Workers from a disinfection service spray disinfectant as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a public bus terminal in Seoul on February 20, 2020. South Korea's coronavirus numbers nearly doubled February 20 -- almost half of them in a cluster centred on a sect in the city of Daegu -- and the country saw its first death of an infected patient.
Fewer virus cases in China, but deaths abroad increase
Laurent Thomet (Agence France-Presse) - February 21, 2020 - 8:43am

BEIJING, China — China on Thursday touted a big drop in new virus infections as proof its epidemic control efforts are working, but the toll grew abroad with deaths in Japan and South Korea.

Fatalities in China hit 2,118 as 114 more people died, but health officials reported the lowest number of new cases in nearly a month, including in hardest-hit Hubei province.

More than 74,000 people have been infected by the new coronavirus in China, and hundreds more in over 25 countries.

The number of deaths outside mainland China climbed to 11.

Japan's toll rose to three as a man and a woman in their 80s who had been aboard a quarantined cruise ship died, while fears there mounted over other passengers who disembarked the Diamond Princess after testing negative.

South Korea reported its first death, and the number of infections in the country nearly doubled Thursday to 104.

Iran reported two deaths on Wednesday and three new cases Thursday. Deaths have previously been confirmed in France, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Chinese officials say their drastic containment efforts, including quarantining tens of millions of people in Hubei and restricting movements in cities nationwide, have started to pay off.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone about the virus with leaders in South Korea and Pakistan, state news agency Xinhua said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in "chose to call to express sympathies and support" regarding the outbreak, Xinhua said. Xi told him the epidemic's impact on bilateral ties will only be temporary.

Xi told Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that their two countries "are true friends and good brothers," and that combating the virus is his government's top priority.

At a special meeting on the virus with Southeast Asian countries in Laos, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said results "show that our control efforts are working." 

Although more than 600 new infections were reported Thursday in Hubei's capital Wuhan, it was the lowest daily tally since late January and well down from the 1,749 new cases the day before.

The national figure has  fallen for three straight days.

Chinese authorities placed the city of 11 million under quarantine on January 23 and quickly locked down the rest of the province in the days that followed.

Wuhan authorities this week carried out  door-to-door checks on residents, with the local Communist Party chief warning that officials would be "held accountable" if any infections were missed.

Cities far from the epicentre have limited the number of people who can leave their homes for groceries, while rural villages have sealed off access to outsiders.

'Chaotic' cruise quarantine

In Japan, critics slammed the government's quarantine measures imposed on the Diamond Princess.

The huge vessel moored in Yokohama is the biggest coronavirus cluster outside the Chinese epicentre, with 634 cases confirmed among passengers and crew.

Another 13 people on board the ship were diagnosed with the virus Thursday, Japan's health ministry said.

Still, passengers were disembarking after negative tests and having completed a 14-day quarantine period -- packing into yellow buses and leaving for stations and airports.

An infectious diseases specialist at Kobe University slammed the quarantine procedures on board as "completely chaotic" in rare criticism from a Japanese academic.

"The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control," said Kentaro Iwata in videos he has since deleted.

South Korea, meanwhile, announced 51 new cases, with more than 40 in a cluster centred on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often seen as a cult.

The infections apparently came from a 61-year-old woman who first developed a fever on February 10 and attended at least four services before being diagnosed.

Authorities were investigating whether she visited a hospital where a long-term patient contracted the virus and later died. 

Growing concern abroad

Beyond Asia, citizen backlash was growing over fears of contagion.

Iraq on Thursday clamped down on travel to and from neighboring Iran, with Iraq's health ministry announcing people in Iran were barred from entering the country "until further notice."

The move came after Iran confirmed three new coronavirus cases following the deaths of two elderly men.

And in Ukraine, a crowd clashed with police outside a hospital over government plans to quarantine evacuees from coronavirus-hit China at the site.

Six buses with the evacuees arrived at the medical center in Novi Sanzhary, in the central Poltava region, escorted by police.

Angry  demonstrators lit fires and pelted the buses with rocks, breaking at least three windows.

Because of the virus outbreak, airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region stand to lose a combined $27.8 billion of revenue, the International Air Transport Association said.

This is the first time since 2003 that demand for air travel has declined, IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac said. — with Miwa Suzuki in Tokyo

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 7, 2020 - 5:06pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

April 7, 2020 - 5:06pm

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) expects to process 10,000 COVID-19 test samples a day within the next three months, the coronavirus task force said.

The hospital is also preparing to distribute 900,000 testing kits to various accredited testing centers in the country.

"Focus on testing and we'll take care of the logistics. We will help you fulfill your requirements. Tell us what you need and we will help you," COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez told administrators of the medical facility.

April 7, 2020 - 4:54pm

The Department of Health reports 104 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 3,764. 

The Health department also announces 11 new recoveries. 

April 7, 2020 - 2:56pm

Deep in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil, where rivers are the only highways, the coronavirus pandemic is sharply limiting boat traffic, leaving villages even more cut off from the world than before.

Canoes, motor boats and ferries are the cars, trucks and buses of the Amazon, bringing people and goods to remote communities that can only be reached by river -- sometimes with a journey of more than a week.

But because of the pandemic, authorities in Amazonas state have restricted river traffic to essential travel, seeking to stop the spread of the virus in a region that could be particularly vulnerable to it.

Cargo transport is operating normally, but passenger transport is restricted to exceptional circumstances such as medical emergencies and essential services like paramedics and police, said Jerfeson Caldas, regional coordinator for national health agency Anvisa.

Even those trips are bound by special rules: boats can only operate at 40 percent of their passenger capacity, and must supply water, soap and hand sanitizer.

The restrictions amount to the jungle equivalent of the isolation measures now in place for around half the world's population.

"Amazonas depends on rivers for more than 85 percent of the transport we survive on. Unfortunately, people here are now living a sad reality because of this crisis," says Alessandra Martins Pontes, a transportation planning expert at Amazonas Federal University. -- AFP

April 7, 2020 - 11:17am

The Department of Science and Technology says it has accelerated its mass production of face shields to be distributed in various hospitals in the country.

Two of the department's research and development institutes and a research laboratory in a state university have devoted their resources in creating the face shields.

April 7, 2020 - 9:02am

The US records 1,150 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, Johns Hopkins University says, pushing the country's toll further above the 10,000 mark reached earlier in the day.

According to Johns Hopkins' running tally, there are more than 366,000 cases of new coronavirus in the United States — including in excess of 30,000 new cases in 24 hours — with total deaths at 10,783.

The US has by far the most number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world. The number of deaths recorded since the start of the pandemic has for the past several days increased by at least 1,000 per day and is gradually approaching the number of deaths in Italy (16,523) and Spain (13,005). — AFP

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