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Asia Today: Singapore spike, China has 12 new domestic cases

BANGKOK (AP) — Foreigners working in Singapore's trade-dependent economy and living in crowded dormitories now account for half of the tiny city-state's virus cases after new infections spiked for a third day.

Its number of coronavirus infections has jumped by 1,167 since Monday. While successfully managing its first wave of infections, Singapore overlooked its vast population of foreign workers who live in dormitories that typically house up to 20 men sharing kitchens, toilets and other facilities.

Tens of thousands of the workers from Bangladesh, India and other poorer Asian countries are now quarantined in their dormitories or have been moved to alternative sites to reduce crowding.

The 447 new coronavirus cases raise Singapore's total to 3,699. The Health Ministry said in a statement late Wednesday that the significant rise in cases among foreign workers was expected partly due to ongoing tests at the dormitories.

About a fifth of total cases were detected in one single dormitory.

The city-state of nearly 6 million people imposed a partial lockdown until May 4, and made it mandatory for people to wear masks outside of their homes to curb the virus transmission. Ten people have died so far from the virus.

In other news around the Asia-Pacific region:

— TWELVE NEW DOMESTIC CASES IN CHINA: China reported 46 new virus cases, 34 of them brought from outside the country. Three new domestic cases were recorded in the capital Beijing, which has been enforcing strict quarantine and social distancing measures. Four were reported in Heilongjiang province, where a new flare-up has occurred among Chinese citizens crossing the border from Russia. China has now reported a total of 3,342 deaths from the virus among 82,341 cases.

— AUSTRALIA SUPPORTS WHO REVIEW: The Australian foreign minister says she agrees with the U.S. that the World Health Organization needs to be reviewed, but Australia continues to support the agency's valuable work in the Pacific. President Donald Trump has directed his administration to freeze WHO funding, claiming it didn’t deliver adequate early reports on the coronavirus. Foreign Minister Marise Payne told Seven Network television: “We share some of the concerns of the United States and I do think there are areas of the operation of WHO that absolutely require review.

— PARLIAMENT COULD RETURN TO NORMAL: Australia is planning a business-as-usual week of Parliament in May in an indication that the country is weathering the pandemic better than the government had feared. Parliament’s schedule was scrapped a week into March and a scaled-down assembly has sat on only two days since to pass billions of dollars in emergency economic stimulus measures. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday he will discuss with the opposition and state leaders arranging for lawmakers to return to Canberra for a “trial week” in May. Obstacles include a shortage of domestic flights and most states demanding interstate travelers quarantine in hotels for two weeks.

— PHILIPPINE HEALTH CHIEF IN TROUBLE: The majority of Philippine senators have demanded the immediate resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for what they say is his leadership failure, negligence and inefficiency that led to the mishandling of the pandemic. They say the problem is endangering the lives of health workers and the Filipino people. The Philippines has the most number of infections in Southeast Asia as of Wednesday with 5,453 cases, including 349 deaths.

— SOUTH KOREA ELECTION TURNOUT: South Korea's ruling liberals scored a strong victory in parliamentary elections with the highest turnout in nearly three decades. Social distancing and other measures were in place at polling booths during Wednesday's vote. Polls beforehand had indicated public approval for the current government's handling of the outbreak, which including aggressive testing to identify and isolate those infected. South Korea confirmed 22 new cases, raising the country’s total tally to 10,613 with 229 deaths.

— EASED RESTRICTIONS, MAYBE: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern began outlining how New Zealand's lockdown might be eased starting next Wednesday. Primary schools would reopen, but attendance would be voluntary. Some businesses could reopen, including drive-through and delivery restaurants. Retail stores would remain closed and large gatherings would still be banned. Lawmakers will decide Monday whether to proceed with easing the restrictions. New Zealand reported just 15 new cases, a number that has dropped significantly.

— DEBT FREEZE: The G-20 group of the world's major economies agreed to freeze poor nations’ debt obligations immediately so the poorest nations can focus their spending on healthcare and assistance to vulnerable people to contain the virus and its impacts. The G-20 did not specify how many countries would benefit, but French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said 76 countries were eligible.

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