on Tuesday it could force companies to suspend operations if they do not do more to ensure employees can work from home to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections, as the city state reported 47 more cases of the respiratory illness.

“If we assess that a company has not made a serious enough effort to implement telecommuting, we may have to issue a stop work order,” Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said. She said that if the nature of their business allowed work to be done from home, firms should do their utmost to make this happen.

The Southeast Asian city-state recorded its third death from the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday. It has reported a total of 926 cases of the virus to date.

South Korea

South Korea said on Tuesday it will open school classes online next week and reschedule its annual college entrance exams slated for November as concerns persist over the coronavirus and small outbreaks continue to emerge.

South Korea reported 125 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections to 9,786, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The death toll stood at 162.

Syria

The second death case of COVID-19 has been reported in Syria, the health ministry said in a statement on Monday.

So far, 10 coronavirus cases have been reported in Syria, two of whom have died, including the one who died on Monday, said the statement.

Thailand

Thailand reported 127 new coronavirus cases and one death on Tuesday, a health official said.

The latest number raise the total number of confirmed infections in Thailand to 1,651 cases and 10 deaths since the country’s first case was reported in January.

Devotees offer food to Thai Buddhist monks as they wear face shield to protect themselves from new coronavirus in Bangkok, Thailand, March 31, 2020. (PHOTO / AP)

The Philippines

Coronavirus testing is expected to increase substantially in coming days in the Philippines, where the high number of deaths relative to confirmed cases reflects lower testing so far, a World Health Organisation official said on Tuesday.

The Philippines’ health ministry on Tuesday recorded its single largest daily increase in coronavirus deaths and infections.

Ten more people died because of the outbreak, bringing the total to 88, while 538 additional infections increased the total number of cases to 2,084, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

Turkey

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party said on Tuesday it proposed a bill that would temporarily release roughly 45,000 prisoners in response to the risk that the coronavirus could spread in jails.

A separate reform included in the legislation, which the AK Party (AKP) and its allies sent to parliament, would release another roughly 45,000 inmates permanently.

The move comes after the number of confirmed virus cases in Turkey rose to 10,827 on Monday, less than three weeks since it registered its first case. The national death toll is 168.

Inmates who have completed half of their sentences will be eligible for release under the plan, senior AKP deputy Cahit Ozkan told reporters. It would exclude those convicted of terror or drugs related crimes, offences of a sexual nature and murder and violence against women.

Those temporarily released under the coronavirus measure would be moved from open prison to house arrest, Ozkan said, adding lawmakers will start debating it next Tuesday.

House arrest would also be possible for prisoners who are more than 65 years old and for women who are looking after children under six years old, he added.

Erdogan on Monday said a total of 39 locations across the country are put under quarantine due to the rising number of confirmed cases for COVID-19.

Officials wearing protective face masks and suits as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus wait to load coffins of victims of Covid-19, to hearse trucks outside a morque in Istanbul, March 30, 2020. (EMRAH GUREL / AP)

UAE

Dubai enforced the UAE’s first full lockdown on a district housing the emirate’s famous gold and spice markets on Tuesday, to disinfect the normally bustling tourist and trade area as part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday reported 41 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 611.

Farida Al Hosani, spokeswoman of the health sector of the Ministry of Health and Prevention, said the new cases include various nationalities.

Vietnam 

Vietnam will begin 15 days of social distancing from Wednesday to curb community transmission of the coronavirus, the Southeast Asian country’s prime minister said on Tuesday.

“From midnight April 1, everybody is required to stay at home and can only go out to buy food or in emergency cases and must keep at least two meters from others,” Prime Minster Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the country will close its border gates and border crossings with Laos and Cambodia starting from Wednesday in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19, the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, Vietnam confirmed one more COVID-19 case, a 10-year-old boy who returned from Czech, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 204.


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