Asia Today: China says whole country now at low virus risk
BANGKOK (AP) — China’s government declared the whole country now at low virus risk Thursday as its new cases fall to near zero and no new deaths have been reported from COVID-19 in more than three weeks.
The last place downgraded from high to low risk was Linkou county outside the city of Mudanjiang in the province of Heilongjiang that borders on Russia and where the most recent spike in cases had been reported. Authorities shut an emergency field hospital in the region after the closing of the land border and strict social distancing measures appeared to have decreased new cases to zero.
China’s National Health Administration on Thursday reported just two new coronavirus cases, both of them brought from overseas, and said 295 people remained in hospital with COVID-19.
Another 884 people were under isolation and monitoring for being suspected cases or for having tested positive while showing no symptoms.
In total, China has reported 4,633 deaths among 82,885 cases of the virus that is believed to have originated in the central industrial city of Wuhan late last year before spreading worldwide.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— CRUISE SHIP REACHES PHILIPPINES: A cruise ship being investigated in Australia for sparking coronavirus infections has sailed into Philippine waters to bring Filipino crewmen home. The Ruby Princess will drop anchor in Manila Bay, where at least 16 other cruise ships have converged while waiting for more than 5,000 Filipino crewmembers to be tested for the virus before disembarking. Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said 214 Filipino crewmen on board the Ruby Princess will be tested. The Ruby Princess has been linked to 19 deaths in Australia and two in the United States. An Australian government inquiry is underway into why 2,700 passengers and crew were allowed to disembark in Sydney on March 19 before the test results of sick passengers were known.
— REOPENING NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand could reopen bars, retail stores and hair salons from next week and once again allow domestic travel. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined the further relaxation of lockdown rules. Senior lawmakers will decide Monday whether to go ahead with the plan from Wednesday. Under the plan, schools could reopen from the following week. The country’s borders would remain shut. Gatherings would be restricted to 100 people and social distancing protocols would be required. Professional sports would start again, although without the crowds. New Zealand has been successful in reducing new cases of the virus to a trickle, including two days this week when no new cases were recorded. In total, the country has reported close to 1,500 cases and 21 deaths.
— MORE MASKS TO US: South Korea will transport 500,000 masks intended for U.S. veterans of the Korean War as the country expands help to other countries dealing with outbreaks. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said another 500,000 masks will be distributed to Korean War veterans in other nations. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported four new infections and one more death, bringing totals to 10,810 and 254 deaths. South Korea banned mask exports in March and channeled them for domestic use but now considers the supply stable. Also, South Korea’s largest airline will resume some flights next month to expand cargo transport and prepare for travelers. Despite the increase, Korean Air said it will still be operating only 32 of its 110 international routes in June.
— SINGAPORE CASES SURGE: The number of people infected in Singapore surged past 20,000 as more foreign workers living in crowded dormitories were diagnosed. The city-state reported 788 new cases to take its total to 20,198. Foreign workers living in dorms accounted for nearly 90% of the cases. Officials expected the upsurge as they test residents in the locked-down dormitories. Singapore will let selected businesses operate from May 12 in a gradual easing of a two-month lockdown that is due to end June 1.
— CURFEW RETURNS: Sri Lanka is back under a full curfew until next Monday as infections increase. There are now 797 patients in Sri Lanka including nine deaths. More than half were reported after April 22 and many of those are navy sailors or their close contacts. Authorities have quarantined about 4,000 troops at a navy camp where a cluster was believed to have started among sailors who were trying to round up quarantine violators. The country had been under a 24-hour curfew since March 20, though it had been intermittently eased in places where virus infections were lowest. Police have arrested 42,000 violators.