The Latest: South Korea hopes for vigilance during holiday
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:
—Putin extends Russia’s shutdown to May 11.
—China will hold annual meeting of its ceremonial parliament meeting late next month
—France aims for 700,000 tests each week starting May 11.
—Mexico’s Interior Department is urging towns and states to stop putting up roadblocks and curfews to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea officials have issued public pleas for vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the coronavirus as the nation enters its longest holiday since infections surged in February.
South Korea’s Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip on Wednesday said 180,000 people are expected to visit the resort island of Jeju during a six-day break from Thursday to Tuesday, despite the island government pleading travelers not to come.
Hotels and other accommodation facilities are nearly fully booked in some seaside towns in Gangwon province, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 2018.
Kim urged travelers to wear masks, not to share food and stay at home if they have fever or respiratory symptoms. Gangwon has increased the number of thermal cameras at train stations, bus terminals and highway rest areas. Jeju plans to expand temperature checks at its airport and conduct virus tests on travelers with even mild fevers above 37.3 degrees Celsius.
“(I) hope that this ‘golden holiday’ could really be remembered as golden,” Kim said during a virus briefing. “We must not let a moment of carelessness trigger mass transmissions that would make the efforts we invested so far vanish like bubbles of water.”
CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian mining magnate and partner in the government’s pandemic response says a global inquiry into the coronavirus should be delayed until after the U.S. presidential election.
Andrew Forrest, who became a billionaire exporting iron ore to China as founder of Fortescue Metals Group, said on Wednesday such an inquiry made “common sense,” but should be held after the November election so “there’s not going to be a political dog in this fight.”
He told Australian Broadcasting Corp.: “Sure have a COVID-19 inquiry — not a Chinese inquiry — but let’s do it after the U.S. election, because there’s a bloke in the White House who really wants to stay there and he’s pushing blame as fast as he possibly can to anywhere else but himself and I don’t think this should be politically orientated.”
Australia announced on Wednesday it has secured an additional 10 million COVID-19 tests from China manufacturers through its partnership with Forrest’s charitable Minderoo Foundation that would enable a 20-fold increase in Australian testing by the end of the year.
Australian support for an international inquiry into the origins of coronavirus independent of the World Health Organization is damaging bilateral relations with China, which accused Australia of parroting the United States.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Interior Department is urging towns and states to stop putting up roadblocks and curfews to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, as hundreds have done.
The department said in a statement Tuesday that such measures violate constitutional rights like the right to free movement, and argued that local governments don’t have the authority to enact them.
“The health emergency does not constitute a state of emergency or suspension of rights,” the department wrote.
The department said in a report that almost 20% percent of Mexican municipal governments, about 340, have put up checkpoints or filters to limit people’s movements. Most were concentrated along the country’s coasts, where many beach towns have tried to exclude travelers who might spread the coronavirus.
Dozens of towns have enacted curfews and at least three of the country’s 31 states have threatened to arrest people who don’t obey social distancing measures.
BEIJING — China has decided to hold the annual meeting of its ceremonial parliament late next month after postponing it for weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday said the National People’s Congress would open in Beijing on May 22, according to a decision made by its standing committee, which handles most legislative affairs outside the annual two-week session of the full body.
The convening of the full session, which would encompass about 3,000 members, indicates China’s growing confidence that it has largely overcome the pandemic that was first detected in China late last year.
The meeting involves bringing delegates from across the country by plane and train to Beijing, where they first meet to hear a state of the country address from Premier Li Keqiang, seated shoulder-to-shoulder in the colossal auditorium at the Great Hall of the People.
It wasn’t clear from the report whether delegates would be meeting in person or virtually and there was no word on any meeting of the congress’ advisory body that meets around the same time.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian lawyers and a rights group have voiced concern over the excessive sentencing of violators of the country’s virus lockdown. Malaysia, which has 5,851 infections and 100 deaths, has arrested more than 21,000 people since a partial lockdown began March 8.
Violators face a fine or a jail term of up to six months. It wasn’t clear how many have been imprisoned, but a number have been handed jail sentences ranging from a few days to several months.
The Bar Council, which represents some 15,000 lawyers, urged courts to temper justice with compassion as it doesn’t involve violent crime. Bar president Salim Bashir said in a statement that incarcerating violators raises the risk of virus transmissions in courts and already crowded prisons.
While flouting the lockdown must not be taken lightly, Bashir said “sending violators to jail is a cure that is worse than the disease.”
The Bar also said it was disturbed over cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence. Malaysia’s deputy health minister on Tuesday was let off with a 1,000 ringgit ($229) fine for having a lunch gathering at a religious school.
In contrast, a university student was sentenced to seven days in jail and a 1,000 ringgit fine for leaving her house to take a cake to her boyfriend. She faces an additional two months in jail if she fails to pay the fine. Human Rights Watch said Malaysia should stop jailing violators as it was counter-productive to reducing the virus spread.
Although Malaysia has said created temporary detention facilities for lockdown violators, it said Malaysia should instead use these additional facilities to reduce overcrowding in its existing prisons.
BEIJING — China on Wednesday reported a jump in imported cases of coronavirus, but no new deaths from the disease it causes.
Out of 22 new cases, 21 were brought from abroad and one was a result of local transmission in the southern industrial province of Guangdong, the National Health Commission reported. China, the source of the worldwide pandemic, now has just 647 registered cases of COVID-19, along with just over 1,000 people under quarantine and monitoring for being suspected cases or having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
China has registered a total of 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,858 cases. Authorities have relaxed social distancing restrictions, but have maintained strict quarantine rules on those coming from abroad or other parts of the country to ward off a second wave of virus cases as summer approaches.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE, Alaska — Officials have opened a portion of the 92-mile road into Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
Earlier this month, the park, citing travel restrictions imposed by state officials in response to coronavirus concerns, closed public access to the road. The restrictions have since been modified, and the National Park Service said Tuesday the road will be open to mile marker 12.
Further opening of the road is expected as conditions and staffing allow, the agency said in a release.
The state last week eased restrictions on travel within Alaska to allow for recreational activities. When traveling, only household members are to be in a vehicle, and stops along the way are to be minimized.
The national park is about 240 miles north of Anchorage.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council has taken no action after discussing the humanitarian situation in Venezuela behind closed doors, but its European Union members are warning the coronavirus pandemic “risks having a devastating human impact in a country grappling with an already grave economic, social and humanitarian situation.”
A statement by France, Germany, Belgium, Estonia and former council member Poland issued after Tuesday’s meeting reiterated their concerns “about the sharply deteriorating crisis in Venezuela and its destabilizing effects across the region, including its severe humanitarian consequences.”
The members noted the European Union is the largest donor to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, “providing more than half of all funding,” and they called for stepped up efforts to respond to the country’s underfunded humanitarian emergency.
WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments are defending their response to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a joint statement, the agencies say they have worked with FEMA to ship 4.3 million respirator masks and 1 million surgical masks along with 1.5 million gloves and 14,000 face shields to VA facilities across the country. They say an additional 1 million surgical masks will ship this week.
The VA also has made 1,500 acute and intensive care hospital beds available to non-veteran patients and is helping to provide support to state Veterans homes and private nursing homes.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has reported 59 new COVID-19-related deaths, raising the total to 1,000.
“LA County has hit the tragic milestone of 1,000 people dying from COVID-19,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Please know that if you are grieving the loss of loved ones who have died from COVID-19, our thoughts and prayers are with you, your family, and your friends.”
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents, also reported 597 new cases, raising its total to 20,976.
The number of deaths in institutional settings rose to 462 and the majority were residents of skilled nursing facilities, the county said.