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Asia Today: Duterte easing lockdown in Philippine capital

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is relaxing a lockdown in the capital, the country’s epicenter of coronavirus infections, in a tightrope move as the economy weakens and the government spends money to help feed millions of poor families restricted to their homes.

Duterte said Thursday night that metropolitan Manila will move to a more relaxed quarantine on Monday after more than two months of police- and military-enforced lockdown that restrained public mobility and most economic activities. The economy contracted in the first quarter in its weakest run in two decades.

More work and business operations, along with public transport, will be allowed to resume under the new arrangement, but physical distancing, face masks and other safeguards will continue to be required. Classes will remain suspended.

Duterte made the televised announcement hours after the Department of Health reported a single-day spike of 539 infections, more than 60% of them in the congested capital. That brought the total number of infections to 15,588, including 921 deaths.

Duterte warned the danger is far from over. “Remember that the entire nation is still under quarantine,” Duterte said. “The state has every right to control your movement if you pass on a contagion to the population.”

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— ANOTHER RECORD JUMP IN INDIA: India registered another record daily increase with 7,466 new coronavirus cases. The Health Ministry's new figures on Friday show India now has 165,799 cases with 4,706 deaths, which both now exceed China. India's two-month lockdown is set to end on Sunday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is expected to issue new guidelines this weekend, possibly extending the lockdown in worst-hit areas as it promotes economic activity. Most cases are concentrated in states with densely populated cities, but cases have been increasing in some of India's poorest eastern states as migrant workers who lost jobs in the cities returned to their native villages.

— WAREHOUSE CONCERNS: South Korea reported 58 new cases of the coronavirus, all of them in the Seoul area, as officials scramble to stem transmissions linked to a massive e-commerce warehouse near the capital. The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,402 infections and 269 deaths. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for officials to examine working conditions at warehouses of online shopping companies, which have seen orders surge during the epidemic, and other congested workplaces where infections risks may be high. The recent resurgence threatens to worsen what’s already a massive shock on its trade-dependent economy. South Korea’s factory output plunged 6% in April from a month earlier, the sharpest decline since December 2008, as global outbreaks and lockdowns battered exports, Statistics Korea said Friday.

— RULES RELAXED FOR CHURCHES: Australia's New South Wales state will allow larger religious gatherings starting Monday. Australia's largest state changed its guidance after Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher noted the rules were unfairly more strict on churches than pubs. Their capacity limits will increase from 10 to 50 people from Monday. “It is crucial that worshipers remember to follow health advice," especially people vulnerable to COVID-19, state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. The state’s chief health officer Kerry Chant advised finding alternatives to practices that might spread the virus, like singing, sharing books and passing around collection plates.

— ONE ACTIVE CASE: New Zealand is down to just one person in the entire nation of 5 million people who is still infected with the coronavirus after no new cases have been detected for the past week. In total, 1,504 people were found to have contracted the virus. Of those, 1,481 have recovered and 22 died. About 275,000 people have been tested. The country has set a goal to eliminate the virus altogether, an ambition aided by a strict lockdown in late March that has been gradually eased in recent weeks.

— NO NEW CASES IN CHINA: China on Friday again reported no new daily increase in cases of coronavirus and no new deaths. Just 70 people remain in hospital being treated for COVID-19 and another 414 are being isolated and monitored for possibly having the disease or for having tested positive without showing any symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from the disease among 82,995 cases.

— THANKS TO MEDICAL WORKERS: A Japanese Air Self-Defense Force’s aerobatics team performed a demonstration flight to express support and gratitude for medical workers. The six Blue Impulse aircraft flew for about 20 minutes over Tokyo to thank for doctors, nurses and other medical staff. The government has been campaigning to thank for medical workers, who have faced discrimination and harassment from those who fear being infected. Japan ended a seven-week coronavirus state of emergency on Monday with fewer cases and deaths than many other countries despite a soft approach that requested rather than required social distancing and some business closures. Japan had about 16,719 cases and 874 deaths as of Thursday, according to the health ministry.

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