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Thursday, March 26, 2020, 22:20
Abe calls virus a 'national crisis', S'pore to tap reserves for US$30b
By Agencies
Thursday, March 26, 2020, 22:20 By Agencies

Indians look through the windows of a building during a lockdown to control coronavirus spread, in Gauhati, India, March 25, 2020. (PHOTO / AP)

DUBAI / JERUSALEM / WELLINGTON / TOKYO - 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.

It is necessary for people to act as one to overcome what can be described as a national crisis, Abe said in Tokyo on Thursday.

Japan will ban entry from 21 European countries as well as Iran, to take effect from March 27, Abe said.

The government on Thursday offered its bleakest assessment on the economy in nearly seven years, saying conditions in March were "severe" as the coronavirus pandemic shut down factories and cooled consumption.

Japan has had 1,313 domestic cases of coronavirus as of Thursday morning, separate from 712 from a cruise ship that was moored near Tokyo last month, broadcaster NHK reported. There have been 45 domestic deaths and 10 from the cruise ship, it said.


Singapore on Thursday unveiled more than US$30 billion in new measures to help businesses and households brace against the coronavirus pandemic which threatens to push the bellwether economy into a deep recession.

The new plans amounting to around S$48 billion (US$33 billion) will see the government dip into its national reserves for the first time since the global financial crisis.

It comes just weeks after the city-state announced earlier several multi-billion dollar virus-fighting plans in its annual budget.


India on Thursday announced a 1.7 trillion rupee (US$22.6 billion) economic stimulus plan that will be released through direct cash transfers and food security measures aimed at giving relief to millions of poor hit by the nationwide lockdown in the country.

The death toll due to COVID-19 in India on Thursday morning rose to 13, the federal health ministry said, with 649 confirmed cases reported so far.

India has tested 24,254 people as of Wednesday, according to the government run Indian Council of Medical Research, a small number compared to the population.

Health experts have warned that the world’s second most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.

The Indian government on Wednesday began a 21-day lockdown across the country in a bid to contain the spread of novel coronavirus. Authorities have imposed strict curfew-like restrictions to prevent the movement of people.

Streets were silent across India’s cities and towns on the second day of a three-week, 24 hour shutdown as people heeded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call not to step out of homes except in emergencies or to buy food and other necessities.

India's central bank and major lenders are considering shutting down most branches across the country to prevent tens of thousands of employees from getting infected with the coronavirus, four sources familiar with the plan said.

Spectators wait to see the Olympic flame display ceremony in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (EUGENE  HOSHIKO / AP)


No passenger will be allowed off cruise ships in Sydney until new protocols, which are still being negotiated with the federal government, are signed, Australia’s state premier said on Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases spiked.

Another two cruise ships off the coast of Western Australia have been told to “immediately” leave Australian waters, after 147 passengers who disembarked from the Ruby Princess in Sydney last week tested positive for COVID-19. 

On Thursday, seven of 800 foreign passengers on board the German-operated MV Artania tested positive for COVID-19, and two more were unwell.

West Australian premier Mark McGowan said no one would be permitted to disembark the Artania unless there was a “life threatening emergency”.

A second cruise ship, the MSC Magnifica, which refueled in Perth this week, is currently in Western Australian waters after being refused entry in Dubai.

A spokeswoman for MSC Cruises which owns the Magnifica declined to comment on where the vessel would go.

The National Transplantation and Donation Taskforce (NTDT) on Wednesday night announced that all kidney transplants have been suspended while liver, lung and heart transplants will go ahead for patients deemed to be "at imminent risk of dying from their organ failure."

The number of cases of coronavirus jumped overnight in Australia’s two most populous states of NSW and Victoria, taking the total in Australia past 2,550. The number of deaths increased to 12. 


Cambodia's Ministry of Health (MoH) late Wednesday confirmed 96 total cases of COVID-19, increasing from 93 cases earlier in the day.

The three new patients are Cambodian men, the statement said, adding that one lives in Phnom Penh, another in Kandal province and the other in Siem Reap province.


Indonesia’s capital is installing hand-washing stations and disinfectant-spraying booths across the city of 10 million people to try to curb an accelerating spread of coronavirus infections.

Indonesia has a significant deficit in hospital beds, medical staff and intensive care facilities as health experts warn that it is primed to become a new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, according to data reviewed by Reuters.

Health experts say Indonesia faces a surge in coronavirus cases after a slow government response masked the scale of the outbreak in the world’s fourth most populous country. 

At a press conference, the government's spokesperson for the all coronavirus-related matters Achmad Yurianto said that 893 cases had been confirmed in the archipelagic country with 78 deaths. 


Iran started an intercity travel ban on Thursday, an Iranian official said in a televised news conference, amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections in the Middle East's worst-hit country.

Officials have complained that many Iranians ignored appeals to stay at home and cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20.

Iran reported 157 new coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Thursday, taking the death toll to 2,234 in the Islamic Republic with 29,406 infected people.

The authorities have called on Iranians to avoid public places and stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural and sports centres have been temporarily closed across the country.


Iraq is extending a travel ban within the country and to and from its airports until April 11 as part of strict steps to curb the outbreak of the coronavirus, the government said in a statement.

Iraq’s authorities began the restrictions on March 17, banning travel and all inbound and outbound flights from the country’s airports.

At least 346 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed so far in Iraq, according to the Health Ministry, and 29 people have died.

Woman prays in front of the closed Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried, in Jerusalem, March 25, 2020, as Israel tightens the measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus. (PHOTO / AP)


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday there would be “no avoiding” a complete lockdown of the country without a decrease in the rate of new coronavirus infections.

Citizens hoping for a stroll or jog were instructed earlier on Wednesday to stay within 100 metres of their homes for a week under tightened restrictions to curb the contagion.

With a total of 439 people confirmed positive for the virus on Wednesday, the country has 2,369 coronavirus infections, the Ministry of Health said.

Separately, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered in Christian tradition as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, was closed on Wednesday as a precaution against the coronavirus.


Lebanon is set to extend a countrywide lockdown by two weeks until April 12 to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah is mobilizing some 25,000 people including frontline medics and readying hospitals as part of a plan to help confront the coronavirus in Lebanon, it said on Wednesday.

“It is a real war that we must confront with the mindset of a warrior,” Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, head of the Shi’ite group’s executive council, said.

Lebanon said on Thursday it had recorded 368 cases of coronavirus including 35 new cases since the day before, with six deaths in the country so far. The government, formed with backing from Hezbollah and its allies, has declared a medical emergency.

READ MORE: Thailand bans foreigners' entry, Philippines declares emergency


Laos has detected three more confirmed COVID-19 cases, with its total number rising to six, Lao Deputy Health Minister Phouthone Moungpak said on Thursday afternoon.

All of these infections were close contacts of the previous confirmed patients, and they are treated in the designated hospital, the Mittaphab Hospital in Vientiane, Moungpak said.

Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has advised all local and central sectors to consider allowing their staff to work from home. 

Lao Airlines has suspended most international flights due to the dramatic decline of passengers amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.


Three more COVID-19 positive patients have made a recovery in the Maldives, bringing the country's total number of active cases to five, local media reported here Thursday.

So far, all COVID-19 infections in the Maldives were foreign citizens.


Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and his wife Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah will undergo a 14-day quarantine after several palace employees were infected with COVID-19, the national palace said Thursday.

Abdullah and Azizah had themselves tested negative for the virus, Comptroller of the Royal Household Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said in a statement.

Fadil said Abdullah was advised against holding the weekly pre-cabinet meetings with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin until the COVID-19 crisis ends.

"While approving of the government's extension of the movement control order to April 14, he (the king) also expressed hope that all Malaysians will be firm in facing this difficult time and continue their support and cooperation to healthcare workers and security personnel," he said.

Malaysia has implemented the "movement control order" since March 18, including closing shops and schools as well as imposing travel bans. It called for residents to stay at home in an effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

Earlier, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said via social media that he had been observing a 14-day quarantine after contact with a member of parliament who was later tested positive for the disease. Local media reports that the 94-year-old former prime minister had been cleared by health authorities after testing negative. 

A total of 23 people have died of the COVID-19 in Malaysia as of Thursday with 235 newly confirmed cases in its largest one-day increase so far, bringing the total number to 2,031, said the Health Ministry.

Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah told a press briefing that among the new cases, at least 60 were traced to a large-scale religious event held near the capital of Kuala Lumpur from late February to early March. 


Mongolia's National Center for Communicable Disease (NCCD) said Thursday that one more Mongolian citizen tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of the confirmed cases in the country to 11.

 "One of more than 200 Mongolian citizens who arrived in Mongolia on (a) chartered flight in route of Istanbul-Ulan Bator on last Wednesday night tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Dulmaa Nyamkhuu, head of the NCCD, told a press conference.

New Zealand

New Zealand started a one-month compulsory lockdown on Thursday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with warnings from authorities to stay at home or face huge fines and even jail time.

Motorways, train stations and streets in downtown Auckland and Wellington were eerily silent on Thursday morning as people stayed indoors, while office towers and shopping arcades were shuttered.

New Zealand Police Chief Mike Bush said that there were still some people flouting the rules and they could face serious consequences.

The government has allowed people in essential services to continue going to work. But schools, offices, restaurants, bars, places of worship and even playgrounds were shut as part of the unprecedented lockdown.

The country recorded 78 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on the first day of the lockdown, bringing the total number of confirmed and probable cases to 283.

A woman walks her dog through Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 26, 2020. (PHOTO / AP)


A senior Palestinian official announced on Thursday that 15 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in Palestine, raising the total number to 86.

Ibrahim Melhem, spokesman of the Palestinian government, told a news briefing in Ramallah that the 15 new cases were from the village of Beddo to the northwest of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority sent a request to several countries for medical supplies, including testing kits, to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Separately, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip announced on Wednesday night that seven new cases infected with COVID-19 have been in a quarantine in the southern part of the coastal enclave.

Saudi Arabia 

Saudi Arabia reported its second coronavirus death and tightened a nationwide curfew on Wednesday, barring travel in and out of Riyadh, the capital, and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as movement between all provinces.

The orders, approved by King Salman and published by state media, also brought forward the start of a curfew in the three cities to 3 pm from 7 pm, starting Thursday.

The country saw 133 new cases on Wednewsday that took Saudi Arabia’s total to 900.

ALSO READ: Fears grow of spread as Syria confirms first virus case

South Korea 

South Korea warned on Thursday that it will deport foreigners while its citizens could face jail if they violate self-quarantine rules after a surge in imported coronavirus cases.

The country's central bank decided to provide "unlimited" liquidity to financial institutions for the next three months to help minimize the economic fallout.

South Korea reported 104 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing its total infections to 9,241. The death toll from the pandemic in South Korea rose by five to reach a total of 131.


Thailand reported 111 new coronavirus infections, taking its tally to 1,045, the government said on Twitter on Thursday.

A state of emergency took effect. Authorities in Thailand, which has suffered four deaths in the pandemic, set up checkpoints on major roads linking provinces so as to increase screening in a bid to limit spread of the virus.

The Thai government has no plans as yet to impose a curfew to curb the spread of COVID-19, but will strictly enforce restrictions on travel and gatherings as the state of emergency takes effect after midnight of Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Wednesday.

Commuters in an underground train, some wearing masks, are driven past a billboard of a book advertisement featuring a picture of US President Benjamin Franklin on the 100-US dollar bill, in central Istanbul, March 25, 2020.  (PHOTO / AP)


Turkey’s death toll from the coronavirus increased by 15 to 59 on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed cases rose by 561 to 2,433, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

He said on Twitter that 5,035 tests had been conducted in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of tests carried out in Turkey to around 33,000.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday announced that health officials have been following up 53,000 people at their homes across the country over suspicion of COVID-19.

Erdogan said Turkey would continue to protect its citizens from the effects of the outbreak of COVID-19 through measures and economic support packages.


Vanuatu declared on Thursday a state of emergency as part of its efforts to curb COVID-19.

In a national address on Thursday, Vanuatu's caretaker Prime Minister Charlot Salwai said that the declaration was necessary to allow the government to mobilize resources and funding for their coronavirus response.

Currently, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the island nation.  


Vietnam will ban gatherings of more than 20 people at a time for the next two weeks to help curb the spread of coronavirus, the Southeast Asian country’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, said on Thursday.

Vietnam has sent tens of thousands of people to quarantine camps as waves of overseas citizens return home to escape a coronavirus pandemic spreading in Europe and the United States.

Vietnam's Ministry of Health on Thursday morning confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the total in the country to 148.

The seven new cases included a French and a South African tourists, four Vietnamese citizens returning home from Britain, the United States and Thailand, and a Vietnamese man travelling to southern Can Tho city by air recently, the ministry said.


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