China fights new infections, Japan cases rise

BANGKOK (AP) — China on Saturday reported 27 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, as it tries to stem an upsurge in infections in a northeastern province bordering Russia.

Twenty of the new cases were in Heilongjiang province, including 13 Chinese nationals who had returned recently from Russia. The land border with Russia has been closed.

China’s official death toll rose sharply to 4,632, reflecting a major upwards revision the previous day by authorities in Wuhan, the nation’s hardest-hit city.

The latest confirmed cases brought the total to 82,719, of which 77,029 have recovered and been discharged, the National Health Commission said.

Eighteen officials in Heilongjiang province have been punished for failures in their response to the outbreak, state media reported Friday. They include the deputy mayor of Harbin, the provincial capital, and a vice president of Harbin Medical University. They were given warnings or demerits in their personnel files.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— CHINA RAMPS UP SPENDING: The top leaders of China’s ruling Communist Party called for steps to pump up the economy after the biggest downturn since the 1960s in the first three months of this year. A Politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping said Friday that the government must offset the impact of the epidemic with deficit spending and special bond issues. The world’s second-largest economy shrank by 6.8% from a year earlier in the first quarter of 2020. The Politburo meeting said the country’s economic development faces unprecedented challenges, but also that factory production and other work are gradually returning to normal.

— AUSTRALIAN APP NOT MANDATORY: Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a mobile phone app to help trace people who have been in contact with an infected person will not be mandatory. Morrison tweeted the government will be seeking the “cooperation and support” of Australians to download the app to help health workers and protect the community. In an interview on Friday, Morrison appeared not to rule out making the software mandatory if not enough Australians signed up to make it effective. Media reports suggested the app needed 40% of Australian users to sign up to make it work effectively. The government is planning to launch the app within several weeks. It will trace every person who has been in contact with a mobile phone owner who has tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous few weeks, in a bid to automate contact tracing and allow the easing of restrictions.

— JAPAN NUMBERS STILL GROWING: Japan has recorded 556 new cases of the coronavirus, surpassing the total of 10,000 about three months after the first case was detected. Nearly one-third of the domestic cases come from Tokyo, where the daily surge has overburdened hospitals, triggering fears of the collapse of the medical system. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week expanded his April 7 state of emergency in Tokyo and six urban prefectures to all of Japan. In a a news conference Friday, Abe expressed concern that people were not observing social distancing. He announced a 100,000-yen ($930) cash handout to each resident as an incentive to stay at home, especially ahead of “golden week” holidays at the end of April.

— LOWEST DAILY RISE IN SOUTH KOREA: South Korea has reported 18 new cases of the coronavirus, its lowest daily jump since Feb. 20, continuing a downward trend. Saturday's figures brought national totals to 10,653 cases and 232 virus-related deaths. Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip called for vigilance to maintain the hard-won gains, raising concern over continuing infections at hospitals and local transmissions health workers are unable to trace. While dismissing a quick return to normalcy, Kim said officials could announce new guidelines to replace the social distancing campaign to allow people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity.”

— NO MORE FOREIGNERS QUARANTINED IN NORTH KOREA: North Korea said it has released all foreign nationals from coronavirus quarantine. The official Korean Central News Agency also said Saturday authorities released all citizens who had been quarantined in the provinces of South Phyongan and North Hwanghae, which are near capital Pyongyang, and the city of Rason at a tripoint bordering China and Russia. The report didn’t specify how many people remained under the country’s 30-day quarantine. Figures from previous state media reports suggest the North would have released close to 10,000 people over the past weeks. KCNA said officials are continuing to strengthen “medical monitoring” of its citizens while ensuring normal activity for those released from quarantine. The North has said there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, but the claim is questioned by many outside experts.


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April 18, 2020