Coronavirus updates: Beijing to quarantine travellers from overseas, Malaysia cases rise by 190, Widodo to take test

Owen Churchill

Fear of the coronavirus pandemic is leading nations, from the United States to much of Europe to close up and shield citizens from the spreading outbreak. That meant shutting borders, airports and seaports.

On Sunday, officials in Beijing announced anyone travelling from overseas to the Chinese capital would face a 14-day quarantine, following 16 new imported cases.

Elsewhere, police began closing off access to the Philippines’ densely populated capital Manila, while Australia announced anyone arriving into the country would face mandatory 14-day self-isolation.

In Europe, the new epicentre of the outbreak, countries have also taken extraordinary measures. France closed its iconic cafes and restaurants as Spain declared an emergency and Italy reported dozens more deaths.

US President Donald Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, as he extended travel bans to the UK and Ireland.

Worldwide, almost 153,000 people have been confirmed as infected and 5,800 have died, according to official figures.

Here are the developments:

Beijing will quarantine travellers from overseas

People travelling into Beijing from overseas will be sent to quarantine facilities for 14 days, officials said at a press conference on Sunday.

Controlling imported cases from overseas has become the focus of Beijing’s measures to contain the new coronavirus, said Chen Bei, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing municipal government.

From Monday, all people from overseas entering Beijing should be transferred to a centralised isolation point for 14 days of isolation observation, Chen said.

People who spread the coronavirus by concealing or reporting false information will be held accountable in accordance with the law, and incorporated into the credit system, she said.

Beijing authorities last week announced that all international travellers entering Beijing city must quarantine themselves for 14 days.

At the press conference on Sunday, Chen said self-quarantine would be allowed under special circumstances. Chen also said that visitors will have to bear the costs of the quarantine.

More than half Malaysian cases went to mosque

Malaysia said on Sunday that more than half the country’s 428 coronavirus cases were linked to an international Islamic gathering held last month.

The Southeast Asian nation announced a spike of 190 new infections over the weekend, mostly linked to a global Islamic event attended by almost 20,000 people.

“Of the 428 cases, 243 are participants from the religious event in Sri Petaling mosque,” said Noor Hisham Abdullah.

Authorities said participants at the gathering from February 27 to March 1 came from Bangladesh, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Around 14,500 of the participants were Malaysian.

Brunei reported 10 new cases on Saturday, raising the total to 50, most in people who attended the Malaysia gathering. Singapore has also announced cases linked to the event.

On Friday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin warned Malaysia of a second wave of infections spread and urged people to avoid mass gatherings.

China reports rise in ‘imported’ infections

China on Sunday reported 16 new imported cases, the highest in over a week, as domestic cases dwindle in the country.

The National Health Commission said infections involving people arriving from overseas were reported in five provinces and cities including Beijing and Shanghai.

Four new domestic cases were reported, all in Hubei province’s capital Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December.

There have now been 111 imported infections, with regions outside of Hubei reporting no new indigenous cases for the third day in the row.

Another 10 people died, all in Wuhan, bringing the national toll from the disease in mainland China to 3,199. More than 80,000 people have been infected.

South Korea, meanwhile reported 76 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, an all-time low since February 20, when the country saw a surge of over 500 in four days.

The country’s total tally stands at 8,162, and marks the third day in a row in which the number of released patients are greater than the number of newly confirmed cases overnight. A total of 75 deaths in the nation have been reported.

Indonesia’s president will take coronavirus test

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Sunday said he would get tested for coronavirus, while some of his ministers had also undergone precautionary tests after the Southeast Asian country’s transport minister tested positive for the disease.

Widodo also suggested people work from home and avoid mass gatherings, as he sought to calm rising concerns about the spread of the virus in the sprawling archipelago. Jakarta and several other provinces and cities have already announced school closures starting this week, and some companies are asking staff to work from home.

The president said he would let regional governments decide on whether to declare emergency status over outbreaks.

“The most important thing right now is social distancing, how we maintain a distance. That’s why I said in this condition we should work from home, learn at home and pray at home,” Widodo said.

Indonesia reported on Sunday the number of infections had risen by 21 to 117. Five people with the virus have died in the country.

Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi was confirmed to be suffering from Covid-19 on Saturday. Widodo, who led a cabinet meeting attended by Sumadi on Wednesday, said the minister was still being isolated in a hospital.

Singapore tightens border restrictions

Singapore on Sunday announced tighter border restrictions to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Starting Tuesday, all travellers entering Singapore who have recently visited Asean countries, Japan, Switzerland or the UK will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice, said national development minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs a multi-ministerial task force that deals with the virus.

This will apply to Singapore residents, long-term pass holders, and short-term visitors. Wong added, however, that travellers entering Singapore from Malaysia by land and sea will be excluded.

Many Malaysians work in Singapore – about 300,000 of them cross the Johor-Singapore Causeway every day.

Visitors could also be swabbed and tested for Covid-19, the Ministry of Health said in a statement, and will need to provide proof of residence for the duration of the stay-home notice.

As of Sunday, Singapore had 226 confirmed cases and has become increasingly concerned about imported cases.

Will Singapore use its reserves to counter the coronavirus?

“In the past three days alone, Singapore has seen an increase of 25 new cases. Of these, more than three-quarters were imported cases, of which close to 90 per cent were Singapore residents and Singapore long-term pass holders who had returned to Singapore from overseas,” the ministry said.

“We have seen a number of these [imported] cases entering Singapore for the purpose of seeking medical care, which imposes a significant burden on Singapore’s healthcare resources during this critical period when we are focused on containing the situation within Singapore.”

As part of the enhanced measures, short-term visitors from countries in the Asean bloc would need to submit requisite information on their health to the Singapore Overseas Mission in their country, and obtain approval from Singapore’s health ministry before they can enter Singapore.

“Short-term visitors who arrive in Singapore without the necessary approval will be denied entry into Singapore,” the ministry said.

Singapore also urged Singaporeans to defer all non-essential travel abroad.

“This is to reduce the risk of Singaporeans contracting Covid-19 infection while overseas during this global pandemic,” the ministry said.

Soldiers wait to be deployed at checkpoints. Photo: EPA

Trump tests negative

US President Donald Trump has tested negative for Covid-19, his physician said in a memo. Trump said he had opted to take the test on Friday, amid rising criticism of his refusal to do so despite known contact with several positive cases within the past week.

Trump said during a White House briefing that he had only decided to take the test because “the press is going crazy”.

Trump, who during a visit to his Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend came into proximity with several individuals who later tested positive for Covid-19, has repeatedly dismissed concerns over his own health by pointing to his lack of symptoms. The contagion’s two-week incubation period means an individual could be carrying the disease for days before showing any signs of illness.

The US administration also announced on Saturday that an existing travel ban on those coming from continental Europe would be extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland as of midnight on Monday.

Philippines closes off capital

Thousands of government troops have set up checkpoints around the Philippine capital Manila for the start of a month-long lockdown aimed at halting the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.

Police officers, soldiers and coast guard personnel were checking temperatures and identification cards of people passing through dozens of “control points” around metropolitan Manila, where most of the confirmed cases have so far been reported.

Strict social distancing guidelines were also put in place in the area that covers 16 cities and one municipality with a combined population of nearly 13 million. This includes the cancellation of Catholic masses, reduced mall hours and restrictions on the number of passengers in public vehicles.

The Department of Health reported a total of 111 Covid-19 infections in the country as of Saturday night and eight deaths.

Australia to isolate all international arrivals

Australia on Sunday announced anyone arriving into the country will face mandatory 14-day self-isolation, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are going to have to get used to some changes in the way we live our lives,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, adding the measure will come into effect from midnight.

Morrison also said all cruise ships will be banned entirely.

“If your mate has been to Bali and they come back and they turn up at work and they are sitting next to you, well they will be committing an offence,” Morrison said.

Australia has detected 269 cases of Covid-19 so far, with a large number of new cases now coming from the United States.

Self-quarantine for some travellers in Thailand

Thailand said it will classify all travellers into three groups as officials try to prevent a wider outbreak.

People coming from China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Iran and Italy will be subject to mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, the Tourism Authority of Thailand said. They must apply for visas and present health forms at check-in certifying they are at no risk of developing the disease known as Covid-19, or they will be denied boarding.

These six territories are currently classified as danger zones for the virus but the list could change. For instance, officials have said China could be removed after a drop in infections there.

Arrivals from another group of 11 countries with ongoing local transmission have to report symptoms to officials for at least 14 days as well as the places they visit. The nations are Japan, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the UK and the US.

Japan bans resale of masks

In Japan, a law banning resale of face masks has gone into effect as part of government measures to deal with dire shortages.

Under the law that went into effect Sunday, violators could face a prison term of up to one year or a fine of up to 1 million yen (US$9,260).

Face masks are in serious shortage in Japan, with most retail stores out of stock since earlier this year.

The government has set up a team to work on the shortage, asking mask makers to bolster production and prioritise shipment to hospitals and nursing homes.

Officials suspect that massive purchases for resale have prompted the nationwide mask shortages.

Apple to close stores outside China

Apple announced on Saturday that it has closed its stores everywhere outside Greater China for two weeks as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The move comes a day after the consumer electronics giant did the opposite in mainland China, where customers can now visit its 42 stores in the country within curtailed time frames.

“One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimise risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximise social distance,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

The company has more than 500 retail stores globally, with about half of them in the US.

Infections in Italy jump by 20 per cent

Italy has reported its biggest day-to-day jump in number of infected cases: 3,497 in 24 hours. That’s roughly a 20 per increase in cases from the day before. Italy’s total cases now tally 21,157.

Authorities cited irresponsible behaviour by many citizens, who despite the earlier warnings not to gather in large numbers, headed to beaches or sky resorts, and hung out together in town squares, especially after the closure of schools.

A Chinese Red Cross team of nine doctors and researchers is in Rome, sharing experiences with staff at Spallanzani Hospital, the Italian capital’s infectious diseases hospital.

Spain goes into lockdown, PM’s wife tests positive

The government of Spain announced severe restrictions on movement as part of a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

Health authorities in Spain said Saturday that more than 5,700 people there have confirmed coronavirus infections. That’s an increase of more than 1,500 in 24 hours.

The plan includes the closing of restaurants, bars and non-essential commercial establishments. The wife of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

France to shut ‘non-essential’ public places

France announced the closure of all non-essential public places including restaurants and cafes as the death toll rose by 12 to 91, with the total number of infected standing at 4,500. France is now at its highest sanitary alert level of stage three, which means that the virus is now circulating actively across French territory. Shops would also have to close with the exception of essential services like supermarkets and pharmacies. Public transport would continue to run, but French have been urged avoid inter-city travel.

Canadians urged to come home

Ottawa urged all Canadians abroad to return home while they still can, as nations around the world moved to restrict travel to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

The government, however, has so far resisted growing calls to limit incoming travellers after the United States banned flights from Europe.

Canadian political leaders, meanwhile, urged against panic shopping and hoarding as Canadians rushed to empty store shelves of groceries, toilet paper, and over-the-counter cold and flu medicines.

Almost-empty shelves of paper towels in Vancouver. Photo: Xinhua

Medical experts say New York City hospitals unready

New York City’s hospitals, among the best in the world, may still not be ready for the coronavirus outbreak, according to many health care experts.“We are not prepared to deal with a rapid and severe surge of patients - we’re just not,” said Christopher Tedeschi, a long-time emergency physician and assistant professor at the Columbia University Medical Centre.

New York City reported its first coronavirus death, an 82-year-old woman with respiratory illness, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Angry teachers lashed out at Mayor de Blasio for keeping public schools open.

Trump trying to poach scientists working on virus vaccine, report claims

Iran death toll from virus passes 600, Syria shuts schools

Iran said Saturday the coronavirus outbreak has killed another 97 people, pushing the death toll in the country to 611, as war-ravaged Syria announced a number of strict measures including closing schools and universities, despite the government saying it has no confirmed cases.

Iran is suffering from the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with 12,729 cases and even senior officials testing positive.

The United Arab Emirates, a major global travel hub, suspended the issuing of visas to all foreigners except diplomats, saying those already issued would be honoured. It also suspended all flights to and from Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

Earlier on Saturday, Saudi Arabia said it would halt all flights to the kingdom for two weeks.

Egypt, which has reported more than 100 cases and two fatalities, said it would close all schools and universities for the next two weeks. The Gulf nation of Oman announced it would close all educational facilities for a month.

In Jordan, where the only known case was a man who recovered, the government suspended all flights into and out of the kingdom except for aid workers and diplomats. It said schools would close for two weeks and banned the smoking of hookahs, or water pipes, in cafes.

At least 10 households evacuated from Hong Kong block over multiple infections

Tulip festival in the Netherlands scrapped

The Netherlands’ world famous Keukenhof flower garden has fallen prey to the new coronavirus. The attraction in the middle of one of the country’s main tulip-growing regions draws more than a million visitors each year as bulbs burst into bloom.

It had been due to open March 21, but the opening was scrapped on Saturday, two days after the Dutch government banned gatherings of more than 100 people through March 31 in a bid to rein in the spread of the virus.

The Netherlands reported 155 new cases of the coronavirus compared to the previous day, raising the total to 959. The country has reported 10 deaths since the start of the outbreak.

Blossoming tulips at Keukenhof, known as the Garden of Europe. Photo: AP

Greece reports two more deaths, suspends flights to Italy

Greece said it would suspend all flights that were still operating to and from Italy, after reporting two more fatalities, raising the total number of deaths in the country to three.

The deceased were two men, aged 67 and 90, both with serious underlying health problems, the health ministry said.

Greece has shut schools, bars, cafes and shopping malls and has already suspended all flights to and from northern Italy until March 23 to combat the spread of coronavirus.

It also reported 38 new confirmed cases of coronavirus since Friday, raising the total number of infections to 228.

More signs that coronavirus takes less of a toll on children

Denmark registers first death; Norway to close ports

The first death of a person infected with coronavirus was confirmed in Denmark on Saturday, when an 81-year old patient died in a hospital in Copenhagen.

The death comes after the government took drastic steps to curb the spread of the virus, including shutting all schools and universities and sending home all public sector workers with non-critical jobs.

In an unprecedented move, the Nordic country also shut its borders on Saturday to most foreign visitors for a month. Denmark has reported 827 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Saturday.

Norway will shut its ports and airports from Monday in an attempt to curb the spread of the disease, although exemptions will be made for Norwegians returning from abroad as well as for goods.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters

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