WHO warns against rush to ease virus rules
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— WHO warns rush to ease virus rules could cause resurgence.
— Indonesia bans people from traveling home to celebrate Islamic holiday.
— Australia PM backs call for probe into coronavirus origins and China’s role.
— Japan PM asks citizens to be more diligent about social distancing.
— U.N. General Assembly approves coronavirus resolution.
BANGKOK — The World Health Organization said Tuesday that rushing to ease coronavirus restrictions will likely lead to a resurgence of the illness, a warning that comes as governments start rolling out plans to get their economies up and running again.
“This is not the time to be lax. Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.
He said governments must remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus and the lifting of lockdowns and other social distancing measures must be done gradually and strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function.
“As we move forward in this difficult time, our lives, our health system and approach to stopping transmission must continue to adapt and evolve along with the epidemic, at least until a vaccine or very effective treatment is found. This process will need to become our new normal,” Kasai said.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia President Joko Widodo has banned people in the world’s most populous Muslim nation from traveling back home to celebrate the Islamic holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came amid warnings from health experts of a chance Indonesia will face an outbreak of coronavirus cases that could infect more than a million people following Ramadan, unless the government takes stricter measures in a country home to about 230 million Muslims.
Widodo initially just banned nearly 6 million of the country’s civil servants, soldiers, police officers and state-owned employees from going on the annual exodus known as “mudik” to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the dawn-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan.
In the annual mass exodus, millions of Indonesians usually cram into trains, ferries, cars and planes, resulting in massive traffic jams and fully booked flights.
Last year, about 33 million Indonesians left big cities to visit relatives during the holiday.
Widodo said government surveys that showed a risky 24% of people insisted on returning home for the holiday caused him to issue the ban. He asked his administration to prepare measures in enforcing the restriction.
As of Monday, the nation had reported at least 6,760 infections — including 590 deaths from COVID-19, more fatalities than any Asian country other than China.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister strongly backs his foreign minister’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
China’s Foreign Ministry rejected Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s call on Sunday for an independent review into the origins of the virus, including China’s handling of the initial outbreak.
But on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Payne’s view had his “very, very strong support.”
“Such an inquiry is important," Morrison told reporters.
“It’s important for public health globally that there is a transparency in the way you can get access to this important information early. So it’s not pursued as an issue of criticism, it’s pursued as an issue of importance for public health,” he added.
Australia’s call for transparency comes after U.S. officials revealed intelligence agencies were assessing whether the respiratory virus escaped from a biological laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began.
President Donald Trump has said he instructed his administration to halt funding for the World Health Organization pending a review of its role “in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
PARIS — Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders is sounding the alarm that the coronavirus pandemic poses a threat to freedom of the press around the world.
In its annual evaluation of global media freedoms, the group warned Tuesday that the health crisis could serve as an excuse for governments “to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times.”
SINGAPORE — Singapore’s government has withdrawn a short-lived public awareness campaign on coronavirus measures depicting five comic superheroes after online criticism that it was too frivolous.
Liverpool soccer fans were also angered by the MAWA Man, a safe distancing enforcer described as a Manchester United fan who despises everything Liverpool. He wears an anti-Liverpool costume and his name stands for “Must Always Walk Alone”, a play on Liverpool’s motto “You’ll Never Walk Alone".
The MAWA Man is part of the Virus Vanguards, unveiled by the government Monday, as a teaser for a comic series to help people adhere to the city-state’s lockdown measures. The team includes the Circuit Breaker, Fake News Buster, Dr. Disinfector and Care-leh Dee who each have special powers to help people stay home, keep things clean and not spread rumors.
But by Monday night, the government issued an apology if the campaign was offensive. In a Facebook posting accompanied by blacked-out silhouettes of the superheroes, it said it received “quite a lot of feedback” on the characters and is now reviewing the campaign.
Singapore has recorded 8,014 infections, the highest in Southeast Asia, after an outbreak of cases in the past week among foreign workers. It has reported 11 deaths.
TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed concerns Tuesday that Japanese people haven’t followed social distancing measures as much as they’re supposed to under a state of emergency he declared two weeks ago to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Abe asked citizens to do more to prevent Japanese health care systems from collapsing.
Abe made a stay-at-home request on April 7 to reduce social interactions by as much as 80% in an effort to limit infections. But surveys show movement of people was not down that much at major train stations, and even less in downtown areas where restaurants and grocery stores are still operating.
“Please avoid making out-of-town trips,” Abe said Tuesday. He said hospitals are overburdened already and infections must be slowed. “I seek further cooperation from all of you,” he added.
Abe noted that many people in urban areas made trips out of town last weekend, posing risks of spreading the virus and putting elderly people in jeopardy.
Criticized for being too slow and lax in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, Abe expanded a state of emergency that was initially limited to Tokyo and six urban areas to all of Japan last week to prevent people from traveling as the nation approaches its extended “golden week” holidays later this month.
The number of cases in Japan has topped 11,000, and Tokyo is still reporting more than 100 daily.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution calling for global action to rapidly scale up development, manufacturing and access to medicine, vaccines and medical equipment to confront the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mexican-drafted resolution requests Secretary-General Antonio Guterres work with the World Health Organization and recommend options to ensure timely and equitable access to testing, medical supplies, drugs and future coronavirus vaccines for all in need, especially in developing countries.
It reaffirms the fundamental role of the United Nations system in coordinating the global response to control and contain the spread of COVID-19 and in supporting the 193 U.N. member states, “and in this regard acknowledges the crucial leading role played by the World Health Organization.”
General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande sent a letter to the 193 U.N. member states Monday night saying there were no objections to the resolution and it was therefore adopted.
It is the second resolution on COVID-19 approved by the world body. On April 2, the General Assembly approved a resolution recognizing “the unprecedented effects” of the pandemic and calling for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the virus.
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April 21, 2020