Asia Today: Vietnam schools reopen, New Zealand hits zero

BANGKOK (AP) — Students across Vietnam started returning to their classrooms Monday that had been closed to curb the coronavirus.

“I am so excited to go back to school, to be with my teachers and my classmates after three months,” said Chu Quang Anh, a sixth-grade student at Dinh Cong secondary school in Hanoi.

Students are required to wear masks, among other measures to minimize the spread of the virus.

“We have hand sanitizers available in many places. The students are scanned for temperatures at the gate when they enter the school and when they are in the classrooms and their health is recorded,” teacher Dinh Bich Hien said.

Vietnam has confirmed 271 coronavirus cases. It has not reported any new case in the community for nearly three weeks.

All educational institutions were closed at the beginning of February when the first cases were reported in the country and all learning was moved online. Last month, the country imposed travel restrictions and closed businesses for three weeks.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— ZERO CASES IN NEW ZEALAND: For the first time since mid-March, New Zealand reported no new cases of the coronavirus. It’s an indication the country’s bold strategy of trying to eliminate the virus is working. New Zealand closed its borders and imposed a strict monthlong lockdown after the outbreak began. It eased the rules a little last week to help reopen the economy. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a decision would be made next Monday on whether to ease the rules further. “We cannot afford to squander the good work to date when our end goal is so close and within reach,” she said.

— MALAYSIAN BUSINESSES REOPENING: Many business sectors reopened in parts of Malaysia as Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government sought to balance curbing the virus and reviving the hard-hit economy. But the move has split public opinion amid fears that the sudden reopening of economic activities could spark a new wave of infections. Nine of the country’s 13 states either refused to reopen or restricted the list of businesses that can operate. Mass gatherings and interstate travel remain banned. Virus cases have dropped sharply in recent weeks but rose slightly over the weekend. Malaysia has confirmed 6,298 cases with 105 deaths.

— JAPAN EXTENDS EMERGENCY: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Monday that he will extend Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency by about a month. Abe said the number of new cases has not declined enough and hospitals remain overburdened. He declared the state of emergency on April 7, initially only for Tokyo and six other urban prefectures, but later extended it to the entire nation. He asked people to voluntarily reduce social interactions by up to 80%, but stopped short of asking businesses to close. Tokyo and several other prefectures have asked nightclubs, fitness centers, museums and other non-essential businesses to shut. Japan has more than 15,000 cases with 510 deaths.

— SOUTH KOREA OPENING SCHOOLS: South Korea says it will start allowing students to return to their classrooms next week amid signs that its coronavirus outbreak is waning. Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said Monday that high school seniors will return on May 13 and students in lower grades in phased steps starting May 20. She said 5.4 million students have been studying online since April 9. On Monday, South Korea reported eight new cases, taking its total to 10,801.

— SOME ACTIVITY RESUMING IN INDIA: India has relaxed some lockdown restrictions as the pace of infections has slightly accelerated. On Monday some economic activities resumed after a near-total 5-week halt. Normal life, albeit with masks, social distancing and stringent hygiene standards, has started to return in low-risk areas, while constraints on movement and work continues elsewhere. India has about 42,500 confirmed cases, including 1,373 deaths, and has tested more than a million samples. Still, at 758 tests per million, it is among the countries with the lowest portion of their population tested. Experts warn that the virus has yet to peak.

— BANGLADESH EXTENDS LOCKDOWN: Bangladesh has extended its nationwide lockdown by nearly two weeks to May 16. The extension came as the South Asian nation crossed the 10,000 mark of infections. The lockdown affects almost all public and private offices and businesses. Essential services as well as garment factories and pharmaceutical and other export-oriented manufacturing units are also operating.

—RAMADAN RETURNEES: Indonesian has stepped up measures in anticipation of an influx of migrant workers returning from abroad either to celebrate Ramadan with family or because they have been affected by the pandemic. President Joko Widodo raised concerns at Monday’s Cabinet meeting about possible imorted cases aming returnees. Widodo said he received reports that about 89,000 migrant workers had returned in recent weeks and 16,000 more were expected to return in the coming days. Widodo called for strict health screenings for returnees and 14-day quarantines.

— LOW CASES IN CHINA: China reported three new virus cases, all brought from overseas, and no new deaths. It said just 481 people remain in hospitals with about 1,000 under monitoring and isolation. China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,880 cases.

— FACETIME EELS: A Japanese aquarium is organizing FaceTime sessions for garden eels so they won’t overdo their own social distancing and forget the humans who used to gather outside their tank. About 300 eels used to pop up from their individual burrows in the sand and let their bodies sway in the water as humans watched. But the eels have largely withdrawn into their shelters because of limited interactions with humans during the aquarium’s closure because of the coronavirus pandemic. The aquarium is asking for volunteers to show their faces and wave to the eels on five iPads set up inside the tank to remind them of humans. After 3 1/2 hours of FaceTime calls on Sunday, the eels gradually hid less and began to show their faces again, the aquarium said.