Author Topic: Coronavirus around the globe  (Read 2123 times)

Offline thaiga

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Asia virus latest: Seoul shuts bars and clubs
Here are the latest developments in Asia related to the novel coronavirus pandemic:

- Seoul bars and clubs shut after new cases -

South Korea's capital ordered the closure of all clubs and bars after a burst of new cases sparked fears of a second coronavirus wave, and President Moon Jae-in urged the public to remain vigilant.

More than 50 cases so far have been linked to a 29-year-old man who tested positive after spending time at five clubs and bars in Itaewon -- one of the city's busiest nightlife districts -- last weekend.

Gyeonggi province -- which surrounds Seoul with a population of around 12 million people -- also ordered more than 5,700 entertainment facilities to suspend operations for two weeks starting Sunday.

- Arrests at Melbourne anti-lockdown protest -

Ten people were arrested and a police officer injured at an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne, where demonstrators claimed coronavirus was a government-engineered conspiracy designed to control the population.

About 150 protesters rallied outside Victoria's state parliament to protest against a shutdown aimed at stemming the spread of Covid-19, while also peddling conspiracy theories about the virus.

In scenes reminiscent of anti-lockdown protests in the United States, demonstrators carried placards reading "fight for your freedom and rights", and directed their ire at the founder of Microsoft, chanting "arrest Bill Gates".

- Sri Lanka to partially reopen from Monday -

Sri Lanka will partially reopen from Monday, ending a 52-day lockdown as the community spread of the coronavirus had been brought under control, the health minister said.

Pavithra Wanniarachchi said state and private companies would be allowed to open, as authorities seek to revive the island's tourism-dependant economy that has been battered by lockdown since March 20.

Public transport will remain closed for two more weeks, however.

Barbers and hairdressers will also be able to open from Monday, but they will not be allowed to offer facials, or trim beards and moustaches.

- Indian evacuees arrive home on navy ship -

A navy ship carrying almost 700 evacuees from the Maldives arrived in India as part of a massive effort to bring home hundreds of thousands of nationals stranded overseas due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Workers and students were unable to return home after India banned all incoming international flights in late March.

Another warship is expected to arrive in the Maldives Sunday to pick up more stranded Indians. Around 4,000 of the 27,000 Indians living in the Maldives have registered to be taken home.

- Malaysia extends inter-state travel ban -

Malaysia extended curbs to fight the spread of the coronavirus until June 9th. They had originally been due to come to an end this coming Tuesday.

The measures had already been substantially eased at the start of this month, with most businesses allowed to reopen, as the country's outbreak slowed.

But restrictions remain in place on schools and business that typically see large groups of people gathering, such as cinemas.
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Offline thaiga

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Germany surge sounds coronavirus alarm as world takes steps to reopen

(Reuters) - Germany reported on Monday that new coronavirus infections were accelerating exponentially after early steps to ease its lockdown, news that sounded a global alarm even as businesses opened from Paris hair salons to Shanghai Disneyland.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute reported that the “reproduction rate” - the number of people each person infected with the coronavirus goes on to infect - had risen to 1.1. Any rate above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

German authorities had taken early steps to ease lockdown measures just days earlier, a stark illustration that progress can swiftly be reversed even in a country with one of the best records in Europe of containing the virus so far.

It follows a new outbreak in night clubs in South Korea, another country that had succeeded in limiting infections.

Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing the coronavirus. In Europe, the world’s worst-hit continent, Spain and France began major steps to ease lockdowns, while Britain announced more cautious moves.

Traffic flowed along the Champs Elysees in Paris, a giant tricolour flag billowing under the Arc de Triomphe, as workers cleaned shop-front windows to reopen.

“Everyone’s a little bit nervous. Wow! We don’t know where we’re headed but we’re off,” said Marc Mauny, a hair stylist who opened his salon in western France at the stroke of midnight when new rules took effect.

Mickey Mouse welcomed thinned-out crowds in Shanghai, the first Disney theme park to re-open, with a strict limit on the number of tickets. Parades and fireworks were cancelled, and workers and guests were required to wear face masks and have their temperatures screened at the entrance.

“I think (these measures) make tourists feel at ease,” said Kay Yu, a 29-year-old pass holder wearing a Minnie Mouse hat, who said he had woken up at 4 a.m. to make the trip to the park.


A German health ministry spokesman said the authorities were taking the rise in the infection rate seriously and it did not mean the outbreak was out of control.

Karl Lauterbach, a Social Democrat lawmaker and professor of epidemiology, had warned that the virus could start spreading again quickly after seeing large crowds outside on Saturday in his home city of Cologne.

“It has to be expected that the R rate will go over 1 and we will return to exponential growth,” Lauterbach said in a tweet. “The loosening measures were far too poorly prepared.”

 In South Korea, which largely avoided a lockdown by implementing a massive testing and contact-tracing programme early on, authorities were rushing to contain a new outbreak traced to night clubs.

 “It’s not over until it’s over. While keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention,” President Moon Jae-In said on Sunday.

New Zealand, which had success in fighting infection with one of the toughest and earliest lockdowns, said it would open malls, cafes and cinemas this week.

“The upshot is that in 10 days’ time we will have reopened most businesses in New Zealand, and sooner than many other countries around the world,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference. “But that fits with our plan – go hard, go early – so we can get our economy moving again sooner.”

But some of the countries and territories that were taking steps to open up their economies were acting without yet reporting sustained falls in the spread.

India, which has locked down its population of 1.3 billion people since March, reported a record daily rise in cases. But it said it would begin to restart passenger railway services, with 15 special trains, from Tuesday.

Russia, where the death toll is still comparatively low but the caseload surging, overtook Italy and Britain to report the highest number of cases after the United States and Spain.

In the United States, where unemployment figures released last week were the worst since the Great Depression, President Donald Trump has been trying to shift the emphasis towards reopening the economy. Many states have begun loosening restrictions even though cases continue to rise.

While economies around the world are facing the worst contraction in living memory, stock markets have surged since the start of April, fuelled by unprecedented injections of cash from central banks. That has created unease that financial markets are out of whack with the economies they reflect.

There were signs of a shift in sentiment on Monday, with stock markets giving up their early gains.

“Since late March there has been an extraordinary divergence between the real economy and financial risk, with the latter helped by unprecedented policy accommodation,” said Alan Ruskin, head of G10 foreign exchange trading at Deutsche Bank.
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Offline thaiga

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Re: Coronavirus around the globe - New Covid-19 hot spot Russia
« Reply #32 on: May 12, 2020, 01:03:54 PM »
New Covid-19 hot spot: Russia now 4th most infected country

Over the past 24 hours, 11,656 more people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Russia, bringing the total figure to 221,344 on Monday (May 11), the country's emergency task force said in a daily report, adding that fatalities have reached 2,009 as 94 more people have died over the past day.

With Russia having surpassed 200,000 cases, it has become the fourth most infected country in the world after the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Despite the worrying situation, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an end to measures to control the Covid-19 outbreak, stating that the six-week period of measures allowed the country to “prepare” its health system to save thousands of lives.

However, there are still some restrictions in the country, including a prohibition on gathering, while people are required to continue wearing masks and gloves and maintain a social distance in public.
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As U.S. meat workers fall sick and supplies dwindle, exports to China soar
(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump ordered meat processing plants to stay open to protect the nation’s food supply even as workers got sick and died. Yet the plants have increasingly been exporting to China while U.S. consumers face shortages, a Reuters analysis of government data showed.                   full article

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Offline Johnnie F.

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Re: Coronavirus around the globe - New Covid-19 hot spot Russia
« Reply #34 on: May 12, 2020, 08:44:05 PM »
New Covid-19 hot spot: Russia now 4th most infected country

Already outdated or wrong! Russia is third, the UK is fourth. But the UK is second in number of deaths. Sad record!

Offline thaiga

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Re: Coronavirus around the globe - New Covid-19 hot spot Russia
« Reply #35 on: May 13, 2020, 12:04:13 AM »
Already outdated or wrong! Russia is third, the UK is fourth. But the UK is second in number of deaths. Sad record!
Thanks j/f, yes you are correct, sad indeed
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Offline thaiga

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Wuhan draws up plans to test all 11 million residents

The Chinese city of Wuhan is drawing up plans to test its entire population of 11 million people for Covid-19, state media report.

The plan appears to be in its early stages, with all districts in Wuhan told to submit details as to how testing could be done within 10 days.

It comes after Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, recorded six new cases over the weekend.

Prior to this, it had seen no new cases at all since 3 April.

Wuhan, which was in strict lockdown for 11 weeks, began re-opening on 8 April.

For a while it seemed like life was getting back to normal as schools re-opened, businesses slowly emerged and public transport resumed operations. But the emergence of a cluster of cases - all from the same residential compound - has now threatened the move back to normalcy.

'The ten-day-battle'

According to report by The Paper, quoting a widely circulated internal document, every district in the city has been told to draw up a 10-day testing plan by noon on Tuesday.

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Offline thaiga

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Re: U.S. airlines tell crews not to force passengers to wear masks
« Reply #37 on: May 13, 2020, 11:42:09 AM »
U.S. airlines tell crews not to force passengers to wear masks

American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O), Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) and United Airlines Holdings Inc (UAL.O) have told employees that they may deny boarding at the gate to anyone not wearing a face covering, and are providing masks to passengers who do not have them, the three carriers told Reuters.

Inside the plane, enforcement becomes more difficult.

“Once on board and off the gate, the face covering policy becomes more lenient. The flight attendant’s role is informational, not enforcement, with respect to the face covering policy,” American told its pilots in a message seen by Reuters explaining its policy, which went into effect on Monday.

“Bottom line to the pilots: a passenger on board your aircraft who is being compliant with the exception of wearing a face covering is NOT considered disruptive enough to trigger a Threat Level 1 response,” referring to some kind of intentional disruption by a passenger that could cause the captain to divert the flight.

American spokesman Joshua Freed said: “American, like other U.S. airlines, requires customers to wear a face covering while on board, and this requirement is enforced at the gate while boarding. We also remind customers with announcements both during boarding and at departure.”

A United spokeswoman also said that any non-compliance by travelers would be addressed at the gate and that flight attendants had been counseled to use their “de-escalation skills” on the aircraft and to reseat any passengers as needed.

Delta said it had a similar policy.


All three airlines offer certain exemptions for young children or people with medical conditions or disabilities, and when people are eating or drinking.

“If the customer chooses not to comply for other reasons, please encourage them to comply, but do not escalate further,” American told flight attendants in a message on Friday that it provided to Reuters.

“Likewise, if a customer is frustrated by another customer’s lack of face covering, please use situational awareness to de-escalate the situation,” it said.

U.S. travel demand has fallen by about 94% in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting carriers to slash their flying schedules to roughly 30% of normal this month. With fewer planes in the skies, some are flying near capacity.

Global airlines body IATA came out last week in favor of passengers wearing masks onboard, as debate intensifies in the United States on the role that government agencies should play in mandating new safety measures for flying before a vaccine is developed.

While major U.S. airlines have individually mandated facial coverings, the Federal Aviation Administration has declined to implement the requirement, and it is not clear if the agency has the authority to compel passengers to wear face masks.

In a statement on Tuesday, the FAA said it would continue to engage in discussions about protecting the health and safety of flight crews and the traveling public and was “lending aviation expertise to federal public health agencies and airlines as they issue guidance for crew members, including health monitoring, screening protocols and aircraft cleaning.”
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Anyone booking a holiday is taking a chance on future of COVID-19 outbreak - UK minister

(Reuters) - Britons booking a summer holiday are taking a chance on the direction of the coronavirus outbreak, transport minister Grant Shapps said on Wednesday.

European travel company TUI said on Wednesday there would still be a summer holiday season this year and it was ready to resume providing holidays. Britain’s foreign office is currently advising against all travel abroad.

“Right now you can’t travel abroad. If you are booking it then you are clearly, by the very nature, taking a chance on where the direction of this virus goes and therefore where the travel advice is in the future,” Shapps told BBC TV when asked if people should book summer holidays.

“That is not something people would want to take lightly of course.”
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Offline thaiga

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Re: Coronavirus around the globe - UK economy plunges into recession
« Reply #39 on: May 14, 2020, 12:05:22 AM »
Covid-19: UK economy plunges into recession

The Office of National Statistics found that the slump was getting deeper as the quarter came to an end, with output down by 5.8% in March alone, the month when curbs on everyday life started being put in place by the British government.

The British economy shrank 2% in the first quarter of the year from the previous three-month period, the biggest quarterly decline since the global financial crisis of 2008 even though it included just one week of the coronavirus lockdown, official figures showed Wednesday.

The Office of National Statistics found that the slump was getting deeper as the quarter came to an end, with output down by 5.8% in March alone, the month when curbs on everyday life started being put in place by the British government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the U.K. into full lockdown on March 23, days after closing pubs and restaurants and schools.

The March figure illustrates the scale of the coronavirus slump to come, with the Bank of England, for example, warning of the biggest annual slump since 1706.

“With the arrival of the pandemic, nearly every aspect of the economy was hit in March, dragging growth to a record monthly fall,” said statistician Jonathan Athow.

During March, the only sectors that did grow reflected the needs of a country dealing with a pandemic - IT support, soaps and cleaning products, and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.

The quarterly decline is the biggest recorded since the fourth quarter of 2008. Since 1955, when equivalent records began, there have only been four quarters worse.

Like others, the British economy is set for a recession of unprecedented proportions, with many economists predicting that the second quarter could see economic output shrink by a quarter, or even more.

Last week, the Bank of England warned that the British economy could fall by around 30% in the first half of the year, before a strong recovery in the second half of the year, leaving it 14% smaller by the end of 2020. Still, even with that predicted second-half recovery, the annual fall would be the biggest in over 300 years.

Much of the British economy has been mothballed over the past couple of months, with many sectors unlikely to open again for months.

In addition to the 2 million estimated to be unemployed, around 7.5 million people have become economically inactive since the lockdown via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which sees the government pay up to 80% of the salaries of workers retained, up to 2,500 pounds ($3,075) a month. On Tuesday, the Treasury chief extended the scheme for a further four months until October though suggested that firms will have to start paying a share.

Some of the lockdown measures are being relaxed in England on Wednesday, with those workers who are unable to work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, encouraged to return to work. And a number of recreational sports, such as golf and tennis clubs, can reopen. In all cases, social distancing rules have to be observed.
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As new clusters emerge, WHO warns virus may be here to stay

New coronavirus clusters have surfaced around the world as nations struggle to balance reopening economies and preventing a second wave of infections, while a top global health official warned Wednesday that COVID-19 could be around for a long time.

Authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic first began late last year, reportedly were pressing ahead Wednesday to test all 11 million residents for the virus within 10 days after a handful of new infections were found.

In Lebanon, authorities reinstated a nationwide lockdown for four days beginning Wednesday night after a spike in reported infections and complaints from officials that social distancing rules were being ignored.

A top World Health Organization official, meanwhile, warned that it’s possible the new coronavirus may be here to stay.

“This virus may never go away,” Dr. Michael Ryan said in a press briefing Wednesday. Without a vaccine, he said it could take years for the global population to build up sufficient levels of immunity.

“I think it’s important to put this on the table,” he said. “This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities,” he said, noting that other previously novel diseases like HIV have never disappeared, but that effective treatments have been developed.

Despite the risk that loosening restrictions could lead to infection spikes, European nations have been seeking to restart cross-border travel, particularly as the summer holiday season looms for countries whose economies rely on tourists flocking to their beaches, museums and historical sites.

The European Union unveiled a plan to help citizens across its 27 nations salvage their summer vacations after months of coronavirus lockdown and resurrect Europe’s badly battered tourism industry. The pandemic has prompted border closures across Europe and shut down the lifeline of cheap local flights.

The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, laid out its advice for lifting ID checks at closed borders, helping to get airlines, ferries and buses running while ensuring the safety of passengers and crew, and preparing health measures for hotels.

It's not clear whether EU nations will follow that advice, since they, not Brussels, have the final say over health and security matters.

Some European countries have sought bilateral agreements with their neighbors.

Austria said its border with Germany would reopen fully on June 15, and that border checks would be reduced starting Friday. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austria was aiming for similar agreements with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and its eastern neighbors "as long as the infection figures allow.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said his country will lift a blanket warning against foreign travel for European destinations before other places, but didn't specify when. Germany’s warning against all non-essential tourist travel abroad runs until at least June 14.

The tension in balancing people’s safety against the severe economic fallout is playing out across the world. Italy partially lifted lockdown restrictions last week only to see a big jump in confirmed coronavirus cases in its hardest-hit region. Pakistan reported 2,000 new infections in a single day after crowds of people crammed into local markets as restrictions were eased.

European countries have begun slowly easing their lockdowns, from barber shops reopening next week in Belgium to some schools starting up again soon in Portugal. But a raft of safety rules are being put in place, including reducing the number of children in Belgian preschool classes and various forms of social distancing.

In Sweden, which has taken a relatively soft approach to fighting the coronavirus, allowing primary schools and restaurants to remain open with some social distancing rules, officials urged Swedes not to travel abroad for non-essential trips and to limit movement inside the country.

Travel within Sweden “of up to one to two hours by car can be made,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. “But it does not mean that everything is as it used to be — common sense and great caution apply.”

The situation remains unclear in some countries. The U.S. says Tanzania has not publicly released any data on COVID-19 in two weeks. The World Health Organization also has expressed worry about Tanzania, whose president has questioned his own government’s virus testing and refused to close churches in the belief that the virus can’t survive in the body of Christ. A new U.S. Embassy statement warns that the risk of being infected in Tanzania’s commercial hub, Dar es Salaam, is “extremely high” and says many hospitals in the city have been overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of health emergencies, had a grim warning about coronavirus: Even though an effective vaccine might be developed, it would require immense work to produce sufficient doses and distribute them worldwide.

“Every single one of those steps is fraught with challenges,” he said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, added that she recognized some people were “in a state of feeling quite some despair,” but pointed out that stopping the virus even without medical interventions was possible.

“The trajectory of this outbreak is in our hands,” she said. “We have seen some countries bring the virus under control.”

In the United States, the country's top infectious disease expert issued a blunt warning that cities and states could see more COVID-19 deaths and economic damage if they lift stay-at-home orders too quickly.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in Senate testimony Tuesday after more than two dozen U.S. states began to lift lockdowns.

His comments were a sharp pushback to President Donald Trump, who wants to right a free-falling economy that has seen 33 million Americans lose their jobs. The U.S. has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world by far: 1.37 million infections and over 82,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

China, the first nation to put a large number of citizens under lockdown and the first to ease those restrictions, has been strictly guarding against any resurgence. In January, it put the entire city of Wuhan and the surrounding region, home to more than 50 million people, under a strict lockdown. A cluster of six new cases recently emerged, the first local infections in Wuhan since before the lockdown was eased in early April.
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Second waves are plaguing Asia's virus recovery

An elderly woman with no travel history. An unexpected flare-up in a nightclub. A swelling cluster in towns near international borders with no discernible source.

After containing their outbreaks through measures from strict lockdowns to rapid testing regimes, the Asian economies that have seen some of the most success in quelling the coronavirus -- Hong Kong, South Korea and China -- are now facing resurgences that underscore how it may be nearly impossible to eradicate it.

It's a painful reminder that as countries open up again and people resume normal life, untraceable flare-ups even after an extended lull in cases are likely. Scientists have warned that the disease may never go away, because it lurks in some people without causing any outward signs of sickness.

"Given the asymptomatic population, these cases are going to emerge from unexpected sources," said Nicholas Thomas, an associate professor in public health at the City University of Hong Kong. "It is inevitable that the restarting of societies is going to lead to more cases emerging."

In Hong Kong, a 66-year-old patient with no recent travel history ended the city's much-envied 23-day streak of zero local cases this week. Some of her family members have now been confirmed to be infected as well, and fears are growing that the woman may have seeded more infections as she moved around Hong Kong's dense city streets before being detected.

On the Chinese mainland, an outbreak of more than 20 new infections in northeastern China has forced authorities to impose movement restrictions in two cities reminiscent of the lockdown placed on Wuhan, the city where the deadly virus first emerged. Schools that had just re-opened to students were closed again in three Chinese cities with a total population of 13 million people.

Not far away from China's fresh outbreak, South Korea has identified more than 100 new cases from several nightclubs frequented by gay customers. Health officials are trying to test more than 5,500 people who visited the clubs since late April, but some fear coming forward given the country's lingering homophobia. The outbreak threatens to test a virus strategy that has gained praise around the world for containing the virus without strict lockdown measures or disruption.

"It's now proven that the epidemic has a very long tail," Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, said on state television earlier this week.

There's a growing consensus that the virus won't just go away, unlike its close cousin that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003 that infected some 8,000 people in Asia.

People who contracted SARS were immediately and visibly ill, and once they were quarantined for treatment, transmission was halted. But the new coronavirus manifests in many people with few, no, or uncommon symptoms, thus ensuring that hidden chains of transmission endure and cases will likely spike seasonally, like with the flu.

Moreover, people infected with SARS were not contagious during the virus's incubation period or even in their early days of being sick. In contrast, the new virus doesn't necessarily make people sick but can easily transmit while it is still incubating, making early detection and containment difficult.

"We have to find ways to live with the virus for now, and this is the new normal," said Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization's regional director for the western pacific in a briefing on Thursday. "As long as the virus is circulating in this inter-connected world, and until we have a safe and effective vaccine, everybody remains at risk."

More than a hundred vaccines are in development globally, but experts say it could take at least a year until any are ready for use.

Complicating containment efforts, second waves are proving even harder to trace. It remains a mystery to epidemiologists in China how a 45-year-old laundry worker at a local police station in the northern Chinese city of Shulan became infected earlier this month, setting off a chain of over 20 infections.

According to the China CDC's Wu, she may not even be the first infection in the chain given differing incubation periods. "The laundry woman could have fallen sick after two to three days while the real source is only sick after seven or eight days," he said. "In that case it's very hard to tell exactly who infected whom."

Health officials are now conducting genetic sequencing for the virus obtained from the new cluster of patients and will compare it with the strain found in infected travelers returning from Russia to determine if they're related, according to Wu.

There's also suspicion that the cluster could stem from North Korea given the area's proximity to China's border with the reclusive nation. North Korea has yet to confirm any Covid-19 infections, but the U.S. military said it suspects there are cases, and Kim Jong Un's regime has accepted help from other nations to fight the virus.

South Korea has been widely lauded for controlling its outbreak without resorting to oppressive restrictions over its people. But its envied strategy of mass and rapid testing - which slows the virus's spread while keeping mortality low -- may have now reached its limit.
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Coronavirus to leave a legacy of unprecedented global debt
(Reuters) - Enormous doses of stimulus spending are offering relief from coronavirus damage but their lifelong legacy of debt could seed future crises by hobbling economic growth and worsening poverty, especially in developing countries.

Central banks and governments worldwide have unleashed at least $15 trillion of stimulus via bond-buying and budget spending to cushion the blow of a global recession tipped to be the worst since the 1930s.

But the steps will pile even more debt on countries already struggling with the aftermath of the 2008-9 financial crisis — total global debt has risen $87 trillion since 2007, and governments, with $70 trillion, accounted for the lion’s share of that increase, the Institute of International Finance estimates (IIF).

This year alone may see the global debt-GDP ratio rise by 20 percentage points to 342%, the group said, based on 3% economic contraction and a doubling in government borrowing from 2019.

Taking on that kind of debt doesn’t go unpunished: the most pain will be in highly indebted states, whether relatively wealthy ones such as Italy, or those such as Zambia which were already under strain before the virus hit and are now careering towards default.

But not even the richest will be spared. Rising debt could lose Germany and the United States their triple-A credit ratings, while governments will increasingly rely on central banks to keep borrowing costs in check or even directly finance spending for years to come.

“Historically, whenever countries step up debt levels, things change,” said Mike Kelly, global head of multi-asset at PineBridge Investments. “This crisis...has taken us back to the slow-growth trap that we had just started to shake off in 2016-2019.”

The challenge for policymakers in coming years will be to find a way to “grow into this massive debt-GDP structure we’ve found ourselves in almost overnight,” he predicted.

For now, with the world economy staring at a 5-6% contraction this year, the additional borrowing and spending is a lifeline. The International Monetary Fund estimates public deficits as a percentage of national income will jump to almost 10% this year from just under 4% in 2019.

Even European powerhouse Germany is taking on new debt for the first time since 2013, while the U.S. Treasury’s second quarter borrowing will amount to almost $3 trillion — more than five times the previous record.

U.S. federal debt held by the public, a gauge tracked by the Congressional Budget Office, will rise to 100% of GDP this year - levels last seen in the 1940s - and approach 125% by 2030, Deutsch Bank calculates. It was 79% in the 2019 fiscal year.

Eventually though, debt can drag on economic growth if countries start to spend more and more of their annual income on paying creditors, a position developing countries have endured time and again.

Accelerating economic growth in those circumstances is like “trying to fly when we were already carrying a lot of debt and now we are adding more,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría told an FT online conference this week.


Low interest rates will allow some countries to live with higher debt. Japan’s debt for instance exceeds 200% of GDP but it prints money to issue debt which the central bank then buys.

“The ability to control interest rates and keep rates low is a key parameter for keeping debt servicing costs low and we expect that to continue,” said Eric Brard, head of fixed income at Amundi.

The trend will gather pace in the United States and Europe too, with central banks soaking up much of the excess debt.

But in some countries, average GDP growth has crawled along well below interest rates for years, meaning debt ratios were rising relentlessly even before coronavirus hit.

Italy, for instance, has not benefited from five years of low interest rates, noted Kevin Thozet, a member of the investment committee at Carmignac.

“Italy’s debt, at around 135% of GDP, is likely to rise to around 170% — those levels are not sustainable so it either needs rapid growth or debt mutualistation,” he said.

He was referring to the idea of pooling European risk across all member states, something wealthier countries are resisting.

According to Pictet Asset Management, Greece had the worst debt sustainability at the end of 2019 among developed countries, followed by Italy, Japan, Belgium and Britain.

However, Italy and other southern European states have the might of the European Central Bank backstopping their borrowing, a luxury most developing countries lack.

Central banks in about a dozen emerging economies have started their own quantitative easing programmes. Yet without big domestic savings pools, most rely on foreign investors to cover balance of payment deficits and underpin currencies.

That, along with inflation risks, constrain how much money they can print to support growth. Bond buying programmes in Brazil or South Africa could see real interest rates at the back end of the yield curve push up sharply, said Manik Narain, head of EM strategy at UBS.

“How can South Africa service debt at 10%? This debt becomes unsustainable and creates a crisis - at best it will pull GDP growth down,” he said.

The dynamics could put some developing economies on track for another devaluation and inflation cycle, said analysts.

“Worryingly some large developing economies – Turkey, Brazil, South Africa – are heading in this direction,” said Andres Sanchez Balcazar, Head of Global Bonds at Pictet Asset Management.

Some countries such as Brazil and South Africa have for years grappled with annual growth below 2%, while interest rates were as high as 14.25% and 7% respectively.

BofA calculates public debt could hit 77.2% of GDP by year-end in Brazil and 64.9% in South Africa. A decade ago, they were around 61% and 35% respectively, IMF data showed.

Rising debt levels in turn raise borrowing costs for such issuers, noted Edith Siermann, head of fixed income solutions at NN Investment Partners.

“The long-term worry is - who is going to pay for this?
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Asia virus latest: Aussie jails report drugs spike; China warned of second wave

Here are the latest developments in Asia related to the coronavirus pandemic:

- Virus takes toll on Bangladesh police -

More than 2,000 police officers in Bangladesh have been infected with the coronavirus after tens of thousands were deployed around the country to enforce a lockdown, officials told AFP.

A police source said at least eight police had died and 2,384 have been infected with the virus.

- Park wins 'virus-proofed' LPGA tournament -

The world's first big-purse post-coronavirus golf tournament wrapped up in South Korea, marked by a ban on spectators and stringent safety measures.

Players in the Korean LPGA Championship -- featuring three of the world's top ten women -- had to wear masks before and after their rounds, but could choose whether or not to do so during play, with most deciding against.

Park Hyun-kyung, the 20-year-old champion who took home $180,000 in winnings, was congratulated by her mask-wearing peers with elbow-bumps instead of handshakes.

- Aussie jails see spike in 'special deliveries' -

Prisons in Australia have seen a spike in drugs intercepted in mail since the coronavirus outbreak saw visits suspended, with substances concealed in letters, cards and even a child's painting, officials said.

Corrective Services NSW, which operates prisons in Australia's most populous state, said contraband had been seized from 135 mail items in April -- compared to a monthly average of around 22 in 2019.

- Long queues as Thai malls reopen -

Shoppers flocked to Thailand's top-end malls, eager for retail therapy in a gradual easing of restrictions to revive the virus-ravaged economy.

Hundreds of masked customers passed through temperature checks, disinfection stations, and had their photos taken before they were allowed into plush malls in Bangkok.

- Nepal police fire live rounds as Indian farmers try to cross border -

Nepal's police fired live rounds into the air to deter Indian farmers trying to cross the border to harvest corn during the coronavirus lockdown, an official said.

Nearly 150 Indians who rent land in Jhapa district in far-east Nepal -- which borders India's Bihar and West Bengal states -- tried to force their way across on Saturday, district chief Udaya Bahadur Ranamagar told AFP.

Nepal closed its 1,850-kilometre (1,150-mile) border with India on March 22 amid the pandemic, before imposing a nationwide lockdown two days later.

- Top official warns of second wave in China -

A top Chinese medical official said the country faces a potential second wave of coronavirus infections due to a lack of immunity among its population.

"The majority of... Chinese at the moment are still susceptible of the Covid-19 infection, because (of) a lack of immunity," Zhong Nanshan, the public face of the government's response to the pandemic, told CNN.

"We are facing (a) big challenge," Zhong added. "It's not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment."

- Hamster tests show masks reduce coronavirus spread: scientists -

Tests on hamsters reveal the widespread use of facemasks reduces transmission of the deadly coronavirus, a team of leading experts in Hong Kong said.

The research by the University of Hong Kong is some of the first to specifically investigate whether masks can stop symptomatic and asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers from infecting others.

Surgical masks were placed between the two cages with air flow travelling from the infected animals to the healthy ones.

The researchers found non-contact transmission of the virus could be reduced by more than 60% when the masks were used.
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Coronavirus: Over 100 million in China's north-east thrown back under lockdown

(BLOOMBERG) - Some 108 million people in China's north-east region are being plunged back under lockdown conditions as a new and growing cluster of infections causes a backslide in the nation's return to normal.

In an abrupt reversal of the reopening taking place across the nation, cities in Jilin province have cut off trains and buses, shut schools and quarantined tens of thousands of people.

The strict measures have dismayed many residents who had thought the worst of the nation's epidemic was over.

People "are feeling more cautious again", said Ms Fan Pai, who works at a trading company in Shenyang, a city in nearby Liaoning province that's also facing renewed restrictions.

"Children playing outside are wearing masks again" and healthcare workers are walking around in protective gear, she said.

"It's frustrating because you don't know when it will end."

While the cluster of 34 infections isn't growing as quickly as the outbreak in Wuhan which started the global pandemic last December, China's swift and powerful reaction reflects its fear of a second wave after it curbed the virus' spread at great economic and social cost.

It's also a sign of how fragile the reopening process will be in China and elsewhere as even the slightest hint of a resurgence of infections could prompt a return to strict lockdown.

The government of Shulan, a city in Jilin, said on WeChat on Monday (May 18) it would put in place its strictest measures yet to contain the virus.

Residential compounds with confirmed or suspected cases will be closed off, with only one person from each family allowed to leave to purchase essentials for two hours every two days.

Mr Shen Jia, a Shenyang-based salesman at a life sciences company, cancelled a three-day business trip to Jilin city last week because he would have been quarantined for as long as 21 days on his return.
A state-owned restaurant he visited last week separated his party of three because only two people were allowed at each table, a restriction that had been eased weeks ago before being reinstated.

"You can feel that control is stricter," he said.

People "have been more careful and reduced outdoor activities".

A sense of deja vu is permeating Jilin city, which underwent the same strict lockdown implemented in most of China in February and March despite only reporting daily cases in the single digits then.

Overall, Jilin province's total cases stand at 127; Hubei province had 68,000.

Still, delivery services have been mostly halted and anti-fever medication is banned at drugstores to prevent people from hiding their symptoms.

The tension has spread to nearby areas, even if no cases have been reported officially in those places yet.

"Everyone is jittery," said Mr Wang Yuemei, a pharmaceutical factory worker in neighbouring Tonghua.

"I never ever expected Jilin province to be a hard-hit area when the whole country is getting back to normal now."

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UK aims to roll out coronavirus vaccine for 30 million Britons by September

The U.K. could roll out 30 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine as early as September, according to the British government.

In an announcement on Sunday, the government said the U.K. would be the first country to be given access to a vaccine being developed at Oxford University, should it prove successful in clinical trials.

The university announced in April that it had entered a licensing agreement with AstraZeneca, which would see the pharmaceutical giant manufacture and distribute the vaccine globally.

At the time, AstraZeneca said researchers at the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group would know by July whether their vaccine – which began human trials on April 24 – was effective in preventing Covid-19 infections

Most experts agree that it would take between 12 to 18 months for a safe-to-use vaccine to be rolled out to the market.

U.K. Business Secretary Alok Sharma unveiled £65.5 million ($79 million) in fresh government funding for the project on Sunday, with the government announcing that AstraZeneca would work to make up to 30 million doses of the vaccine available for people in the U.K. by September if trials were successful.

The September roll out would come as part of an agreement with AstraZeneca to deliver 100 million doses in total across Britain.
Equitable access

Some countries have voiced concerns that research around Covid-19 vaccines and treatments could develop into an international arms race.

Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, told CNBC last week that “some countries see it as an arms race,” adding that the development of any potential treatment should be internationally collaborative.

Meanwhile, an official from Germany’s health authority said developing a vaccine was an international effort and no country should get preferential access to an effective inoculation.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday that equal access to any vaccine was “non-negotiable,” after Paul Hudson, CEO of French pharma firm Sanofi, told Bloomberg the U.S. had the biggest right to pre-order its potential vaccine because the country was “invested in taking the risk.”

Experts have warned that even if an effective vaccine becomes available, significant logistical challenges will remain around distributing enough doses for the global population.

In a statement on Sunday, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said the company was working to establish parallel supply agreements with other nations and multilateral organizations “to ensure fair and equitable access around the world.”

A spokesman for the company told CNBC on Monday that AstraZeneca was working with a number of partners to establish a supply chain “in record time,” which would allow the firm to distribute the vaccine globally at no profit for the duration of the pandemic.

“We will make every effort we can to deliver these doses while at the same time working on parallel supply chains to supply the rest of the world,” he said.

Phase three clinical trials of Oxford’s vaccine are set to begin in the U.K. at the end of May, with results expected by late summer – but AstraZeneca’s spokesman emphasized that the vaccine’s success could not be guaranteed.

“We are hopeful that it will be safe and effective, but we need to wait for the results of the clinical trial program,” he said.

“Development of a vaccine can take many years and we are trying to do this in less than nine months. This is a massive and complex effort to develop the vaccine at speed and scale production to hundreds of millions of doses in record time.”
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Re: New York Times front page lists 1,000 coronavirus deaths
« Reply #46 on: Yesterday at 04:19:08 PM »
New York Times Marks Grim US Virus Milestone With Front Page Victim List
US President Donald Trump, with an eye on his re-election prospects in November, has pressed for a further reopening of the country as job losses mount and the economy slows from coronavirus shutdowns.

As the United States approached  100,000 coronavirus deaths, The New York Times on Sunday marked the grim milestone with a stark memorial on its front page -- one-line obituaries for 1,000 victims.

"The 1,000 people here reflect just one percent of the toll. None were mere numbers," the newspaper said in a short introduction on the front page, which was entirely covered in text.

The United States has been the hardest-hit country in the coronavirus pandemic by far, in deaths and number of infections.

As of Saturday evening, the US had recorded 97,048 deaths and 1.6 million cases of the virus, and will likely reach 100,000 fatalities in a matter of days.

Victims featured by the Times included "Joe Diffie, 62, Nashville, Grammy-winning country music star," and "Lila A. Fenwick, 87, New York City, first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law School."

Also: "Myles Coker, 69, New York City, freed from life in prison," "Ruth Skapinok, 85, Roseville, Calif., backyard birds were known to eat from her hand," and "Jordan Driver Haynes, 27, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, generous young man with a delightful grin."

Marc Lacey, the paper's national editor, said, "I wanted something that people would look back on in 100 years to understand the toll of what we're living through."

The milestone of 100,000 deaths loomed as US states across the country ease lockdown measures.

President Donald Trump, with an eye on his re-election prospects in November, has pressed for a further reopening of the country as job losses mount and the economy slows from coronavirus shutdowns.

"TRANSITION TO GREATNESS," Trump tweeted Saturday evening, his slogan for the reopening of America.

But many online commentators noted the dissonance between the staggering death toll and Trump's tweet.

George Conway, a frequent critic of Trump and husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, tweeted a the newspaper front page -- alongside a photo of Trump playing golf on Saturday.
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Re: Coronavirus around the globe - worldwide update
« Reply #47 on: Yesterday at 10:42:11 PM »
Coronavirus: worldwide update

The number of deaths in the United States from the new coronavirus reached 96,002, a rise of 1,852, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Saturday.

It also reported 1,595,885 cases, an increase of 24,268 from its previous count.

- Lawmakers from Britain's ruling Conservative Party on Sunday called for the resignation of Dominic Cummings, the senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson who travelled 400 km to northern England during the coronavirus lockdown.

- Americans flocked to beaches and outdoor areas on Saturday, snarling roadways and forcing some closures on the Memorial Day weekend after weeks in lockdown.

In Destin, Florida, The Back Porch restaurant was full. In Arizona, holidaymakers flooded Interstate-17, causing a 15-mile backup on the highway used to reach some of the desert's most beautiful canyons.

President Donald Trump played golf at his Trump National club in northern Virginia.


- More than 5.27 million people were reported to have been infected globally with the virus and 339,267 have died, according to a Reuters tally.


- Russia on Sunday reported 153 coronavirus deaths over the previous 24 hours, the epidemic's highest daily toll there, raising total fatalities to 3,541, its coronavirus crisis response centre said. It also said 8,599 new cases had been documented, fewer than on the previous day, pushing the nationwide tally of infections to 344,481.

- The University of Oxford's Covid-19 vaccine trial has only a 50% chance of success as the coronavirus seems to be fading rapidly in Britain, the professor co-leading the development of the vaccine told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Adrian Hill, director of Oxford's Jenner Institute, which has teamed up with drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc to develop the vaccine, said that an upcoming trial involving 10,000 volunteers threatened to return "no result" due to low transmission of Covid-19 in the community.

- First indications of the effectiveness of a potential vaccine against coronavirus may be available in the autumn, the head of the GAVI vaccine alliance told a Swiss newspaper, forecasting a long road from there to broad availability.

- Spain will reopen its borders to tourists in July and its top soccer division will kick off again in June, the prime minister said, marking another phase in the easing of one of the world's strictest lockdowns. Pedro Sanchez's announcements coincided with calls for his resignation over the lockdown's impact on the economy from the far-right Vox party, which called protests in cities across Spain drawing thousands of horn-blaring cars and motorbikes.

- Police arrested about 60 protesters on Saturday as part of city-wide demonstrations against restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, German newspaper Tagesspiegel reported. The protesters had violated official guidelines to keep the virus contained, and some had attacked police officials, the newspaper said.


- Mexican health authorities registered 3,329 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 190 new deaths, a health official said on Saturday, bringing the total number to 65,856 cases and 7,179 deaths.

- Argentina extended until June 7 a mandatory lockdown in Buenos Aires on Saturday and tightened some movement restrictions, after a steady increase in the city's confirmed coronavirus cases in recent days.


- Three large Indian states have sought to delay the planned opening of their airports on Monday as new cases of the novel coronavirus jumped, complicating the federal government's plan to resume flights after a two-month lockdown.

India registered 6,767 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, its biggest 24 hour rise yet, taking the total to over 131,000.

- The Philippines' tally of coronavirus cases surpassed 14,000 on Sunday and the number of fatalities rose to 868, the health ministry said.

- China recorded no new confirmed Covid-19 cases on the mainland for May 22, the first time it had seen no daily rise in the number of cases since the pandemic began in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

- Coronavirus cases in Singapore topped 30,000 as the city-state reported hundreds of new infections in cramped migrant worker dormitories every day. In Malaysia, a new cluster of coronavirus infections has broken out in Malaysia at a detention centre for undocumented migrants, authorities said.


- Finance minister Mohammed al Jadaan said Saudi Arabia's economy is solid and has the ability to deal with the coronavirus crisis despite the need to cut spending.

- A 107-year-old Iranian woman who was infected with the new coronavirus has recovered, Iran's Fars news agency reported.

- Zambia's information minister Dora Siliya said she had tested positive for the coronavirus but was asymptomatic and had gone into self-isolation.

"Even after taking all precautions...yesterday I did test positive for Covid-19," she said on social media.


- Chinese lenders could post flat or even falling profits in 2020 despite earnings growth in the first quarter as the coronavirus outbreak brings difficulties to the economy, the central bank said. For the first quarter of 2020, China's commercial banks realized net profits of 600.1 billion yuan ($84.2 billion), up 5% year-on-year, mainly due to the expansion of banks' assets and lower management costs, according to an article by the research bureau of the People's Bank of China.

The possibility could not be ruled out that banks could log zero or even negative profit growth within 2020, due to mounting bad loans and a fast draining of cash buffers, as the difficulties in the real economy spills over into the financial area, the PBOC said.

- Car rental firm Hertz Global Holdings Inc filed for bankruptcy protection after its business was decimated during the coronavirus pandemic and talks with creditors failed to result in much needed relief. The firm is reeling from government orders restricting travel and requiring citizens to remain home.
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Japan wins virus fight by ignoring rulebook

No lockdowns, no mass testing and a toothless state of emergency. So what did they do right?

Japan’s state of emergency is nearing its end with new cases of the coronavirus dwindling to mere dozens. It got there despite largely ignoring the default playbook.

No restrictions were placed on residents’ movements, and businesses from restaurants to hairdressers stayed open. No high-tech apps that tracked people’s movements were deployed. The country doesn’t have a centre for disease control.

And even as nations were exhorted to “test, test, test”, Japan has tested just 0.2% of its population — one of the lowest rates among developed countries.

Yet the curve has been flattened, with just 17,000 cases and 826 deaths in a country of 126 million — by far the best numbers among the Group of Seven developed nations.

In Tokyo, the country’s dense centre, cases have dropped to single digits on most days. While the possibility of a more severe second wave of infection is ever-present, Japan has lifted its state of emergency — a legally toothless set of "suggestions" — for most of the country and is likely to exit completely as early as Monday.

Analysing just how Japan defied the odds and contained the virus while disregarding the playbook used by other successful countries has become a national conversation. Only one thing is agreed on: that there was no silver bullet, no one factor that made the difference.

“Just by looking at death numbers, you can say Japan was successful,” said Mikihito Tanaka, a professor at Waseda University specialising in science communication. “But even experts don’t know the reason.”

One widely shared list assembled 43 possible reasons cited in media reports, ranging from a culture of mask-wearing and a famously low obesity rate to the relatively early decision to close schools.

Among the more fanciful suggestions include a claim Japanese speakers emit fewer potentially virus-laden droplets when talking compared to other languages.

Contact Tracing

Experts consulted by Bloomberg News also suggested a myriad of factors that contributed to the outcome, and none could point to a singular policy package that could be replicated in other countries.

Nonetheless, these measures still offer long-term lessons for countries in the middle of pandemic that may yet last for years.

An early grassroots response to rising infections was crucial. While the central government has been criticised for its slow policy steps, experts praise the role of Japan’s contact tracers, which swung into action after the first infections were found in January.

The fast response was enabled by one of Japan’s inbuilt advantages — its public health centres, which in 2018 employed more than half of 50,000 public health nurses who are experienced in infection tracing. In normal times, these nurses would be tracking down more common infections such as influenza and tuberculosis.

“It’s very analogue — it’s not an app-based system like Singapore,” said Kazuto Suzuki, a professor of public policy at Hokkaido University who has written about Japan’s response. “But nevertheless, it has been very useful.”

While countries such as the US and the UK are just beginning to hire and train contact tracers as they attempt to reopen their economies, Japan has been tracking the movement of the disease since the first handful of cases were found.

These local experts focused on tackling clusters, or groups of infections from a single location such as clubs or hospitals, to contain cases before they got out of control.

“Many people say we don’t have a Centers for Disease Control in Japan,” said Yoko Tsukamoto, a professor of infection control at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, citing a frequently held complaint about Japan’s infection management. “But the public health centre is a kind of local CDC.”

'Burning Car'

The early response was also boosted by an unlikely happening. Japan’s battle with the virus first came to mainstream international attention with its much-criticised response to the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February that led to hundreds of infections.

Still, the experience of the ship is credited with providing Japanese experts with invaluable data early in the crisis on how the virus spread, as well as catapulting it into the public consciousness.

Other countries still saw the virus as someone else’s problem, said Tanaka. But in Japan, the international scrutiny over the infections onboard and the pace at which the virus raced throughout the ship raised awareness and recognition that the same can happen across the country, he said. “For Japan, it was like having a burning car right outside your house.”

Although political leadership was criticised as lacking, that allowed doctors and medical experts to come to the fore — typically seen as a best practice in managing public health emergencies. “You could say that Japan has had an expert-led approach, unlike other countries,” Tanaka said.

Experts are also credited with creating an easy-to-understand message of avoiding what are called the “Three C’s” — closed spaces, crowded spaces and close-contact settings — rather than keeping away from others entirely.

“Social distancing may work, but it doesn’t really help to continue normal social life,” said Hokkaido University’s Suzuki. “The ‘Three C’s’ are a much more pragmatic approach and very effective, while having a similar effect.”

Different Strain

Infectious disease experts also pointed to other determinants, with Shigeru Omi, the deputy head of the expert panel advising the Japanese government and a former chief of the WHO Western Pacific office, citing Japanese people’s health consciousness as possibly the most important factor.

The possibility that the virus strain spreading in Japan may have been different, and less dangerous, to that faced by other nations, has also been raised.

Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US studied coronavirus variants in a database and found one strain of the virus spreading through Europe that had several mutations distinguishing it from the Asian version, according to a paper put in early May.

Although the study has not been peer-reviewed and drawn some criticism, the findings point to a need to more thoroughly study how the virus changes.

Large questions still remain over the true extent of the pathogen’s spread. In April, a Tokyo hospital conducted tests on a handful of non-Covid patients and found that around 7% had the coronavirus, showing the danger of missing asymptomatic or mild carriers that can become the source of an outbreak.

An antibody test on 500 people in the capital suggested the true outbreak could be nearly 20 times larger than figures have shown. Analogue contact tracing breaks down when infection numbers are high, and reports of people unable to get tested or even medical treatment for Covid-like symptoms peppered social media during the height of the outbreak.

And the fact remains that Japan’s response was less than perfect. While the overall population is much smaller, Asian neighbours such as Taiwan had just seven confirmed deaths from the virus, while Vietnam had none.

“You can’t say the Japan response was amazing,” said Norio Sugaya, a visiting professor at Keio University’s School of Medicine in Tokyo and a member of a World Health Organization panel advising on pandemic influenza. “If you look at the other Asian countries, they all had a death rate that was about 1/100th of Western countries.”

Buying Time

While Japan may have avoided the worst of the health outcomes, the loose lockdown hasn’t protected the country from the economic impact. Its economy, already dealing with the impact of a sales tax hike in October, officially slid into recession in the first three months of the year.

Economists have warned the second quarter will be the worst on record, and the specter of deflation, which haunted the economy for decades, once again looms. Tourist numbers plummeted 99.9% in April after the country shut its borders, putting the brakes on a booming industry that had promised to be a growth driver for years. As in other countries, bankruptcies have risen sharply.

Even with the end of the state of emergency in sight, authorities are warning that life will not return to normal. When case numbers slowed in early March, there was public optimism that the worst was over — only for cases to spike again and trigger the emergency declaration.

If a deadlier second wave does follow, the risk factor in Japan, which has the world’s oldest population, remains high. The country has speedily approved Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir and is now scrambling to allow the use of still unproven Fujifilm antiviral Avigan. There are calls for the country to use the time it has bought itself to shore up its testing and learn in the way its neighbours did from Sars and Mers.

Officials have begun to speak of a phase in which people “live with the virus”, with a recognition that Japan’s approach has no possibility of wiping out the pathogen.

“We have to assume that the second wave could be much worse than the first wave and prepare for it,” said Yoshihito Niki, a professor of infectious diseases at Showa University’s School of Medicine. “If the next explosion of cases is worse, the medical system will break down.”
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