The Latest: Japan prepping Tokyo hotel to help hospital load
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:
— Japan preparing Tokyo hotel for patients with little coronavirus symptoms
— India to lift ban on export of hydroxychloroquine, other drugs after Trump threat
— New Zealand health minister punished after violating lockdown
— Hong Kong to remain closed to foreigners indefinitely
— G20 leaders urged to approve $8 billion in funding for coronavirus vaccine
— China is reporting no coronavirus deaths over last 24 hours
TOKYO — Japan’s Defense Ministry said it has sent a group of soldiers to a Tokyo hotel to prepare rooms for COVID-19 patients with no or slight symptoms to stay.
It is an attempt to relieve overburdened hospitals and save beds for patients with more serious symptoms as Tokyo sees the number of cases surge. The Defense Ministry said 10 soldiers were to support the transfer of the patients, deliver meals and provide other assistance.
The measure, under the health ministry’s new medical care guideline for the coronavirus, is designed to relieve overburdened hospitals amid a growing fear of a medical system collapse. Monday’s pilot case began at Toyoko Inn, where about 100 people can stay in single rooms while being monitored.
The step comes hours before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures later Tuesday to bolster social-distancing measures in the hard-hit areas.
Tokyo has seen a surge of new cases since late March, with its city total doubling every few days to 1,116 as of Monday, a sign experts say of an infection explosion. Nationwide, Japan has 4,618 cases including 712 from a cruise ship.
NEW DELHI — India says it will lift a ban on some drug exports including hydroxychloroquine after President Donald Trump threatened retaliation if India failed to send the anti-malarial drug to the United States.
Foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement Tuesday that having confirmed sufficient supplies for India’s needs, export restrictions “have been largely lifted.”
The White House has been championing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, even though it hasn’t been proven effective against the disease. The drug is officially approved in the U.S. for treating malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and experts warn it can cause heart rhythm problems.
Trump has said that he spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week about lifting the ban, and in a news conference Monday said that he would be surprised if Modi didn’t comply.
“If he doesn’t allow it to come out, that would be OK, but of course there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?” Trump said.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s health minister has described himself as an “idiot” and has been stripped of some responsibilities after breaching the country’s strict lockdown measures.
David Clark drove about 12 miles to the beach to take a walk with his family. He said that at a time when the government was asking New Zealanders to make historic sacrifices by staying at home, he had let them down.
“I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me,” he said in a statement.
Clark had earlier admitted to driving to a park near his home to go mountain biking.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said under normal circumstances, she would sack Clark. But she said the country couldn’t afford massive disruption in its health sector while it was fighting the virus. Instead, she said, she was stripping Clark of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoting him to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.
New Zealand is nearly halfway through a planned four-week lockdown aimed at minimizing the spread of the virus.
Hong Kong will continue to be closed to foreigners, extending the initial two-week entry restrictions on non-residents indefinitely.
Non-residents coming from overseas to Hong Kong by plane will be denied entry, and those coming from mainland China, Macao and Taiwan will be barred from entering if they have been overseas in the past 14 days.
The move to continue shutting out foreigners was announced by the government on Monday, and comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong rose to 915. Hong Kong has seen a rise in the number of imported cases in the city, and its confirmed cases has more than doubled in the last two weeks.
On Sunday, Hong Kong’s airport saw only 813 arrivals, a drop of close to 82% compared to before the restrictions were put in place on March 24.
Hong Kong’s entry restrictions exempt certain groups, including aircraft crew, government officials on duty, spouses and minor children of Hong Kong residents as well as personnel engaged by the government in anti-epidemic work.
UNITED NATIONS — More than 160 current and former global leaders and other VIPs are urging the world’s 20 major industrialized nations to approve $8 billion in emergency global health funding to hasten the search for a vaccine, cure and treatment for COVID-19 and prevent a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
In an open letter to governments of the Group of 20 nations released Monday night, the leaders, ministers, top executives and scientists also called for $35 billion to support countries with weaker health systems and especially vulnerable populations, and at least $150 billion for developing countries to fight the medical and economic crisis.
They also urged the international community to waive this year’s debt repayments from poorer countries, including $44 billion due from Africa,
While the communique from the G20 leaders’ summit on March 26 recognized the gravity and urgency of the health and economic crisis sparked by the pandemic, the letter said “we now require urgent specific measures that can be agreed on with speed and at scale.”
The group called for a global pledging conference, coordinated by a G20 task force, to commit resources to meet the emergency needs to tackle COVID-19.
The 165 signatories included former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, 92 former presidents and prime ministers, the current prime ministers of Ethiopia and Bangladesh, Sierra Leone’s president, philanthropist George Soros, former Irish president Mary Robinson who chairs The Elders, and Graca Machel, the group’s deputy chair.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean officials are considering using electronic wristbands to monitor the growing number of people placed under self-quarantine to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho on Tuesday said such devices were one of several measures discussed by officials as they search for “practical and effective ways” to monitor people isolated at homes and facilities.
Yoon acknowledged that wristbands would come with privacy concerns and didn’t offer a specific answer when asked how likely it was that the government would enforce their use.
The number of people placed under quarantine has ballooned since last week when South Korea began enforcing 14-day quarantines on all passengers arriving from overseas to stem a rise in imported infections.
Lee Byeong-cheol, an official from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, said more than 46,500 people were under self-quarantine as of Monday evening, including 38,400 who have recently arrived from abroad. He said the number could eventually reach 80,000 or 90,000.
While quarantined individuals are required to download an app that alerts authorities if they leave their homes or facilities, Yoon said apps aren’t enough when people are slipping out by leaving their smartphones behind or switching off location functions.
Lee said South Korean police are currently investigating more than 70 people over allegations of breaking quarantine.
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president has extended by half a month to April 30 a lockdown that requires millions of people in the country’s main northern region to stay home amid the coronavirus outbreak.
President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday in a late-night TV speech that the government was desperately looking for more funds for a massive cash and food aid intended to prevent the poor from starving to death. There have been appeals for middle-class families to be given emergency aid too, he said.
“If there’s nothing to eat, a human being can be violent especially if he sees his children without food and he’s driven to tears,” Duterte said, adding he has ordered the finance secretary to “steal, borrow, I don’t care,” just to produce more emergency funds.
The government has targeted 18 million low-income families for economic rescue under the lockdown with a 275-billion-peso ($5 billion) budget in the next two months. Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya told foreign correspondents Monday 16.3 billion pesos ($320 million) have been distributed so far.
Duterte demanded that the aid be given more rapidly amid complaints of delays and confusion over who should get it.
The Philippines has reported 3,660 cases of COVID-19 disease, including 163 deaths.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 47 new cases of the coronavirus and six more deaths, bringing its totals to 10,331 infections and 192 fatalities.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said at least 802 of the infections were linked to passengers arriving from abroad amid broadening outbreaks in Europe and the United States. Most of these cases have been detected in the past three weeks, inflating the caseload in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a meeting on anti-virus strategies on Tuesday repeated his public pleas for social distancing and lamented that young people were lining up at clubs and other leisure facilities at risk of becoming “quiet spreaders” of the virus.
While South Korea’s government has shut schools and issued social-distancing guidelines for the public, it has not enforced lockdowns or ordered unessential businesses to close.
BEIJING. — China on Tuesday reported no new deaths from the coronarivus over the past 24 hours and just 32 new cases, all from people who returned from overseas.
Another 12 suspected cases — also all imported — were being kept under observation, along with an additional 30 asymptomatic cases. China now has 1,242 confirmed cases in treatment and 1,033 asymptomatic cases under isolation and monitoring.
The country that gave rise to the global pandemic has recorded 3,331 deaths and 81,740 total cases. Numbers of daily new deaths have been hovering in the single digits for weeks, hitting just one on several occasions.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will brief the U.N. Security Council for the first time on the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, behind closed doors.
The U.N.’s most powerful body has come under criticism for not addressing the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 disease. The council has in the past spoken out on two public health emergencies — HIV/AIDS and Ebola.
The U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution on April 2 recognizing “the unprecedented effects” of the coronavirus pandemic and calling for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the COVID-19 disease. Resolutions of the 193-member world body reflect global opinion but are not legally binding.
Diplomats say the Security Council, whose resolutions are legally binding, is divided between its 10 members who are elected for two-year terms and some of its five permanent members — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.
The elected members have been pressing for a council briefing by Guterres and have circulated a draft resolution on the pandemic. France is drafting a rival text.
Diplomats said the permanent members wanted a summit of their leaders before a council meeting, and were trying to arrange one as late as Monday morning, but that meeting failed to materialize.
The Dominican Republic holds the Security Council presidency this month and its spokesperson informed the media late Monday of Thursday’s closed meeting to hear from the secretary-general.
TORONTO — Manufacturing giant 3M says it has an agreement with the Trump administration that will allow the company to continue to send N95 protective masks to Canada and Latin America.
3M says the company has a plan to produce 166.5 million masks over the next three months to support healthcare workers in the U.S.
President Trump had used his authority under the 1950 Defense Production Act to stop exporting such masks, also known as respirators. The move to block such masks, which are crucial in protecting healthcare workers on both sides of the border from the virus that causes COVID-19, outraged many officials in Canada.
3M issued a statement last week saying that could have “significant humanitarian implications” for healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America. The company had said possible retaliation by other nations could actually lead to fewer of the masks being available in the U.S.
In New York City, nearly 1 in 5 police officers were out sick Monday, many with flu-like symptoms.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the NYPD has a “very deep bench” with about 36,000 officers and won’t need to bring in reinforcements from other agencies, and police officials say there is no imminent need to move to 12-hour shifts.
In all, more than 2,220 people working for the NYPD have tested positive for coronavirus. One detective and a dozen civilian employees have died from the disease.
President Donald Trump said he was saddened to hear British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken into intensive care as he battles the new coronavirus.
“Americans are all praying for his recovery,” Trump said during a White House press briefing. “He’s been a really good friend. He’s been really something very special, strong, resolute, doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up.”
Trump said he asked two “leading companies” to contact officials in London about therapeutics that could be of help.
He did not specifically identify the companies, but said “we have contacted all of Boris’s doctors and we’ll see what’s going to take place but they are ready to go.”
“When you get brought into intensive care, that gets very, very serious with this particular disease.” Trump said.
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