Malaysia’s king and queen in quarantine after staff test positive
The official residence of Malaysia’s monarchy on Thursday confirmed seven of its staff have tested positive for Covid-19 and are currently receiving treatment at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and queen, Tunku Azizah, have also been tested, but their results showed a clean bill of health, a spokesman for the Istana Negara said in a statement.
“Nevertheless, Their Majesties are now observing a 14-day self-quarantine, starting yesterday, ” he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, along with all federal ministers and their deputies, announced they will take a two-month pay cut, with the savings to be donated to Putrajaya’s Covid-19 fund.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the decision was made during a cabinet meeting and showed the government’s sincerity in helping those affected by the pandemic.
“The Covid-19 fund was launched on March 11 as part of the government’s efforts to help those who were affected by the disease outbreak,” the office said, adding that 8.5 million ringgit (US$1.97 million) has been collected, including government grants.
Malaysia on Wednesday announced a two-week extension of a national lockdown as part of stepped-up measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
The “movement control order,” which requires people to stay home and was originally set to expire on March 31, will now continue until April 14.
Russia to ground international flights
The decree published on Thursday orders aviation authorities to halt all regular and charter flights, with the exception of special flights evacuating Russian citizens from abroad.
The announcement came after Russia on Wednesday recorded its biggest daily spike in confirmed coronavirus infections so far, with 163 new cases for a total of 658 across the country.
Denis Protsenko, head doctor of Moscow’s new hospital treating coronavirus patients, told President Vladimir Putin that Russia needed to be ready for an “Italian scenario”, referring to what is now the hardest-hit country in the world in terms of deaths.
Singapore boosts stimulus package to 11 per cent of GDP
Singapore reported 52 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, taking its tally to 683 infections.
The health ministry said that out of the 52, 28 were imported while 24 were locally transmitted.
The city state earlier on Thursday
that threatens to push the bellwether economy into a deep recession.
Drawing on national reserves for the first time since the global financial crisis to support an economy heading for recession, the additional spending will push up the government’s virus-related relief to almost S$55 billion, or 11 per cent of gross domestic product, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a speech in parliament Thursday. It also will widen the budget deficit for the financial year starting April 1 to 7.9 per cent of GDP, from a previous target of 2.1 per cent.
“This extraordinary situation calls for extraordinary measures,” Heng said. “We have saved up for a rainy day. The Covid-19 pandemic is already a mighty storm, and is still growing.”
Imported cases rise in China
Mainland China reported a second consecutive day of no new local coronavirus infections as the epicentre of the epidemic Hubei province opened its borders, but imported cases rose as Beijing ramped up controls to prevent a resurgence of infections.
A total of 67 new cases were reported as of end-Wednesday, up from 47 a day earlier, all of which were imported, China’s National Health Commission said in a statement on Thursday.
The total number of cases now stands at 81,285.
The commission reported a total of 3,287 deaths at the end of Wednesday, up six from the previous day.
All of the new patients were travellers who came to China from overseas, with the mainland reporting no locally transmitted infections on Wednesday.
Fearing a new wave of infections from imported cases, authorities have ramped up quarantine and screening measures in other major cities including Beijing, where any travellers arriving from overseas must submit to centralised quarantine.
Coronavirus could become seasonal
There is a strong chance the new coronavirus could return in seasonal cycles, a senior US scientist said Wednesday, underscoring the urgent need to find a vaccine and effective treatments.
Anthony Fauci, who leads research into infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told a briefing the virus was beginning to take root in the southern hemisphere, where winter is on its way.
“What we’re starting to see now … in southern Africa and in the southern hemisphere countries, is that we’re having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter season,” he said.
“And if, in fact, they have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we’ll get a cycle around the second time.
“It totally emphasises the need to do what we’re doing in developing a vaccine, testing it quickly and trying to get it ready so that we’ll have a vaccine available for that next cycle.”
There are currently two vaccines that have entered human trials -one in the US and one in China – and they could be a year to a year-and-a-half away from deployment.
Spain extends emergency by two weeks
Spain’s parliament has voted in favour of the government’s request to extend the state of emergency by two weeks that has allowed it to apply a national lockdown in hopes of stemming its coronavirus outbreak.
The parliamentary endorsement will allow the government to extend the strict stay-at-home rules and business closings for a full month. The government declared a state of emergency on March 14. It will now last until April 11.
Spain’s government solicited the two-week extension after deaths and infections from the Covid-19 virus have skyrocketed in recent days. Spain 47,600 total cases. Its 3,434 deaths only trail Italy’s death toll as the hardest-hit countries in the world.
The parliament met with fewer than 50 of its 350 members in the chamber, with the rest voting from home to reduce the risk of contagion.
Greece locks down Muslim towns
Greek authorities have quarantined a cluster of Muslim-majority towns and villages in the country’s northeast after several cases and a death from the new coronavirus in the area.
The area in Xanthi prefecture was placed in lockdown as of Wednesday evening as nine people in the region overall have tested positive for the virus over the past six days, civil protection deputy minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters.
“All residents have been temporarily confined at home. No exceptions are allowed,” Hardalias said.
The centre of the outbreak appears to be the small Pomak town of Ehinos, a community of about 2,500.
“Ehinos residents will be provided with food and medicine,” Hardalias said.
Police were deployed on Thursday on a bridge leading into town to enforce the lockdown, television footage showed.
One 72-year-old Ehinos man has died from the virus, local mayor Ridvan Deli Huseyin told Antenna television.
“It’s better to take some measures now than to cry about this later,” said Huseyin, the mayor of the local administrative centre of Miki.
The Pomaks are a Muslim group of Slavic origin who live mainly in neighbouring Bulgaria.
They make up part of Greece’s roughly 110,000-strong Muslim minority in the country’s northeast bordering Turkey.
Many of them work as migrant industrial workers in other European countries.
Colombia goes into lockdown, Chile extends schools closures
Countries across Latin America tightened measures on Wednesday to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, with more lockdowns, border closings and school closures as well as increased aid to the region’s poorest.
As cases of Covid-19 cases continue to rise – more than 7,400 and 123 deaths up to now – Bolivia and Colombia became the latest countries to impose a total lockdown, while Chile extended its schools closures until the end of April.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has warned of possible “chaos” and the “looting” of supermarkets if state shutdowns ordered by the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro aren’t ended.
Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly scoffed at the severity of the deadly pandemic, had previously criticised the closing of schools and businesses in Sao Paulo and Rio states, two of the country’s most populous states.
Germany ramps up testing, approves huge bailout
Germany has boosted its coronavirus test rate to 500,000 a week, Christian Drosten, who heads the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charite University Hospital, said on Thursday, adding that early detection has been key in keeping the country’s death rate relatively low.
Drosten also highlighted Germany’s dense network of laboratories spread across its territory as a factor contributing to early detection.
The news came after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government secured emergency spending, unlocking a historic rescue package designed to cushion the blow of the coronavirus pandemic.
A majority of lawmakers in the Bundestag voted on Wednesday to allow additional borrowing to combat the crisis, according to the legislature’s president. The Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament, will vote on Friday.
The extraordinary authorisation is part of a packet of legislation aimed at protecting German jobs and businesses. The new borrowing of €€156 billion (US$169 billion) is equivalent to half of the country’s normal annual spending.
The country, which tightened lockdown measures this week, has about 32,700 cases and more than 150 deaths.
Ukraine declares ‘emergency situation’
Ukraine on Wednesday declared a month-long “emergency situation” to slow the coronavirus outbreak, as the number of confirmed cases jumped to 113.
Ukraine has already closed schools, universities and public spaces to stem the spread of the disease, but the measures were due to expire at the beginning of April.
The emergency situation announced on Wednesday effectively extends existing measures for 30 days until April 24, a government spokesperson said.
“We are extending quarantine and imposing an emergency situation in Ukraine,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said.
Unlike an official state of emergency, the initiative announced by the prime minister does not have to be rubber stamped by both the parliament and president. Ukraine has confirmed 113 cases of Covid-19 and four deaths, according to official statistics.
Mexican governor says poor are ‘immune’
The governor of a state in central Mexico is arguing that the poor are “immune” to the new coronavirus, even as the federal government suspends all non-essential government activities beginning Thursday in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
Puebla Governor Miguel Barbosa’s comment on Wednesday was apparently partly a response to indications that the wealthy have made up a significant percentage of Mexicans infected to date, including some prominent business executives.
Officials say three-quarters of Mexico’s 475 confirmed cases are related to international travel, and the poor do not make many international trips. Some people apparently caught the virus on ski trips to Italy or the United States. The country has seen six deaths so far.
“The majority are wealthy people. If you are rich, you are at risk. If you are poor, no,” Barbosa said of the coronavirus. “We poor people, we are immune.”
Barbosa also appeared to be playing on an old stereotype held by some Mexicans that poor sanitation standards may have strengthened their immune systems by exposing them to bacteria or other bugs.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest the poor are in any way immune to the virus that is causing Covid-19 disease around the world.
Japan belatedly bans entry from Europe, Iran
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has established a task force under the country’s revised emergency law to deal with the global rise in coronavirus infections and deaths.
In Tokyo on Thursday, Abe said it was necessary for people to act as one to overcome what can be described as a national crisis.
Japan will ban entry from 21 European countries as well as Iran, to take effect from Friday, he added.
The country has already begun asking visitors and its nationals arriving from some countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Arrivals from a total of seven Southeast Asian countries and four in the Middle East and Africa are also asked to refrain from using public transport.
Similar steps are in place for visitors from China, South Korea, most of Europe and the United States.
Malaysia to lock down two communities to curb spread
Malaysia on Thursday announced that 3,570 residents in two communities in the country’s south will be placed under complete lockdown due to their high coronavirus infection rates.
Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in a statement that the residents in Kluang district of Johor state are banned from leaving home for two weeks beginning Friday, to enable the health authorities to conduct door-to-door screening.
The tough measure was taken after 73 per cent of the 83 infection cases found in the district were traced to the two small communities of Kampung Dato Ibrahim Majid and Bandar Baru Dato Ibrahim Majid.
Ismail said the residents cannot leave home, not even to buy food, as the welfare department will supply them with two weeks’ worth of food. All businesses must close and all access into the two areas will be sealed. The police and army have been deployed to ensure compliance.
Australia scraps haircut time limit
The Australian government scrapped a time limit on haircuts following a backlash.
The government had imposed a rule on hairdressers and barbers on Tuesday that haircuts should take less than 30 minutes, as part of social distancing restrictions to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
The restriction put around 40,000 hairdressers at risk, the Australian Hairdressing Council said in response.
“This decision is outrageous,” the council’s chief executive Sandy Chong said in a statement.
“Whilst many barbers can do a male haircut within that time frame, it really isn’t feasible for a majority of hairdressing salons.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement Thursday saying the policy would be reversed with immediate effect.
But salons and barbers must still strictly observe new rules that there may only be one person per four square metres within the premises, Morrison said.
India unveils US$22.6 billion stimulus package
India’s government announced a 1.7 trillion rupee (US$22.6 billion) stimulus package, as it stepped up its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The measures will include cash transfers as well as steps on food security, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in New Delhi on Thursday, adding that the package will benefit migrant workers.
Asia’s third-largest economy joins countries from the US to Germany that have pledged spending to contain the economic fallout of the pandemic. India is on a total lockdown for three weeks from Wednesday in the world’s biggest isolation effort, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to prevent the virus from spreading locally.
The government will also provide an insurance cover of 5 million rupees to medical workers, Sitharaman said.