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Asia Today: Jakarta extends restrictions ahead of Ramadan

BANGKOK (AP) — Social restrictions in Indonesia’s capital have been extended as Muslims in the world’s most populous Muslim nation prepare for a month of fasting.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan said the restrictions that were to end Thursday will be extended to May 22. In a live-streamed news conference late Wednesday, Baswedan urged Muslims to suspend mosque activities during Ramadan to break the coronavirus transmission chain.

Islam's holiest month is expected to begin Friday after clerics agreed on the sighting of the moon. Faithful Muslims usually fast during the day then congregate for night prayers, called Tarawih, and share communal meals called iftar.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo acknowledged last month that the government chose to withhold information about the coronavirus outbreak in the country to avoid stirring panic. But the delays in social distancing and low testing rates have raised concern that its outbreak is worse than it has acknowledged.

Baswedan is a political rival of the president and has sought tougher restrictions as the capital becomes a virus epicenter. Jakarta had confirmed 3,383 cases with 301 fatalities as of Wednesday. Nationwide, 7,418 cases have been recorded with 635 fatalities.

The new measures in Jakarta, which are to be reevaluated every two weeks, give authorities more power to press people to stay at home and force businesses to close. Police have the power to dismiss any event with more than five participants. Violators will face up to one year in jail and a 100 million rupiah ($6,350) fine.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— CREW INFECTIONS: Japanese officials said 14 more crew members on a docked cruise ship have the coronavirus, bringing the total on board to 48. The Costa Atlantica has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance, and has only crew on board. One crew member is seriously ill and on an ventilator at a hospital, Nagasaki officials said. The others have no serious symptoms and remain isolated in single rooms on the ship. Nagasaki officials are investigating how and where the crew members contracted the virus. Crew members who passed temperature checks and other requirements had been allowed to go in and out of the ship until mid-March.

— SKOREA ECONOMY SHRINKS: South Korea says its economy shrank 1.4% during the first three months of the year, the worst contraction since late-2008. The Bank of Korea said domestic consumption decreased 6.4% from the previous quarter as people spent less on restaurants, leisure activities, clothing and cars. Exports shrank 2% despite a seasonal rebound in shipments of semiconductors, one of the country’s major export items. South Korea was hard-hit by the virus early but a slowing caseload recently has allowed it to relax social distancing guidelines. The country on Thursday reported eight new infections and two more deaths, bringing its totals to 10,702 cases and 240 fatalities.

— NEW ZEALAND MEDIA HELP: New Zealand’s government announced measures to help news media companies which have seen advertising levels plummet since the coronavirus outbreak. Worth 50 million New Zealand dollars ($30 million), the measures include temporarily cutting transmission fees for broadcasters and increased spending on news subscriptions. Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said more media support measures are likely to be announced in May. New Zealand added three new cases of coronavirus infection and two additional deaths, bringing its totals to 1,451 cases and 16 deaths. The country's monthlong lockdown will be eased a little next week. The country also had no commercial flights arriving from abroad Wednesday for the first time in decades, according to news outlet RNZ. International flights are continuing, but their numbers have declined since the country closed the border to everyone but citizens and residents.

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