The Latest: SE Asian travel agents urge airlines to refund

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR

— Southeast Asian travel agents urge airlines to give cash refunds.

— Japanese health care facilities stretched thin amid surge in patients.

— South Korea continues downward trend in new virus cases.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Southeast Asian travel associations are urging airlines to refund passengers for flight cancellations due to the coronavirus outbreak, rather than issuing travel vouchers.

The International Air Travel Association estimates industry liability in this area at $35 billion, but told the travel agent community in a letter earlier this month that airlines’ most urgent need amid the crisis was to keep their remaining liquidity to pay salaries and other fixed costs. As such, IATA said airlines should be allowed to issue vouchers in lieu of cash refunds to ease their burden.

But the Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations, which represents over 7,700 travel agents in 10 Southeast Asian nations, says it is “a matter of principle” to return payments collected from customers. While it is sympathetic with airlines, it says it is “poor financial management” to take deposits for future services but unable to provide refund.

The federation urged IATA in a statement Sunday to compel airlines to process cash refunds, failing which it warned could stifle forward bookings, travel patterns and consumer confidence as well as spur unnecessary lawsuits. It also urged governments worldwide to provide financial resources and relief to the aviation and travel industry.

With a third of global fleet parked as countries sealed their borders due to the virus outbreak, IATA has estimated that revenue for passenger ticket sales will fall 44% from last year.

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TOKYO — Japanese health care facilities are getting stretched thin amid a surge in coronavirus patients.

The Japanese Association for Acute Medicine and the Japanese Society for Emergency Medicine, representing such professionals, issued a joint statement recently warning about a “collapse of emergency medicine,” which may lead to the collapse of medicine overall.

The statement said many hospitals were turning away people rushed by ambulance, including those suffering strokes, heart attacks and external injuries. Some people who were turned away later turned out to have the coronavirus.

Masks and surgical gowns were running short, the statement said.

Japan has nearly 7,000 coronavirus cases and about 100 deaths, but the numbers are growing. The government has declared a state of emergency, asking people to stay home.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Catholic bishops in New Zealand wrote a special pastoral letter to worshippers stuck at home, comparing the country’s lockdown to the Biblical story of Easter.

“The future, for many, appears uncertain or even dire,” the letter read. “In the meantime, we are continuing to have the tomb experience of being locked down at home and we know, for many families, that this situation is becoming difficult and stressful.”

The letter also said the lockdown was giving people new insights.

“People have noticed families doing things together. The world has become quieter and we have noticed the beauty of nature,” the letter read. “This time has proved to be a reflective time enabling us to refocus or revision ourselves and how we live.”

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea reported 32 additional cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, a continued downward trend in new infections in the country.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Sunday the additional cases increased the country’s total to 10,512.

It says 7,368 of them have been recovered and released from quarantine and that 13,788 are under tests to determine whether they’ve contracted the virus.

The center says that South Korea’s death toll from the coronavirus increased by three to 214.

South Korea’s caseload has been slowing recently, compared with early March when it recorded hundreds of new cases every day. But there are worries about a steady rise in infections linked to those arriving from overseas and recent transmissions at bars and other leisure facilities.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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