The Latest: Singapore sets new closures to curb virus spread
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:
— Virus death toll and unemployment surge in Europe and U.S.
— Singapore will close schools and most workplaces for a month.
— London’s Heathrow Airport to alternate runways each week due to decline in flights.
SINGAPORE — Singapore will close schools and most workplaces for a month, as it moves to curb the increase of COVID-19 transmissions in the country.
Most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, will be closed from next Tuesday, and schools will be closed from Wednesday. Essential services such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and banking services will remain open.
“Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Lee urged residents to stay home and only leave to buy essential items.
The country has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, and has routinely reported more than 50 new cases daily. As of Thursday, Singapore had 1,049 cases and five deaths.
Singapore has also reversed its recommendations that people should wear masks only if they are feeling unwell.
“We will no longer discourage people from masks. Wearing a mask may help to protect others in case you have the virus but don’t know it,” said Lee.
The Singapore government will distribute reusable masks to all households from this Sunday for “some added protection”, Lee said.
LONDON — London’s Heathrow Airport will alternate on a weekly basis which of its two runways it will use amid “significantly fewer flights” during the coronavirus pandemic.
The airport, which is the U.K.’s main hub, said it will operate from one strip from Monday to “increase resilience and safety for staff, passengers and cargo” during the outbreak.
A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport “will remain open so that we can continue to play a crucial role in helping to secure vital medical goods and food for the nation during this unprecedented epidemic.”
BEIJING — China will honor those who have died in the fight against coronavirus and all victims of the outbreak with three minutes of silence on Saturday, as numbers of new cases in the country where the global pandemic began fall toward zero.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the State Council, China’s Cabinet, had ordered that national flags be flown at half-mast around the country and at Chinese embassies and consulates abroad, and that all “public recreational activities” be suspended.
Air raid sirens and the horns of automobiles, trains and ships will “wail in grief” for the three minutes beginning at 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT). China has held such moments of silence in past, often to mark World War II-era atrocities by Japan, but rarely on a national scale.
China on Friday reported 31 new confirmed virus cases, 29 of them from overseas, and four new deaths. China now has recorded a total of 81,620 cases and 3,322 deaths, although those figures are generally considered too low because of a lack of testing and a reluctance to report the scale of the original outbreak.
More than 3,000 health care workers contracted COVID-19 and the government says 14 died of the disease. Among them was doctor Li Wenliang, who was threatened with punishment by police after publicizing news of the outbreak but has since been listed among the national “martyrs.”
His family was issued a “solemn apology” two police officers issued “disciplinary punishments” for their handling of the matter.
JOHANNESBURG — More than half of Africa’s 54 countries have closed land, air and sea borders to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The restrictions are so widespread that concern is rising about getting needed items to desperate people. The World Food Program says it had to negotiate a humanitarian corridor ahead of South Africa’s lockdown to allow food aid to flow to other southern African nations. Some countries still allow exceptions for cargo or emergency transport.
Coronavirus cases across Africa are now above 7,000 and numbers are expected to leap in the coming weeks.
MOSCOW — Russian police detained activists trying to deliver protective gear to a hospital on Thursday amid the growing coronavirus outbreak and widespread reports of shortages of masks and hazmat suits.
Members of the Alliance of Doctors union, supported by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, started a fundraising campaign this week to buy protective gear for hospitals in need. On Thursday, the union’s leader Anastasia Vasilyeva and a group of activists drove to a hospital in the Novgorod region 400 kilometers (249 miles) northwest of Moscow, with the first batch of masks, gloves, hazmat suits and protective glasses.
Police stopped the group on the highway and slapped them with fines for violating lockdown regulations. The group got to the hospital and delivered the gear, but then Vasilyeva was detained again, reportedly for defying police orders. Footage of the arrest activists posted on Twitter shows a dozen police officers gathering around Vasilyeva and two of them dragging her into the station.
Navalny retweeted the video on Thursday night, saying: “Why are they harassing this person, because she brought masks for the doctors?” As of Friday morning, Vasilyeva was still being held by the police in the Novgorod region.
Russia reported 4,149 cases of the new coronavirus on Friday. Despite the government assuring that Russia’s health care system is fully prepared to deal with the epidemic, doctors and hospitals from all over the country have been regularly complaining about the shortages of protective gear and medical equipment.
Alliance of Doctors has become one of the most vocal critics of the Kremlin’s response to the outbreak, accusing the authorities of downplaying the scale of it and pressuring medics to work without sufficient protection.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is preparing to treat COVID-19 patients with blood donated from people who have survived the disease.
Kerem Kinik, the head of the Turkish Red Crescent organization, late Thursday called on “heroes who have come out victorious from the ‘Corona War’” to donate blood for the treatment that uses plasma from people who have recovered to help seriously ill patients.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry sent a circular to the country’s 81 provinces setting out guidelines for the volunteer blood plasma donations, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Ali Gur, rector of the Gaziantep University — one of the university hospitals working on the immune plasma therapy — told Anadolu: “We are completing our final preparations, we should be able to start the treatment by the end of April.”
ISLAMABAD — An influential Islamic clerics council in Pakistan is urging Muslims to worship at home instead of going to mosques for Friday prayers to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has caused 34 deaths in the Islamic nation.
Mosques, however, will not be closed, and three to five people are allowed to enter.
The appeal from the Council of Islamic Ideology comes as the number of cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, increases. More than 2,400 people have tested positive in Pakistan.
Pakistan has enforced a nationwide lockdown, drawing criticism from many poor people who say they need to work to buy food and pay rent, utilities and other bills.
This week, Pakistan extended the lockdown until April 14 after a substantial increase in cases was reported in various parts of the country, especially in Punjab and Sindh provinces, the worst hit.
LONDON — Prince Charles is to officially open the new Nightingale Hospital that has been built in just nine days at the site of a huge exhibition center in east London.
The National Health Service hospital at ExCel London will within days be able to provide intensive care treatment for 4,000 people suffering from the COVID-19 disease.
Earlier this week, Charles emerged from a week of self-isolation after testing positive for coronavirus. He will launch the temporary facility later Friday via video link from his Scottish home of Birkhall and is expected to pay tribute to those who built it.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who also recently came out of isolation after recovering from the virus, is expected to be present.
PARIS — One of France’s largest insurance companies says it expects to save 100 million euros ($108 million) in traffic-accident payouts because of the coronavirus lockdown and that it will refund the money to clients.
In a letter to clients, the president and the CEO of the insurer, the MAIF, said “we believe that solidarity is the only viable solution in the face of today’s crisis and also for the world afterward.”
With tens of millions of people in lockdown, road traffic has dwindled to a trickle. MAIF’s executives said the lockdown is producing a “significant drop” in traffic accidents, generating an estimated 100 million euros of savings during the lockdown that the government says won’t be lifted before April 15, at the earliest.
The rebate will be offered to MAIF clients with vehicle insurance. They will also be offered the possibility to donate the refund to medics, vaccine research or charity. The company said clients will likely get about 50 euros ($54) each.
MAIF’s chief executive, Pascal Demurger, said traffic accidents are down by 75% to 80%. “Cars aren’t running, they are in garages and parking lots,” he said on BFM-TV.
SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean capital of Seoul says it will ask more than 8,500 theatergoers to self-monitor at home after Canadian and American cast members of “The Phantom of the Opera” were found to have the coronavirus.
Seoul City official Na Baek-ju said Friday the musical’s international tour was halted following the positive test of an unidentified Canadian actress, who began experiencing throat pain and dry coughs days after she began performing at the city’s Blue Square theater on March 14. She last appeared on stage on Monday, a day before her test.
Officials have since tested 138 of her contacts, including colleagues and guests at the downtown Somerset Palace hotel, and confirmed the infection of an American actor on Thursday.
Na said officials were still awaiting test results for 48 people while the other 89 tested negative.
He said the hotel was ordered to prevent guests from leaving the property and stop taking new customers.
South Korea earlier on Friday reported 86 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its nationwide total to 10,062.
PARIS — France’s prime minister says he and his government colleagues are “fighting hour by hour” to ward off shortages of essential drugs used to keep COVID-19 patients alive in intensive care.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that worldwide usage of essential drugs and disposable equipment, such as ventilator mouthpieces, used by intensive care units is “exploding in unimaginable proportions,” with a “nearly 2,000% increase” in demand “because it is happening everywhere in the world and at the same time.”
In France, medics have identified eight drugs, in particular, that are essential for ICUs to keep treating the waves of gravely ill COVID-19 patients who need breathing assistance and other forms of life support, he said, speaking to broadcaster TF1 on Thursday night. Those drugs include painkillers and sedatives.
Philippe said France has sufficient stocks of some of the key ICU drugs but “more limited” quantities of others, causing “real” worry for medics. Philippe said he, French President Emmanuel Macron and their finance minister have been calling producers to identify supply bottlenecks and source more of these drugs. “We are fighting hour by hour to respond to this unheard-of increase in usage,” he said.
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