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Thursday, May 14, 2020, 22:35
India to provide free food grains to millions of migrant workers
By Agencies
Thursday, May 14, 2020, 22:35 By Agencies

Men walk along a closed market during a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 in New Delhi on May 14, 2020. (JEWEL SAMAD / AFP)

TOKYO / DUBAI / ANKARA / TEHRAN / SYDNEY / NEW DELHI / YEREVAN - India will provide free food grains to millions of migrant workers hardest hit by a weeks-long lockdown as well as offer employment under a rural jobs programme, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Thursday.

The government will spend 35 billion rupees (US$463.06 million) on food for nearly 80 million migrant workers over the next two months, Sitharaman told a news conference.

The allocation is part of a 20 trillion rupee (US$266 billion) fiscal and monetary package to prop up the ailing economy. Millions of workers have fled large towns and cities after they lost their jobs during the lockdown, which is aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The government is concerned about migrant workers,” Sitharaman said, and had provided funds to states to provide shelter, food grain and transport for migrants.

Since April, the government has spent 100 billion rupees to offer work to near 23 million unemployed people in rural areas under the ongoing rural job guarantee programme, she said.

The government also plans to extend a bank loan interest subsidy programme for affordable housing to rented housing for migrant workers, she said.

India's technology ministry said on Thursday it had rolled out a version of its Bluetooth contact-tracking app for 5 million JioPhones, the cheap internet-enabled devices sold by Reliance Industries' telecoms unit.

Meanwhile, India is pushing a state-backed contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, or “Health Bridge,” as a key tool in fighting the deadly coronavirus. 

Separately, the federal railways Thursday ordered cancellation of all tickets for regular passenger trains until June 30 booked ahead of imposition of COVID-19 lockdown. 

The federal junior minister for indigenous alternative medicine systems Shripad Y Naik said they were working on four traditional medicine formulations to treat COVID-19 infection and trials will start soon.

Thursday marks the 51st straight day of the ongoing lockdown as 134 new COVID-19 deaths and an additional 3,722 positive cases were reported, taking the number of deaths to 2,549 and total cases to 78,003.

Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a state of emergency across a large part of the country on Thursday, but said the biggest urban centres of Tokyo and Osaka will remain under restrictions until there is a convincing containment of the new coronavirus.

Abe announced the lifting of the emergency in 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, as the country strives to balance the damage to the economy from prolonged shutdowns and the need to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Japan has reported 16,100 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, excluding those from a cruise ship previously quarantined in Yokohama, and 696 deaths to date from the disease it causes, COVID-19, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Meanwhile, Japan wants to consider proposals from the ruling coalition to include support for rent, employment, students and the provinces in its next extra budget, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told parliament Thursday, after Abe said earlier in the day that he aimed to pass a second supplementary budget in the current session to combat the fallout of the pandemic, Kyodo news agency said.

Afghansitan

The Afghan health authorities recorded 413 new COVID-19 cases across the country, the biggest daily increase since the outbreak of the pandemic in February, an official of Ministry of Public Health confirmed on Thursday.

Four patients died since early Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 136, the official said.

Australia

The number of COVID-19 cases linked to a McDonald's restaurant in the Australian State of Victoria increased to eight on Thursday with two new infections confirmed.

So far half of the confirmed cases are employees of the restaurant and the other half are close household contacts of the workers. However, the origin of the cluster is unknown.

Meanwhile, a much larger cluster at a Victorian meat processing facility rose to 90 confirmed infections, with three new employees testing positive for the virus.

Widespread testing within Victoria also revealed nine cases of unknown origin, taking the state's total number of infections to 1,523. 

People wearing face masks amid the COVID-19 outbreak walk across a street in Tokyo on May 13, 2020. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Bangladesh 

The novel coronavirus has been detected in one of the camps in southern Bangladesh that are home to more than one million Rohingya refugees, officials said on Thursday.

An ethnic Rohingya refugee and another person had tested positive for COVID-19, a senior Bangladeshi official and a UN spokeswoman said. It was the first confirmed case in the camps, which are more densely populated than most crowded cities on earth.

“Today they have been taken to an isolation centre after they tested positive,” Mahbub Alam Talukder, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, told Reuters by phone.

The other patient was from the “host population”, a term usually used to refer to locals living outside the camps, the UN spokeswoman said.

Coronavirus infections have been gathering pace in recent days in Bangladesh, which has reported 18,863 cases of COVID-19 and 283 deaths.

Indonesia

Indonesia reported 568 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, taking the total in the Southeast Asian country to 16,006, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.

Yurianto reported 15 new deaths related to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, taking the total to 1,043, while 3,518 have recovered. More than 127,800 people have been tested, he added.

Iran

Iran on Wednesday confirmed 1,958 new COVID-19 infection cases, taking the total cases to 112,725.

It registered 50 new deaths over past 24 hours, bringing the total to 6,783 since the disease outbreak in the country in late February.

Iraq

The Iraqi Health Ministry on Wednesday confirmed 119 new COVID-19 cases, record high since the outbreak in Iraq, bringing the total number of infections to 3,032 in the country.

The new cases were recorded after 4,183 test kits were used across the country during the past 24 hours, the ministry said in a statement.

So far, 115 people have died from the disease in Iraq, while 1,966 have recovered, it added.

Israel

The number of coronavirus patients in Israel has risen to 16,548, with 19 new cases, the Israeli Ministry of Health said on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, four patients have passed away since Tuesday evening, bringing the death toll to 264.

The number of recoveries rose by 149, reaching 12,232, while the number of active cases decreased by 134 to 4,052, the lowest number of active cases since March 28.

Kuwait

Kuwait on Wednesday reported 751 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths, raising the tally of infections in the country to 11,028 and the death toll to 82.

Tables are taped off for no eating outside a food market in central Christchurch, New Zealand, May 11, 2020. (PHOTO / AP)

Kyrgyzstan 

Kyrgyzstan reported 38 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising its national tally to 1,082.

 Mademin Karataev, the country's deputy health minister, said that among the newly infected, seven are medical workers, raising the total number of medical workers diagnosed with COVID-19 to 248. 12 deaths have been reported so far. 

Lebanon

Lebanon's number of COVID-19 infections increased on Wednesday by eight cases to 878 while the death toll remained unchanged at 26.

Lebanon will shut the whole country down since Wednesday for the coming four days in an attempt to restrict the spread of the virus after witnessing an increase in infections in the past few days.

Malaysia

Muslim-majority Malaysia will ease a ban on mass prayers in mosques, starting from Friday and ahead of this month’s Eid festival, the government said, as it gradually relaxes curbs that have helped rein in the coronavirus.

The news follows last week’s re-opening of many businesses in Malaysia, which has a tally of 6,819 infections and 112 deaths. It comes ahead of the Eid holiday that ends the fasting month of Ramadan, and falls on May 24 this year.

The capital, Kuala Lumpur, is among Malaysia’s federal territories which will allow prayers by congregations limited to 30 or fewer, said Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, the religious affairs minister.

Although new daily cases have declined steadily, schools and colleges will stay closed until June 9. Health authorities identified six clusters involving Islamic religious schools, with 635 students and staff testing positive.

Four clusters were linked to the March gathering.

READ MORE: Singapore rejects herd immunity as strategy to tackle virus

Maldives

The Maldivian government is formulating plans to deal with an expected peak in COVID-19 infections by the end of the month as the country's case count recently crossed 900, state media reported here Wednesday.

Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen told the state-owned Public Service Media that the government has consulted experts in formulating a plan to deal with a peak in virus transmission that is expected to take place by May 31, with over 1,000 cases expected on the day.

Mongolia 

Mongolia has reported 19 new cases of COVID-19, taking its total to 61, the country's National Center for Communicable Disease (NCCD) said Thursday. 

Eighteen of the confirmed new cases are Mongolian nationals who returned home from Russia on Wednesday, Dulmaa Nyamkhuu, head of the NCCD, said at a daily press conference.

Another new confirmed case is one of the 261 Mongolian nationals evacuated on a chartered flight from COVID-19-hit European countries on May 3, he said.

Myanmar

Over 500 Myanmar parliamentarians are being tested for the COVID-19 in shifts starting from Thursday, a parliamentary official told Xinhua.

The members of parliament have been under room quarantine at a guesthouse upon their arrival in Nay Pyi Taw before the resuming of parliamentary sessions scheduled on May 18.

According to the latest figures from the Health and Sports Ministry, Myanmar had reported 181 confirmed cases for the COVID-19 with six deaths as of Thursday morning.

Indian citizens evacuated from Maldives are being shifted to a quarantine centre, as part of a massive repatriation effort due to the COVID-19 pandemic at the Cochin port in Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala on May 10, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

Nepal

Nepal reported 26 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the total number of infected cases in the country to 243.

The health ministry stated that the condition of the infected patients is normal and all of them are under the care of health personnel. 

New Zealand

New Zealand unveiled a record NZ$50 billion (US$30 billion) fund in its budget on Thursday to restore an economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but warned it may not be enough to stop thousands from losing jobs and businesses shutting.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the priority was to stop massive unemployment and described the package as a “jobs” budget. The NZ$50 billion will be spent over a four-year forecast period.

New Zealand reported no new COVID-19 cases for three consecutive days on Thursday, as the country moved down to Alert Level 2 Wednesday midnight.

The island country recorded 21 deaths with fewer than 1500 infections so far, among the least-hit countries in the world. 

ALSO READ: Yemen reports first coronavirus case in Marib province

Oman

The Omani Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday 298 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 4,019.

The statement also said 39 patients of COVID-19 have recovered, bringing the total recovered cases to 1,289 and death toll to 17. 

Qatar

The Qatari government ordered all citizens to wear masks when they step outside for any reason beginning May 17, state-run QNA reported. People who violate the order will be subjected to either imprisonment of up to three years, or a fine of as much as 200,000 riyals (US$55,000) or both, according to the report.

The Qatari health ministry on Wednesday announced 1,390 new infections of the novel coronavirus, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 26,539.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia confirmed 1,905 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections in the kingdom to 44,830.

The Saudi Health Ministry also reported 2,365 new recovered cases to increase the tally of recoveries to 17,622. And the death toll of the pandemic rose by nine to 273.

Singapore

Singapore’s health ministry reported 752 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, taking city-state’s total to 26,098.

South Korea

South Korean health authorities said on Thursday they would revise their practice of publicising the travel routes of coronavirus patients due to fears of a backlash against people who attended nightclubs at the centre of a new outbreak.

After weeks of nearly no new domestic coronavirus cases, South Korea has seen a new spike in infections centred around nightclubs and bars in some of Seoul’s most popular nightlife neighbourhoods.

Investigators have struggled to find around 2,000 people wanted for testing, an effort complicated by public criticism of the clubgoers, as well as concerns about discrimination as several of the clubs cater to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

South Korea reported 29 new cases as of midnight Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 10,991 with 260 deaths.

A volunteer disinfects the Swayambhunath stupa area during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Kathmandu on May 7, 2020. ( PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP)

Syria

A new COVID-19 infection was recorded in Syria on Wednesday, bringing the total number in the country to 48, the health ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Syria has so far recorded 29 recoveries and three deaths from COVID-19, according to the ministry statement.

Thailand

Thailand’s biggest shopping-center developers, led by Siam Piwat Co. and the Central Group, are preparing to reopen malls as early as this weekend amid expectations the country will further ease a lockdown.

Automatic temperature scanning robots, free face-mask dispensers, disinfecting drones and hand gel services have been prepared as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha is set to chair a meeting Friday to decide if shopping centers and other retail operations will be allowed to open as soon as May 17.

The Philippines

The Philippines’ health ministry on Thursday said the number of cases of the novel coronavirus recorded in the country is nearing 12,000.

In a bulletin, the ministry said it had recorded 258 more confirmed cases, bringing the total to 11,876. It reported 18 more deaths, increasing the total to 790, while 86 more patients have recovered, bringing total recoveries to 2,337.

Armenia

Armenia on Thursday extended a state of emergency because of the coronavirus outbreak until June 13, the government said, after the number of new daily infections began rising at the end of April.

Despite the extension, preschools, shopping centres and gyms will reopen starting from May 18, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan said in parliament. The wearing of masks will also be mandatory in public spaces.

Public transport will also resume next week, Avinyan said.

The government opened many sectors of the economy in early May to allow people to return to work as they faced financial damage from the outbreak.

The South Caucasus country of three million people has registered 3,860 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 49 deaths as of Thursday.

Turkey

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 1,639 new COVID-19 cases and 58 more deaths in the past 24 hours, according to Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Turkey rose to 143,114, while the death toll surged to 3,952, he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Turkey's tourism sector has been planning to resume operations in a controlled way in June under the anti-COVID-19 measures, Culture and Tourism Minister Nuri Ersoy was cited by local media as saying on Wednesday. 

Also on Wednesday, children under 14 years old in Turkey were allowed outside for the first time in 40 days as part of the country's COVID-19 normalization plan.

UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Wednesday announced 725 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 20,386.

UAE's Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) confirmed three more deaths, pushing the country's death toll to 206.

Vietnam

Vietnam has mounted an all-out effort to save the life of its most critically ill novel coronavirus patient, a British pilot who works for Vietnam Airlines, the national carrier.

Vietnam has spent more than 5 billion dong ($200,000) trying to save him, the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

Through aggressive testing and a mass, centralised quarantine programme, the Southeast Asian country has kept its tally of coronavirus cases to just 288 and has reported no deaths.

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