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Asia Today: Australian capital free of known virus cases

April 30, 2020 GMT
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A bus crew member in protective gear waits near baggage from the Carnival Splendor cruise ship after it arrived at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Hundreds of Indonesians working on the cruise ship were tested for the coronavirus and will be quarantined for 14 days due to the global pandemic. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
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A bus crew member in protective gear waits near baggage from the Carnival Splendor cruise ship after it arrived at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Hundreds of Indonesians working on the cruise ship were tested for the coronavirus and will be quarantined for 14 days due to the global pandemic. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

BANGKOK (AP) — The Australian Capital Territory has become the first of the country’s eight states and mainland territories to declare itself free of all known cases of the coronavirus.

Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said the territory surrounding Canberra, the capital, was free of any recorded infection on Thursday for the first time in seven weeks after the last patient recovered.

There have been 106 confirmed cases in Canberra and three patients have died. The capital territory has a population of only 420,000, the second-smallest of Australia’s states and territories, and its infection rate per population ranks in the middle of the field.

Everyone with cold or flu symptoms has been offered free testing in Canberra for the past week and the government said that offer will be extended for another week. One in 49 of the territory’s people had been tested by Thursday.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said an announcement will be made Friday on the future of lockdown measures that will take into account the risk of a second wave of infections.

Lawmakers from across Australia will travel to Canberra on May 12 for the first regular sitting of Parliament since early March.

Australia has recorded 6,746 cases, including 90 deaths. Eight new cases have been reported since Wednesday.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— CHINA DENIES VIRUS WAS RELEASED FROM LAB: China says any claim that the coronavirus was released from a Chinese laboratory is “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.” Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the center of the allegations “does not have the ability to design and create a new coronavirus, and it has never done so.” Geng cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying it strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen. “I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said. He also criticized U.S. politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”

— JAPAN EXTENDS STATE OF EMERGENCY: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that he will extend a coronavirus state of emergency beyond its scheduled end on May 6. Abe said hospitals are still overburdened and medical workers remain under severe pressure. “I believe it will be difficult to return to our normal daily lives after May 7,” Abe said. “We must expect an endurance race to a certain extent.” Abe said he will consult with experts to decide how long the measures should be extended. Also Thursday, Japan’s parliament passed a 25.7 trillion yen ($240 billion) extra budget to partially fund an emergency economic stimulus that includes 100,000 yen ($938) cash handouts for all of Japan’s 126 million people to cushion the impact of the coronavirus measures. The economic package also partially funds loans for small businesses. Japan had more than 200 new cases overnight, bringing its total to about 14,000, with 415 deaths.

— SRI LANKA NAVY CLUSTER: Sri Lankan authorities said 257 navy sailors are infected with the coronavirus in the biggest cluster since the Indian Ocean island nation reported its first patient a month ago. Army chief Shavendra Silva said of the 30 newest cases, 22 are sailors and seven had close contact with infected sailors. More than half of Sri Lanka’s 649 cases have been reported since April 22, and many are sailors and their contacts. The virus initially spread inside a naval camp and spread further when the sailors went home on leave. The government canceled troop leaves on Sunday and is reimposing a 24-hour countrywide curfew.

— INDIA CREDITS LOCKDOWN: India says it has had success in curbing coronavirus infections by imposing the world’s largest lockdown five weeks ago. The Home Ministry said it expects considerable relaxations in some areas when the lockdown is reviewed Sunday. India has reported more than 33,050 cases with 1,074 deaths. On Wednesday, migrants and other people stranded by the lockdown were allowed to resume their journeys by road. Neighborhood shops have been allowed to reopen and manufacturing and farming allowed to resume.

— SOUTH KOREA’S INCREASE LOW: South Korea reported four more cases of coronavirus infection in its first daily increase below five in about two months. The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the country’s totals were now 10,765 cases with 247 deaths. It said 9,059 people have recovered and been released from quarantine. The four new cases were all imported. Local media said it was the first time South Korea had no daily increase of local infections since Feb. 15.

— CASES DECLINE IN CHINA: China reported no new deaths from coronavirus and four new cases, all brought from outside the country. China has been testing and quarantining arrivals from abroad, who have accounted for many of its recent cases. The National Health Commission said 619 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19. China has reported 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,862 cases.

— MALAYSIA URGED NOT TO ROUND UP MIGRANTS: Amnesty International is urging Malaysia not use its current virus lockdown to round up foreigners living in the country illegally. A senior minister said Wednesday that undocumented migrants found in eight areas under a full lockdown will be taken away once it is lifted, the Bernama news agency reported. Amnesty International’s Malaysian chapter said sending migrants to overcrowded and filthy detention centers would increase their risk of contracting the virus. It called the policy “outrageous” and unjustifiable in a time of pandemic. It expressed concern that Muslim Rohingya refugees could face deportation back to Myanmar.

— ADB APPROVES BANGLADESH LOAN: The Asian Development Bank has approved a $100 million loan for Bangladesh to procure equipment and medical supplies to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The funds will also be used to upgrade the country’s fragile healthcare system, the bank said Thursday. Bangladesh confirmed 564 new cases, taking its total to 7,667.