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Asia Today: Australia lets woman travel to see dying sister

BANGKOK (AP) — A New Zealand woman has been reunited with her dying sister in Australia after gaining an exemption from pandemic travel restrictions on compassionate grounds.

Australia had rejected Christine Archer’s request for permission to fly from New Zealand four times before her story attracted media attention.

Her only sister Gail Baker was diagnosed with incurable ovarian cancer in late March after both countries stopped international travel.

Archer was eventually allowed to fly to Sydney and spent only a week in hotel quarantine before testing negative for the coronavirus. International travelers are usually quarantined for two weeks.

Family friends drove the retired nurse 490 kilometers (300 miles) from Sydney to the New South Wales state coastal town of Bowraville where her younger sibling greeted her with a hug on Wednesday.

Archer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday: “Words can’t explain how I feel, to be honest.”

“I’m just so happy that I finally got to be here and be with her. The last two weeks have been the hardest or the longest two weeks of my life,” Archer said.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs relented on Archer’s travel application after it allowed the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team to relocate from Auckland in preparation for the Australian football competition restarting next week.

New Zealand has largely succeeded in its goal of eliminating the virus. It has reported no new infections over the past four days and most of the people who contracted the virus have recovered. About 1,500 people have been reported as having the virus including 21 who died.

Australia has had similar success in slowing the virus spread although New South Wales remains the worst-affected state. Australia expects New Zealand will become the first international destination with which regular passenger travel will resume because of the low risk of infection.

Australia has recorded 7,079 virus cases and 100 deaths. Australia’s population is five times larger than New Zealand’s.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— JAPAN EMERGENCY EASES: Japan is preparing to remove a coronavirus state of emergency later Thursday in three western prefectures where the infection is slowing, while keeping the measure in place in the Tokyo region and Hokkaido. Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura asked experts to evaluate the plan to lift the measure in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo. The nationwide emergency had been lifted in most of the nation last week. The emergency does not enforce lockdowns, but many people followed the requests to maintain social distancing requests. Others had to continue commuting to workplaces, while a sizeable minority continued to dine out or picnicked at parks. More stores, restaurants and bars have started to reopen recently, under new anti-infection guidelines.

— 10 CASES IN SEOUL: South Korea has reported 12 new cases of the coronavirus and one more death, bringing its totals to 11,122 cases and 124 deaths. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said 10 of the new cases came from Seoul and nearby Incheon, where health workers have been scrambling to track and test potential virus carriers following dozens of infections linked to nightspots. South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March but managed to stabilize infections with an active test-and-quarantine program, which has allowed the country to avoid real lockdowns. Officials have been relaxing social distancing guidelines and proceeding with phased reopening of schools, which began with high school seniors on Wednesday.

— LONGER WEEKENDS?: New Zealand’s prime minister wants employers to consider switching to a four-day work week as a way to promote tourism, which has been hard-hit by the pandemic. Jacinda Ardern said on Facebook Live people had learned a lot about work flexibility during the lockdown that was eased last week. The nation’s borders remain closed but Ardern said more flexible working arrangements could allow New Zealanders to travel more within their own country. “I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day week. Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees,” Ardern said. She added that she would really encourage employers “to think about whether or not that is something that would work for their workplace, because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”

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