The Latest: Pakistan PM: Rich countries need to relieve debt

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.


— Pakistan PM pleads for richer countries, institutions to provide debt-relief to poor countries

— Sri Lanka announces plans to reopen schools, universities in May

— South Korea vice health minister urges alertness amid slowing spread of virus

— China reports 108 new cases of coronavirus, including 98 from people returning from other countries

— Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticized on social media for ‘stay home’ message

— New Zealand reports fifth death, 19 new cases of coronavirus

— Chinese mask producer rushing to meet demands from overseas amid stricter inspections


ISLAMABAD— Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a global plea directed at the world’s richer countries and international financial institutions to provide debt-relief to poor countries who are being devastated by the battle against the coronavirus, where forced lockdowns to stem its rapid transmission are crippling already wretched economies and causing widespread hunger and misery for the poor.

In Pakistan the government has launched an ambitious program to help the millions of daily wage earners who barely rise to poverty level. The program provides 12,000 rupees (roughly $75) to 10.2 million low income families hit hardest by the countrywide lockdown that has been in effect in Pakistan for nearly one month.

Khan last week relaxed the lockdown to allow the reopening of the construction industry, which employs the vast majority of the country’s daily wage earners. His call for debt-relief made late on Sunday in a televised address was a repeat of a warning he issued last month in an interview with The Associated Press when he said the world’s rich countries will have to look at writing off the back-breaking debts carried by much of the third world.

Pakistan’s total debt load and liabilities according to the independent financial newspaper The Dawn is 41 trillion rupees or roughly $246 billion. Khan said his reliefp ackage to deal with the virus amounts to roughly $8 billion for a population of 220 million. This compares, he said to countries like the United States that announced a $2 trillion package or Germany with a 1 trillion Euro package.

Pakistan so far has 5,374 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with 93 deaths but testing has been slow and so far the country is carrying out about 3,500 tests each day and plans to increase that to 5,500 as more tests become available. That includes thousands from China which has sent plane loads of protective equipment to Pakistan as well as testing machines, ventilators and medical personnel.


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s government has announced plans to reopen schools and universities in May saying that it is confident by present trends that the island nation will be safe from Coronavirus.

Authorities have announced that schools will reopen on May 11 while universities will begin to function gradually from May 4.

It is part of a gradual exit plan from a prolonged countrywide curfew.

Sri Lanka has been under curfew for most part since March 20 to stop the spread of the virus.

The country now has 210 confirmed patients with seven deaths. However doctors say community spreading has so far been prevented because security forces and field health workers have been able to trace and isolate nearly all the people who have been in contact with the patients.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s vice health minister has pleaded people to maintain alertness amid a slowing coronavirus spread, saying a quick return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy is “virtually impossible” considering a constant threat of new transmissions.

Kim Gang-lip’s comments during a government briefing on Monday came as officials discuss converting the country’s weeks-long social distancing campaign into a more sustainable guideline that Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said would allow people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity.”

Kim stressed that the new guideline, which will be announced as early as this week, doesn’t necessarily mean the end of social distancing and that a premature easing of distancing could possibly come at the “irrevocable cost” of triggering a new round of massive transmissions.

South Korea on Monday reported 25 fresh cases of the new coronavirus, its 12th day in a row of below 100 cases, as infections continue to wane in the worst-hit city of Daegu.

While Kim said the slowing caseload was a positive sign, he said the country will have to monitor the affect of Easter weekend and the national parliamentary election that takes place on Wednesday. There has also been concern over transmissions at leisure venues and increased crowds at parks and mass transit, which possibly indicate loosened attitudes toward distancing.

“When the outbreak hit Daegu, it took just one day for daily jumps in fresh cases to increase from 50 to 100 and just about a week until the numbers hit 800 to 900,” Kim said.

“A premature easing (of social distancing) would come at an irrevocable cost, so we should approach the issue very carefully, and invest deep thought into when and how to transition (into a new guideline).”

Government officials have yet to share specific details about the new guideline, but have revealed some basic principles, such as people taking three or four days off from work when sick. Critics say such recommendations would be meaningless unless enforced by law.


BEIJING — China on Monday reported 108 new cases of coronavirus infection, 98 of them imported.

Of the new domestic cases, seven were recorded in the province of Heilongjiang bordering on Russia and three in the southern business bub of Guangzhou. Two more deaths were reported in the former epicenter city of Wuhan, bringing China’s totals since the illness emerged in December to 3,341 deaths among 82,160 official cases.

Most patients in China have recovered and the final travel restrictions in Wuhan were lifted last week. But China has continued to see new cases in travelers arriving from abroad.

Social distancing, temperature checks and other measures remain in effect while businesses are reopening and people resume work and other activities.


TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “stay home” message he tweeted Sunday has drawn angry reactions on social networks from those calling him insensitive to people who cannot rest at home because of the government’s social distancing measures that do not come with compensation.

Some tweets said he acted as if “an aristocrat,” and others said “What does he think he is!”

A one-minute video shows Abe sitting at home, expressionless, cuddling his dog, reading a book, sipping from a cup and clicking on a remote control. The video, on a split screen, features a popular singer and actor Gen Hoshino strumming on a guitar at home, but later posted on his Instagram that his clip was used without his permission.

Abe declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures last Tuesday, asking the people to stay home and reduce human interactions by as much as 80%, but many Japanese companies are slow to switch to remote-working and many people were seen commuting even after the declaration.

As of Sunday, Japan had 7,255 confirmed cases, as well as 712 other cases from a cruise ship quarantined earlier this year.


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand recorded its fifth death from COVID-19 but only 19 new cases Monday as the rate of fresh infections continues to show signs of diminishing.

The latest death, of a man in his 80s, was the third connected with a rest home in Christchurch where several residents and staff are infected.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said 546 people in New Zealand have recovered from the viral illness as the number of people recovering outstrips the number of new infections.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters that New Zealanders cannot expect an early end to the lockdown that includes a ban on public gatherings.

Ardern said people who broke social distancing rules over the Easter holiday weekend put lives at risk.

“It could take one case amongst you to lead to dozens of infections and possibly death,” she said.


TOKYO — Japan had 507 new confirmed cases of the virus for a national total of 7,255, plus 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined earlier this year near Tokyo, with 114 deaths. Tokyo alone had 166 cases, with a prefectural total at 2,068 cases, or about a quarter of the nation’s total. Tokyo is under a state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, along with six other prefectures.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike went ahead and asked non-essential businesses such as hostess bars, movie theaters and schools to close until May 6, with some exceptions, beginning Saturday, but most other prefectures have fallen behind. Saitama, north of Tokyo, started non-essential business closures Monday, and its Gov. Motohiro Ono said he planned to ask the central government financial support for the prefecture’s planned compensation for the business closures.

Abe’s government initially issued a stay at home request in the seven prefectures, and broadened it to nationwide on Saturday, but wants non-business closures to wait until effects of the stay home request are evaluated.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 25 new cases of the coronavirus and three more virus-related deaths, bringing its totals to 10,537 infections and 217 fatalities.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said at least 929 cases were linked to passengers arriving from abroad, with most of them detected over the past three weeks.

South Korea’s caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 new cases a day, but officials have raised concerns over a broader “quiet spread,” pointing to transmissions at bars and other leisure facilities that supposedly indicate eased attitudes toward social distancing.

South Korean Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun during a meeting on anti-virus strategies on Monday said officials are discussing new public guidelines that would allow for people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity” while also maintaining distance to slow the spread of the virus.


BEIJING — China’s foreign ministry says it is working with authorities in the southern province of Guangdong to prevent discriminatory treatment toward people of African heritage amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The statement issued Sunday followed a letter of caution from the U.S. Embassy that police in the province have ordered bars and restaurants not to serve clients who appear to be of African origin and that some hotels and companies have refused to do business with them.

“Moreover, local officials launched a round of mandatory tests for COVID-19, followed by mandatory self-quarantine, for anyone with ‘African contacts,’ regardless of recent travel history or previous quarantine completion,” the notice from the Embassy said. It urged those with African backgrounds to especially avoid the provincial capital of Guangzhou, which has a large African population of migrant traders.

In its statement, the foreign ministry said all foreigners were treated equally during the outbreak and the government had “zero tolerance for discrimination.”

Authorities in Guangdong were “working promptly to improve their working method,” the ministry said.

“African friends can count on getting fair, just, cordial and friendly reception in China. The foreign ministry will stay in close communication with the Guangdong authorities and continue responding to the African side’s reasonable concerns and legitimate appeals,” the statement said.


WUHAN, China — One mask producer in China says it is rushing to fill orders from overseas while facing stricter quality inspections from Chinese regulators.

Wuhan Zonsen, which makes masks and disinfection wipes, says $50 million in orders from European countries and the United States will keep them at full production capacity until June.

“Now the major demand of masks comes from European countries and the US where the epidemic is severe … their demand now has increased to 10 times than before because of the epidemic,” said Cynthia Ye, global marketing manager of Zonsen.

Zonsen plans to add another five production lines to increase their daily production from 200,000 to 700,000 masks, Zonsen’s production managers told reporters during a media tour organized by Wuhan government.

Chinese customs have announced that ventilators, masks and other supplies being exported to fight the coronavirus will be subject to quality inspections following complaints that substandard goods were being sold abroad. Regulators in Australia, the Netherlands and other countries have complained that masks, virus test kits and other products were faulty or failed to meet quality standards.

Ye denied there are any quality issues with the masks they had shipped to Netherlands.

Wuhan on Wednesday ended its 76-day lockdown, allowing residents to again travel in and out of the city. Wuhan and China are expected to suffer severe economic costs and tens of millions of job losses from the city closure.

Ye said the government of Xinzhou district, where Zonsen is located, offered aid to meet the company’s demand for workers. Now more than 60 employees are back to work and live together in a designated hotel to avoid infection.

“We have to provide hotel rooms for the workers so we have more cost, which is about five to 10 times of our normal cost. The salary for workers is about three or five times of their normal one,” said Ye.


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