From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE EAST 2020 MARCH-APRIL"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.
    This link will return you to King Of The East 2020 January-February or continue to King Of The East 2020 May-June.

KING OF THE EAST 2020 MARCH-APRIL


    So as 2019 has passed do we know who the "King of the East" is?
    As Bible students, we all are aware of the allusions to the "Kings of the East" in the prophetic scenario: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    Revelation 16:12.
       
    The spectacular rise of China on the world scene, and achievements are spectacular, indeed.    In just one generation, they have tripled their per capita income, and lifted over 300 million people out of poverty.
    Xi Jinping is still president for life and continues to push "Belt And Road Project" fits the scenerio to fulfil prophecy to go into the Middle East at the appointed time.
    He continues to push the unconditional authority of the Communist Party, and controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea, boosted its military capabilities and unveiled a vast international logistics and transportation project called the “Belt and Road” initiative that aims to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so I believe the The King of the East has made his bed and have become the major competitor for energy and other commodities.
    As to the emergence of India in the global technological culture Idid not see much of that in 2019 to dominate the next few decades in research and development centers are sprouting everywhere and are the seedbeds of the most advanced software platforms, multimedia devices, and other next-generation innovations and India's Prime Minister is still Narendra Modi.
    China and India account for one-third of the world's population.
    Although numerous commentators try to connect these kings with the 200 million horsemen of the sixth trumpet judgment, they are not related: as Rev. 16:12 only says "way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    This tells me that it could be several countries from the Kings of the East could take that journey.
    The “two hundred million” is in Rev. 9:16 are in a Trumpet Judgment, whereas the kings of the east are in a Bowl judgment.    Furthermore, . . . it was shown that the two hundred million are demons and not men.
    As to kings from the Orient, but this is not required by the text, they are kings representing nations east of the Euphrates.    Commentators particularly of the postmillennial and the historical schools have guessed at the identity of the kings of the East and as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced.    The very number of these interpretations is their refutation.

    As to cooperation for China and the U.S. in 2019, China threatens retaliation if tariffs increase as trade war bites and China’s Xi preaches openness.    China’s 2019 growth was seen slowing to 6.2% as trade war weighs on China’s June exports, and imports fall as trade war takes heavier toll.    China lets yuan break key 7 level for first time in decade as trade war worsens.    China’s birth rate falls to lowest ever.    China lawmakers urge freeing up family planning as birth rates plunge U.S.
    Italy's PM wants to sign “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), deal to help exports championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who aims to link China by sea and land with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the ancient Silk Road.    A number of European Union states have signed memorandums on the BRI with China, including Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Malta, Poland and Portugal.    If Italy signs, it would be the first members of the Group of Seven industrial powers to do so.    China Development Bank has provided over $190 billion for Belt and Road projects.
    Taiwan tells China to use peaceful means to resolve differences and Taiwan president calls for international support to defend democracy.    U.S. warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions and China’s Xi threatens Taiwan with force but also seeks peaceful ‘reunification.’    U.S., Japan, India and Philippines challenge Beijing with naval drills in the South China Sea.    And a miracle win offers Australian PM authority and government stability.    U.S. pursues sale of over $2 billion in weapons to Taiwan, which is angering China.    Premier Li says China opposes Taiwan independence.
    Afghan Taliban and the U.S. sat down to peace talks, but the Taliban talks end with no Afghan peace deal.
    U.S. sanctions are putting pressure on Iran and Iranians, and supreme leader.    Iran says it is taking initial steps to design reactor fuel, and could enrich uranium to 20 percent within four days as atomic chiefIran says it will be ready for new satellite launch.    U.S. sanctions hit Iran-backed airlines, fighters in Syria and Iranian commander threatens Israel’s destruction if it attacks, while Iran is facing the toughest economic situation in 40 years.    The president of Iran facing economic difficulty amid U.S. pressure on regime and Iran’s Rouhani says U.S. sanctions are ‘terrorist act.’    Iran’s Khamenei doubted Europe could help Tehran against U.S. sanctions.    Iran urged Palestinians to resist Trump’s pro-Israel moves.    U.S. designated elite Iranian force as terrorist organization, and Iran kept enriching uranium in despite.    Hardliners target Iran’s president as U.S. pressure grows.    Iran claims youth will witness demise of Israel and ‘American civilization.’    Iran’s Khamenei says Tehran will not abandon its missile program and will increase uranium enrichment to whatever levels it needs and will boost uranium enrichment level which will breach nuclear pact.
    Thousands march in Hong Kong against China ‘repression’ on 3/15/2019 protesters were arrested in Hong Kong over proposed China extradition law.    Hong Kong lawmakers clash over what democrats call ‘evil’ extradition bill.    Hong Kong leader presses on with extradition bill undeterred.    Huge Hong Kong protest expected in last push to scrap extradition bill    Hundreds of thousands march in Hong Kong to protest China ‘Sea of black’    Hong Kong protesters demand leader step down extradition bill    Embattled Hong Kong leader Lam suspends China extradition bill.    Black-clad, anti-extradition protesters flood streets of Hong Kong Hong Kong descends into chaos as protesters storm legislature.    In challenge to Beijing, Hong Kong activists attempt to take fight to mainland.    Anti-Chinese protests in Hong Kong turn violent.    Protesters mass in Hong Kong amid fears of growing cycle of violence.
    Trump walks away from deal with North Korea’s Kim over sanctions demand and was ending the year with new Trade deals with China as the U.S. economy is up in all items.

    Since Iran has become more of an issue during 2019 I decided to input the following again regarding Jeremiah 49:35-39 New King James Version (NKJV) PROPHESY OF ELAM to let you know what the Bible says about them and their possible future.
35Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, The foremost of their might.
36 Against Elam I will bring the four winds From the four quarters of heaven, And scatter them toward all those winds; There shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.
37 For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies And before those who seek their life.    I will bring disaster upon them, My fierce anger,’ says the Lord; ‘And I will send the sword after them Until I have consumed them.
38 I will set My throne in Elam, And will destroy from there the king and the princes,’ says the Lord.
39 ‘But it shall come to pass in the latter days: I will bring back the captives of Elam,’ says the Lord.”
   
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used, for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem.    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10:22, Ezra 4:9;) is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used (as in Akkadian), for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem (Genesis 10:22).    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.    Their language was not one of the Semitic languages, but is considered a linguistic isolate.
    Elam (the nation) is also mentioned in Genesis 14, describing an ancient war in the time of Abram (father of the tribe, for possibles leaders over time) not Abraham, (father of many nations) involving Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam at that time, and noted that Sarai, Princess of the tribe, who became the final as Sarah.
    The prophecies of the Book of Isaiah (11:11, 21:2, 22:6) and the Book of Jeremiah (25:25) also mention Elam.    The last part of Jeremiah 49 is an apocalyptic oracle against Elam which states that Elam will be scattered to the four winds of the earth, but "will be, in the end of days, that I will return their captivity," a prophecy self-dated to the first year of Zedekiah (597 BC).
    The Book of Jubilees may reflect ancient tradition when it mentions a son (or daughter, in some versions) of 'Elam named "Susan," whose daughter Rasuaya married Arpachshad, progenitor of another branch of Shemites.    Shushan (or Susa) was the ancient capital of the Elamite Empire. (Dan. 8:2)



2020 MARCH-APRIL

3/1/2020 Afghan President Ghani rejects Taliban prisoner release clause in U.S deal by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, and Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for
peace in Afghanistan, shake hands after signing an agreement at a ceremony between members of
Afghanistan's Taliban and the U.S. in Doha, Qatar February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected on Sunday a Taliban demand for the release of 5,000 prisoners as a condition for talks with the Afghan government and civilians, included in a deal between the United States and the Islamist militants.
    His remarks come against the backdrop of the difficulties U.S. negotiators face in shepherding the Afghan government and Taliban towards intra-Afghan negotiations, according to Western diplomats.
    “The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” Ghani told reporters in Kabul, a day after the deal was signed in Qatar to start a political settlement aimed at ending the United States’ longest war.
    The accord said the United States and the Taliban were committed to work expeditiously to release combat and political prisoners as a confidence-building measure, with the coordination and approval of all relevant sides.
    It said that up to 5,000 jailed Taliban would be released in exchange for up to 1,000 Afghan government captives by March 10.
    However, on the issue of the prisoner swap, Ghani said, “It is not in the authority of United States to decide, they are only a facilitator.”
    Saturday’s accord was signed by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, witnessed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    After the ceremony, Baradar met foreign ministers from Norway, Turkey and Uzbekistan in Doha along with diplomats from Russia, Indonesia and neighboring nations, the Taliban said, a move that signaled the group’s determination to secure international legitimacy.
    “The dignitaries who met Mullah Baradar expressed their commitments towards Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development… the U.S.-Taliban agreement is historical,” said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.
    U.S. President Donald Trump rejected criticism around the deal and said he would meet Taliban leaders in the near future.     Ghani’s aides said Trump’s decision to meet the Taliban could pose a challenge to the government at a time when the U.S. troop withdrawal becomes imminent.
    Under the agreement, Washington is committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 from 13,000 within 135 days of signing.
    It will also work with allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces in Afghanistan over that period, if the Taliban adhere to their security guarantees and ceasefire.
    A full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces would occur within 14 months, the joint statement said.
    The withdrawal, however, depends on security guarantees by the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and imposed many restrictions on women and activities it deemed “un-Islamic.”
    After being ousted from power in 2001, the Taliban have led a violent insurgency.
    The Afghan war has been a stalemate for over 18 years, with the Taliban increasingly controlling or contesting more territory, yet unable to capture and hold major urban centers.
(Additional reporting by Orooj Hakimi in Kabul, Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Ed Davies)

3/1/2020 South Korea closes churches as coronavirus tally passes 3,700 by Hyonhee Shin and Daewoung Kim
FILE PHOTO: FILE PICTURE: Employees from a disinfection service company sanitise a
subway station in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Churches were closed in South Korea on Sunday with many holding online services instead as authorities fought to rein in public gatherings, with 586 new coronavirus infections taking the tally to 3,736 cases.
    That came a day after the biggest daily jump of 813 cases in South Korea’s battle with the largest virus outbreak outside China, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.    The death toll rose to 18.
    In Seoul, the capital, about a dozen worshippers were turned away from the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which put a sermon for its 560,000 followers on YouTube, filmed with a small choir instead of all 200 members and 60-strong orchestra.
    “I had heard there would be no service, but just came to check as I live nearby, but yes, it is so empty,” said one of them, Song Young-koo, as he left South Korea’s biggest church.
    “It’s a wise decision to do it online, since the virus would easily spread at mass gatherings and churches can be no exception.”
    Authorities have warned of a “critical moment” in the battle on the virus, urging people to refrain from attending religious services and political events and stay home this weekend.
    For the first time in its 236-year history, South Korea’s Catholic church decided to halt masses at more than 1,700 locations nationwide.    Buddhist temples also called off events, while major Christian churches held online services.
    Of the new cases, 333 were from the southeastern city of Daegu, the location of a church at the centre of the outbreak, and 26 from the nearby province of North Gyeongsang, KCDC said.
    The agency said some church members in January visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease emerged late last year, adding that it was investigating to determine if the trip played a role in the outbreak.
    “We’re tracing back how many members had gone to China,” its deputy director, Kwon Jun-wook, told a briefing.
    “Our top priority is to find out how the coronavirus has been transmitted so widely among the Shincheonji followers,” he added, in a reference to the church involved.
    The numbers of cases was likely to continue growing in early March, he added, pledging greater efforts to rein in key infection sources.
    At a news conference in Seoul a group of doctors and chiefs of public hospitals urged the government to combat a shortage of beds by assigning them to the critically ill, after two patients died in self-quarantine at home.
HELP FOR NORTH KOREA
    President Moon Jae-in called for unity and vowed greater efforts, including an extra budget, to fight the outbreak, in a speech.
    “The outbreak can threaten our lives temporarily, but it cannot break our unity and hope,” he said.
    Moon proposed joint efforts with North Korea to prevent an outbreak in the neighbour and improve healthcare.
    North Korea has not confirmed cases, but has ordered a month in quarantine for those with symptoms, while state media said leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting on tougher measures.
    The crisis spooked trade and financial markets, leading Samsung Electronics <005930.KS>, Hyundai Motor <005380.KS> and LG Display <034220.KS> to temporarily shut down a plant each and prompting boy band BTS to cancel a world tour set for April.
    More neighbours suspended flights and banned visitors from South Korea.
    In a statement, the foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha asked Washington to avoid “excessive action that could needlessly shrink exchanges between both countries,” during a telephone call with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Sunday.
    The request came after the United States advised Americans not to travel to hard-hit regions, such as Daegu.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Daewoung Kim; Additional reporting by Minwoo Park and Soohyun Mah; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Clarence Fernandez)

3/1/2020 Mainland China adds 573 coronavirus infections in week’s highest daily rise by David Stanway and Hallie Gu
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing face masks walk amid rainfall at the Central Business District, as the
country is hit by a novel coronavirus outbreak, in Beijing, China February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported 573 new coronavirus infections on Feb. 29, up from 427 the previous day, for the highest daily increase in a week, national health authorities said on Sunday.
    The new cases were concentrated in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year, with 565 infections, or nearly 99% of Saturday’s total.
    The death toll of 35 was February’s second lowest daily total and was down from 47 the previous day.
The tally of deaths in mainland China is now 2,870, the National Health Commission said.
    Of the deaths, 34 were in the province of Hubei, whose capital is Wuhan and the epicenter of the outbreak. Hubei accounted for 570 of the new cases.
    The three new cases outside Hubei are the lowest number since the National Health Commission began tracking daily figures on Jan. 20.
    A total of 41,625 patients have been discharged, the commission said, or 52% of total mainland infections, though officials have warned that some could again develop symptoms.
    To cushion the economic impact of the epidemic, China has ordered districts to be classified into “high-risk,” “medium-risk” and “low-risk”, with the latter expected to end traffic curbs and let everyone resume work.
    On Saturday, Hubei said 11 of its 103 counties had reported no new cases for at least 14 days, meeting the “low-risk” criteria.    But as many as 58 of its counties are still deemed “high-risk.”
    Despite some positive changes, the situation was still at a critical stage, and Hubei could not yet ease curbs on outbound travel, Ying Yong, the provincial general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, said on Saturday.
    China will take steps to bring back citizens from high-risk countries if necessary, foreign ministry official Cui Aiming told reporters on Sunday, adding that it has arranged 10 flights to bring home 1,314 so far, but he did not name any countries.
    China needs to take a “long-term view” of the outbreak and plug “loopholes” in its laws and emergency response mechanisms, President Xi Jinping said in speeches published in the Communist Party’s theoretical journal, Qiushi (Seeking Truth) on Sunday.     China must set up an emergency reserve and supply system to ensure vital materials are deployed at critical times, he added.
    As many as 53 countries have reported cases, the World Health Organization said on Saturday, with Mexico and San Marino the latest additions.    In a bulletin, it said there were 6,009 cases outside China, an increase of 1,318 from the previous day.
    China has refrained from blanket travel bans, but some local governments, such as in Beijing, have ordered self-quarantine for travelers from countries where the virus has spread.
(Reporting by David Stanway and Hallie Gu; additional reporting by Yawen Chen in Beijing; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

3/1/2020 No need to involve U.S. to resolve bilateral issues, Pakistan tells Afghanistan by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters at
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) office in Islamabad, Pakistan March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Any reservations Afghanistan has with Islamabad should be resolved bilaterally rather than involving the United States, Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Sunday, in reference to part of a joint U.S.-Afghan declaration on peace efforts.
    The declaration was announced on Saturday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a ceremony to coincide with the signing in Doha of an agreement between the Taliban and the United States.
    “The United States commits to facilitate discussions between Afghanistan and Pakistan to work out arrangements to ensure neither country’s security is threatened by actions from the territory of the other side,” one of the clauses of the declaration reads.
    Pakistan bristled.
    “They should talk directly to Pakistan.    The U.S. is planning to withdraw and we will always remain neighbors,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters in an interview, referring to Washington’s intent to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
    “If I have an issue with Afghanistan, I will not ask Washington to play a role.”
    Pakistan and Afghanistan have been at loggerheads for years. Kabul publicly blames Pakistan for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power Afghanistan in 2001, and allowing safe havens for attacks against international and Afghan forces.
    Islamabad has denied these allegations and blames Afghanistan for giving anti-Pakistan militants refuge to plot attacks in Pakistan, which, in turn, Kabul denies.
    “You know a trust deficit has existed and Pakistan has done its best to bridge that trust deficit,” Qureshi said, adding there are institutionalized mechanisms through which Afghanistan can raise “any issue under the sun” instead of turning to the United States.
    He said that the U.S.-Taliban agreement in Doha would never have happened if Pakistan had not convinced everyone that there was no military solution to the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan.
    The Doha agreement was signed by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Abdul Ghani Baradar.
    Under it, Washington committed to a full withdrawal in 14 months, and to working with allied international forces to do the same – contingent on the Taliban keeping a pledge to renounce violence and sever ties with militant organizations threatening the Untied States and its allies.
FACILITATION ROLE
    Qureshi said Pakistan had facilitated the accord by persuading both the Taliban and the United States to find a political settlement, adding that getting both sides to see this had not been easy.
    “We convinced the Taliban to put forward an authoritative delegation that has the capacity to implement what they agree upon, and that wouldn’t have happened without Pakistan’s facilitation,” Qureshi said.
    Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, who signed the Doha agreement on the militant group’s behalf on Saturday, was held in Pakistani custody for eight years after being captured in a joint raid with U.S. agents in 2010 in the Pakistani port city of Karachi where he was in hiding.
    The arrest followed months of behind-the-scenes prodding by U.S. officials who saw inaction by Islamabad as a major threat to their Afghan war strategy.
    Baradar was not handed over to Afghanistan or the United States and was released in 2018.    After that he became the head of the Taliban’s negotiation team that held talks with the U.S. negotiators for over a year in Doha.
    “That was another demonstration of facilitation,” Qureshi said, adding, “You required someone who who enjoyed the confidence of the leadership to engage (with the U.S.) that would make the talks possible.”
    “He (Baradar) played a very positive role.”
    Qureshi also said Pakistan played a part in pushing for the negotiation process to restart after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the plug on negotiations in September last year.
    In October 2019, while the Doha talks were off, Washington’s chief negotiator, special representative Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban political delegation held talks in Islamabad in a meeting that was not publicly acknowledged.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/1/2020 Iran’s coronavirus death toll jumps to 54, with 978 infected
FILE PHOTO: Members of the medical team spray disinfectant to sanitize indoor place of Imam Reza's holy shrine, following
the coronavirus outbreak, in Mashhad, Iran February 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 54, Health Ministry spokesman told state TV, adding that the number of people infected had reached 978.
    Iran has had the highest number of deaths from the coronavirus outside of China, where the outbreak originated, and several countries in the region have reported infections among people who traveled to the Islamic Republic.
    “There were 385 new cases of infected people in the last 24 hours, increasing the total number to 978.    The death toll is 54,” spokesman     Kianush Jahanpur said, calling on Iranians to avoid any unnecessary trips and stay at home.
    Some neighboring countries have closed their borders with several countries stopping flights.
    Iran will put together approximately 300,000 teams, starting on Tuesday, to perform door-to-door coronavirus screening, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said on state TV on Sunday.
    Dependants and some staff are being evacuated from the British embassy in Tehran as of March 1 due to coronavirus but essential staff will remain, Britain’s Foreign Office said on Sunday as part of a travel advisory for Iran posted online.
    “As of 1 March, dependants and some staff from the British Embassy are being withdrawn from Iran due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.    Essential staff needed to continue critical work will remain,” the advisory said.
    “In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy to provide assistance to British nationals from within Iran may be limited.”
    Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have allocated facilities across the country to help to eradicate the virus, a Guards commander told a televised news conference on Sunday.
    “We have set up centers across the country to help people to tackle the virus … we need national cooperation to tackle this crisis.    People should follow our health officials’ advice,” said the commander, who was not named by Iran’s Press TV.
    The spread of the virus in Iran, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, has prompted growing anxiety among Iranians and concern in some quarters over the clerical establishment’s response.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by David Goodman and Ros Russell)

3/1/2020 Fear, distrust and disinfectant in the air amid Iran’s coronavirus outbreak by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Members of the medical team spray disinfectant to sanitize indoor place of Imam Reza's holy shrine, following
the coronavirus outbreak, in Mashhad, Iran February 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – As the new coronavirus spreads across Iran, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, so a feeling of anxiety grows among many Iranians, some of whom worry the clerical establishment has not got a firm grip on the illness.
    Every day trucks filled with disinfectants spray down streets, shrines, public parks, trash bins, public toilets and markets in Qom, Tehran and other areas that have had cases of infection.
    State TV showed workers wiping down metro and bus stations.
    “The smell of disinfectants has become my nightmare,” said retired teacher Ziba Rezaie, 62, from Qom.    “The city smells like a cemetery, a morgue.”
    The escalating outbreak in Iran has killed 54 people and infected 978, according to the Health Ministry on Sunday.
    Authorities have called on Iranians to avoid public places and stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural and sports centers have been temporarily closed across the country.
    “We have not left the house for a week.    Children have online classes.    Only my husband leaves the house for shopping and for work,” said Samar, 38, in the city of Shiraz.
    Trying to prevent panic, the government has not locked down Qom, a holy Shi’ite Muslim city identified by authorities as the center of contagion, but has imposed broad restrictions such as limitations on who is allowed in and out of the city.
    Some religious hardliners, including clerics, have dismissed the idea of closing the holy site to prevent the spread of the virus, arguing that the shrine in Qom is “a place for healing.”
    Videos on social media showed some people licking the doors and the burial mound inside the Masumeh shrine, defying advice by the Health Ministry to avoid touching or kissing any surfaces in the shrine, a common practice for pilgrims.
DRAMATIC CONSEQUENCES
    The head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, Mike Ryan, said on Feb. 27 that Iran may be dealing with an outbreak that is worse than yet understood.
    Authorities announced Iran’s first infections and two deaths from the virus on Feb. 19. Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by many Iranians over the handling of the outbreak, saying all the necessary measures to overcome the crisis have been taken.
    Some doctors and nurses contacted by Reuters said hospitals in Tehran, Qom and Rasht city were overloaded.
    “Hospitals are full of infected people. We hear about hundreds of deaths,” said a doctor in Tehran, who asked not to be named.    “We need more hospitals.    The death toll will rise.”
    The Health Ministry has ordered hospitals to admit only infected people and those patients who need immediate care.    Dozens of military-run hospitals have been allocated to treat the infected people.
    A doctor in Qom, who also asked not to be named, told Reuters on Sunday that the illness had been circulating days before it was announced.    “We had many patients with the same symptoms. But they were treated with flu medicine and sent back home.”
    Some critics accused the clerical rulers of initially concealing the outbreak to secure a high participation in state-organized rallies in February.    Some others suggested there was a cover-up to ensure a high turnout in Feb. 21 parliamentary polls.    Government spokesman Ali Rabeie on Thursday rejected this accusation, saying the outbreak should not be politicized.
    “It has spread across the country.    How is it possible in 10 days? Obviously they concealed facts to go ahead with their own plans. They lied to us again,” said Fariba, 34, a high school teacher in the city of Tabriz.
    Iranians’ confidence in their leaders has been damaged over bloody crackdowns of several protests since last year and the belated acknowledgement of the accidental shooting down in January of a Ukrainian airliner that killed all 176 aboard.
    “If my children don’t die from this virus, they will die of hunger,” construction worker Ali Hosseini, 39, told Reuters from Qom.     “Construction business is dead now and I am jobless.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/2/2020 North Korea fires two short-range missiles into eastern sea, South Korea says by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha
People watch a TV showing a file picture for a news report on North Korea firing two unidentified
projectiles, in Seoul, South Korea, March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired two short-range missiles off the east coast into the sea on Monday, resuming testing after a three-month pause, South Korea’s military said.
    The missiles were launched from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan and flew 240 km (149 miles) and reached 35 km in altitude, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.    North Korea has launched a series of missiles from the area in the past.
    The North appears to be continuing a firing drill that leader Kim Jong Un oversaw last Friday, the JCS said, adding that the South was monitoring for potential additional launches.
    Monday’s launch was the first since North Korea fired what it called “super-large multiple rocket launchers” on Nov. 28.
    South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, held an emergency video conference with ministers, the presidential Blue House said.
    “The ministers expressed strong concern over North Korea’s resumption of short-range missile launches in three months,” the Blue House said in a statement.    “Such actions are unhelpful for efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and they urged North Korea to stop them.”
    Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean Navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the test “was likely to show off their self-defense capabilities to their people to shore up Kim’s campaign for economic development while boosting military morale.”
    South Korea and the United States indefinitely decided to postpone joint military drills amid a growing coronavirus outbreak in South Korea that has now infected soldiers from both countries.
    South Korea on Monday reported 476 new coronavirus cases, taking its tally to 4,212.
    Last week, Kim convened a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo to discuss stricter enforcement of anti-epidemic steps, state media said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Kim Coghill and Peter Graff)
[ROCKET MAN IS GETTING ANTZY SINCE EVERYBODY IS BUSY TRYING TO CONTAIN THE VIRUS OR MAYBE HE IS TRYING TO KILL IT WITH A MISSILE.].

3/2/2020 Taliban rule out taking part in Afghan talks until prisoners freed by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban militants will not take part in intra-Afghan talks until the Afghan government releases about 5,000 of their prisoners, a spokesman said on Monday, presenting a major possible barrier to ending the war.
    The statement came as a reduction of violence period came to an end, and the Taliban said a resumption of operations against Afghan government forces could now take place.
    Under an accord between the United States and the Islamist Taliban signed on Saturday, the two sides are committed to working toward the release of combat and political prisoners as a confidence-building measure.
    The agreement calls for up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners to be freed in exchange for up to 1,000 Afghan government captives by March 10. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, not involved in the talks, has rejected that demand.
    “We are fully ready for the intra-Afghan talks, but we are waiting for the release of our 5,000 prisoners,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by phone.
    “If our 5,000 prisoners – 100 or 200 more or less does not matter – do not get released there will be no intra-Afghan talks.”
    The United States has said that after more than 18 years of war, it hopes negotiations toward a permanent political settlement and ceasefire can start in coming days, but Western diplomats and analysts see stark challenges ahead.
    Ghani said on Sunday U.S. President Donald Trump had not asked for prisoner releases and that this issue should be tackled as part of a comprehensive peace deal.
    “The Afghan government has not made any commitment to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before the start of any potential negotiation,” Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Ghani, said in response to the Taliban’s statements on Monday.
    A joint U.S.-Afghan government statement says the Kabul government will take part in discussions on the “feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides” but does not mention the specific number or time frame.
    U.S.-led forces ousted the hardline Islamist militants from power in 2001.
REDUCED-VIOLENCE PERIOD ENDS
    The Taliban’s Mujahid said a deal on a reduction in violence in the seven days leading up to Saturday’s pact had formally ended.
    “As we are receiving reports that people are enjoying the reduction in violence, we don’t want to spoil their happiness, but it does not mean that we will not take our normal military activities back to the level that we were before,” he said.
    “It could be any time, it could be after an hour, tonight, tomorrow or the day after.”
    Two Taliban leaders who declined to be named said the group had initially decided to extend the reduction in violence period for two days beyond Saturday.    At a meeting on Monday, the Taliban decided the arrangement would continue to apply to U.S. forces but would end for Afghan government forces, they said.
    A senior NATO defense source told Reuters that the reduction of violence period was indeed technically over, meaning technically the Taliban could attack Afghan forces.
    But U.S. General Scott Miller, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that the United States expected the Taliban to “be very serious” about their obligations.
    “The reduction in violence was a confidence builder…The United States has been very clear about our expectations – the violence must remain low,” he said in a tweet.
    An explosion at a football field in Afghanistan’s southeastern province of Khost killed at least three civilians and injured 11 on Monday, the interior ministry said.    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.    Mujahid issued a statement denying any Taliban involvement.
    The Afghan war has been in stalemate for more than 18 years, with Taliban forces controlling or contesting more territory yet unable to capture and hold major urban centers.
    A full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces would occur within 14 months, a joint statement said.    The withdrawal depends on security guarantees by the Taliban.
(Additional reporting by Anwarullah Mohabbat in Khost, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Rupam Jain in Mumbai; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/2/2020 Indian lawmakers scuffle over citizenship riots where 41 died by Alasdair Pal and Aftab Ahmed
A man sits in front of burnt out properties owned by Muslims in a riot affected area following clashes between people
demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian lawmakers pushed and shoved each other in parliament on Monday after opposition parties demanded the resignation of interior minister Amit Shah over the handling of deadly riots triggered by a citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
    Police said on Monday that at least 41 people had died in two days of Hindu-Muslim clashes in New Delhi last week, the worst communal riots in the capital in decades.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party says the law, which grants refuge to non-Muslim minorities from across south Asia, is required to protect those groups from persecution.    Critics say it is discriminatory and contravenes the spirit of India’s secular constitution.
    Hundreds of thousands of people – led by students and Muslim groups – have been demonstrating for more than two months, amid fears that the government will also launch a population register that could leave many Muslims stateless.
    A week ago, a mob of several hundred people chanting Hindu nationalist slogans torched two mosques and dozens of Muslim houses, eyewitnesses said, while nearby houses carrying Hindu symbols were left untouched.
    In parliament on Monday, opposition legislators shouted slogans and waved posters demanding that Shah, who controls Delhi’s police and is an key ally of Modi’s, step down.
    In Shiv Vihar, a low-income area in northeast Delhi where some of the worst violence took place, hundreds of paramilitary police patrolled deserted lanes.
    “There has been a big improvement in the situation,” Delhi’s chief of police S.N. Srivastava said while touring the area, littered with burnt-out vehicles and schoolbooks.    “The primary focus is to restore confidence among the people.”     But there was anger from those affected.
    “The police took us to another area but didn’t even ask how we were,” said Mohammed Uddin, 70, whose home was burnt by the mob.    “I don’t even have clothes.”
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Aftab Ahmed in New Delhi, additional reporting by Nigam Prusty, Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/2/2020 Japan confirms at least 19 new coronavirus infections on Monday: Kyodo
Crowds wearing protective masks, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, are seen
at the Shinagawa station in Tokyo, Japan, March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan on Monday confirmed at least 19 new coronavirus cases, bringing the number of infections in the country to 980, including passengers who caught the pathogen on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Kyodo newswire reported.
    Infections were reported around the country, including five on the northern island of Hokkaido five others in a nursing home in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo, and two people in Osaka city in western Japan, Kyodo said.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/2/2020 India reports three more cases of coronavirus, including Italian national by Devjyot Ghoshal and Sachin Ravikumar
FILE PHOTO: People wearing masks are seen at Chennai International Airport, India, January 30, 2020. REUTERS/P. Ravikumar
    NEW DELHI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – An Italian national tested positive for coronavirus in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, a major tourist destination, a hospital official said on Monday, taking the number of people who have tested positive in the country to six.
    The patient had initially tested negative for the virus but a second test came out positive, a hospital official in Rajasthan’s capital city of Jaipur told Reuters, declining to be named since he is not authorized to speak to the media.
    “The patient has been moved to an isolation ward,” the official said, adding that a third test would be conducted.
    Separately on Monday, the Indian government said two other people had tested positive for the coronavirus.    The news hammered already rocky stock markets.
    One of the new cases was detected in the capital, New Delhi, while the other was in the southern state of Telangana, the government said in a statement.
    The New Delhi patient had been in Italy and the one in Telangana had been Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the government said; both were stable and being closely monitored.
    “The government is monitoring the situation at the highest-level,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told a briefing in New Delhi.
    Authorities were screening travelers arriving from 12 countries, Vardhan said, adding that more than 1 million people had been screened on the border with Nepal.
    In Jaipur, the hospital official said that at least 15 doctors, staff and patients who may have come into contact with the Italian patient would be tested.
    Indian shares sank sharply on the news, ending lower for the seventh straight session. [.BO]
    The NSE Nifty 50 index erased gains of up to 2% to close 0.62% lower.    The rupee was 0.07% weaker at 72.4300 against the dollar.
    The coronavirus, which was identified in China late last year, has quickly spread to dozens of countries, killing nearly 3,000 people and disrupting global business supply chains.
    India is the world’s second most heavily populated country after China.    The government has advised Indians to refrain from non-essential travel to the worst affected countries, including China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.
    Meanwhile, the three other patients who had tested positive for coronavirus in India have all been discharged from hospital, and were in quarantine in their homes, the government in Kerala state said last week.
    All three had returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak.
    U.S. intelligence agencies are monitoring the global spread of coronavirus and the ability of governments to respond, sources told Reuters last week, warning that there were concerns about how India would cope with a widespread outbreak.
(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Chris Thomas in BENGALURU; Editing by Toby Chopra, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Philippa Fletcher)

3/2/2020 China’s president says research centers to be set up to help contain coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping leaves after a news conference at Prague Castle
in Prague, Czech Republic, March 29, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s president Xi Jinping said that a series of national clinical research centers would be set up to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, state television CCTV reported on Monday.
    Xi, speaking on a visit to several medicine institutes in Beijing, said strenuous efforts are needed to win the battle against the epidemic and that China must offer technological support to aid that campaign.
    He also said bio security was an important part of national security, adding that China should set up national vaccine reserves to prepare for possible prevention work.
    He emphasized that doing everything possible to save more patients’ lives is a top priority.
    Xi added that drug and medical equipment research and development and clinical treatment had to be strengthened to effectively improve the cure rate and reduce the mortality rate.
    The virus emerged in Wuhan late last year and has since infected more than 86,500 people, with the majority in China, with most in Hubei.    Mainland China’s total number of confirmed cases is over 80,000 with a death toll at almost 3,000.
    Xi added China will develop safe, effective vaccines, medicines and testing reagents to battle coronavirus as soon as possible.    China needs to work to break through the bottlenecks of developing technical apparatus and independently develop high-end medical equipment, he said.
    The country will stick to using a combination of western and traditional Chinese medicines in its battle, he said.
    China will acquire core technology with independent intellectual property rights to come up with products and applications to safeguard people’s health and lives in its fight against coronavirus, Xi added.
    Xi said he attached great significance to mental health, for the patients who have recovered, for people who lost loved ones and for those separated from their family for a long time.
    The virus, said to have originated in a wet market in Wuhan selling illegal wildlife, has led to China banning illegal trading and poaching of wild animals.
    “We must resolve to put an end to the bad habits of eating wild animals and promote a civilized, healthy, green, and environmentally friendly lifestyle,” Xi said.
(Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Roxanne Liu and Shivani Singh; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/2/2020 Exclusive: U.N. nuclear watchdog plans alert on Iranian stonewalling – diplomats by Francois Murphy and John Irish
An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) – The U.N. atomic watchdog policing Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers plans to issue an imminent rebuke to Tehran for failing to provide access to one or more sites that are of interest to it, several diplomats who follow the agency said on Monday.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency overseeing the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement, which lifted international sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities, issues quarterly updates on Iran’s atomic program to its member states.
    The next of those quarterly reports is due on Tuesday but, in a first for the IAEA since the deal was put in place, the agency plans to issue a separate report on the same day, calling Iran out for its lack of cooperation in general and its failure to provide access in particular, diplomats said.
    “The general message is: There’s a new sheriff in town,” a diplomat from a country on the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors said, referring to new IAEA chief Rafael Grossi of Argentina, who was elected in October with the support of countries including the United States and Brazil.
    Grossi took over following the death in office of long-serving IAEA chief Yukiya Amano of Japan, who pressured Iran to provide swifter access to sites of interest to the agency, while avoiding confronting the Islamic Republic publicly, diplomats say.
    Under Amano, the IAEA at first resisted public pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit a site he cited in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, calling it a “secret atomic warehouse” mentioned in a trove of data seized by Israeli intelligence agents. Tehran has said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.
    But the IAEA inspected the site in February of last year, diplomats say, and gathered environmental samples that showed traces of uranium that Iran has yet to fully explain.
    Now the agency is seeking access to one or more sites mentioned in that trove, which Israel refers to as the “atomic archive” of information on Iran’s former nuclear weapons program.
    A spokesman for the IAEA declined immediate comment.
    U.S intelligence agencies and the IAEA both believe Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program that it halted long before the 2015 nuclear deal.    That deal is aimed at keeping Tehran at least a year away from obtaining enough fissile material for an atom bomb if it sought one.
    Iran denies ever having had a nuclear weapons program and says it would never seek to obtain an atom bomb.
    It has, however, breached the deal’s restrictions on its atomic activities one after the other in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the deal in May 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions that have choked off the Islamic Republic’s vital oil exports.
    “The second report will be on Safeguards issues linked to sites that the IAEA did not get access to.    We know of two cases, but we don’t know whether the IAEA will put both in (the report),” said a European diplomat, adding it was unclear what recommendations the agency would make.
    Other diplomats said there would be at least one site mentioned in the report, possibly two, and that there was a connection to the archive.
    None of the six diplomats who said they expected a second report provided details of the site or sites the reports would likely mention.
NO SUDDEN MOVES
    Iran’s breaches of the deal’s nuclear limits on items including the purity to which it enriches uranium and its stock of enriched uranium are eroding the accord, but it says they can quickly be reversed if U.S. sanctions are lifted.
    The Trump administration says its “maximum pressure” campaign will force Iran to negotiate a more sweeping deal than the strictly nuclear agreement.
    Washington wants a broader deal, covering issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and its role in Middle Eastern conflicts like those in Syria and Yemen.    It also wants to ban Iran from enriching uranium altogether.    Tehran says it will not negotiate unless U.S. sanctions are lifted.
    Tuesday’s main IAEA quarterly report is likely to show a jump in Iran’s stock of enriched uranium as Tehran continues to breach key limits of the steadily eroding nuclear deal, diplomats say.
    But while Iran breached the deal’s atomic restrictions in the second half of last year, it has refrained from making any large, sudden moves this year, even after the U.S. assassination of its powerful military leader Qassem Soleimani in January, diplomats say.
    The level to which it is enriching uranium, for example, remains roughly the same as in the last quarterly report, diplomats say – 4.5% or less, above the deal’s 3.67% limit but still far below the 20% Tehran achieved before the deal and the roughly 90% that is weapons-grade.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy and John Irish; Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Cooney)

3/3/2020 Official says China’s Hubei province will continue with strict measures to curb coronavirus
A medical worker in protective suit prepares traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for patients of the
novel coronavirus with an intelligent dispensing equipment at a pharmacy of Wuhan Tongji Hospital in Wuhan,
the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei province, China March 2, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – An official at Hubei’s health commission said the province should continue with the strictest measures in curbing the coronavirus, and should not relax.
    Tu Yuanchao, speaking at a daily news briefing in Hubei on Tuesday, said the province will firmly prevent the rebound of the virus.
    The risk of new cases is not totally under control, and there are still uncertainties in containment, said Yang Yunyan, Hubei’s vice provincial governor, speaking at the same event.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/3/2020 Virus outbreak a litmus test for Singapore’s new leaders by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie
FILE PHOTO: Tourists sit at a table at a largely empty Chinatown district as tourism takes a decline due to the
coronavirus outbreak in Singapore February 21, 2020. Picture taken February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – When a rare moment of panic buying shook Singapore’s highly ordered society over fears about the spread of coronavirus, it took a personal broadcast from the prime minister to bring calm.
    As Lee Hsien Loong, a scion of Singapore’s founding family, prepares to step down after elections expected this year, the handling of the virus has become the defining test for a new generation of leaders.
    “How they handle a crisis, both the health and the economic crisis, will give confidence to Singaporeans on the ability of the 4G team to manage the country,” said Inderjit Singh, a former MP for the People’s Action Party (PAP) which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965.
    4G refers to fourth generation, a term used to describe the group of ruling party politicians seen as future leaders.
    While Lee’s PAP is expected to win an election which must be held by April 2021, even small shifts in its support can lead to policy changes that impact many international firms based in the Asian business hub.
    After its worst ever result in 2011 – when it still secured 60% of the vote – the PAP accelerated foreign labor curbs amid unease among citizens about immigration levels and the impact on job prospects and property prices.
    The PAP declined to comment.
TOUGHER TEST
    Singapore’s battle with the disease is front-and-centre of voters’ minds with virus cases now over 100, analysts say, overshadowing issues such as immigration and living costs that had been expected to dominate the election before the city-state’s outbreak began in late January.
    A poll last month by research firms Blackbox and Toluna showed 62% of Singaporeans were closely following virus news and information, more than in any of the eight other Asian places surveyed including Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
    Singapore has won international praise for its virus containment efforts.
    But analysts say managing the economic fallout, which could tip Singapore into recession following decade-low growth in 2019, will be a tougher task.
    Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat – Lee’s would-be successor – last month budgeted for the biggest deficit in years with billions earmarked for managing the virus’ impact on firms and households.
    “People may forget about how the government dealt with the public health aspect,” said Eugene Tan, a former nominated MP. Nominated MPs are appointed directly by the president and not affiliated to political parties.
    Tan said any perception of economic mismanagement over the virus would be a bigger issue in an election he expects by year-end, and any “blunders” over Singapore’s response could hurt the ruling party well beyond that vote.
    After 2018’s historic government ousting in neighboring Malaysia, a vote that set off upheaval that has resurfaced in recent weeks, Lee said the party which he has led since 2004 did not have a “monopoly of power.”    https://reut.rs/2TgF4b4
    Lee, 68, has said he plans to step down by the time he is 70.
    The officials spearheading Singapore’s virus fight have faced some criticism for what they said was a “misunderstanding” when they raised the virus alert level which sparked the panic buying of essentials like rice and toilet paper last month.
    Trade minister Chan Chun Sing – another seen as a future party leader – called the panic buying disgraceful and idiotic in comments from a closed-door business briefing reported by local media.
    Chong Ja Ian, political science professor at National University Singapore, said some people found Chan’s remarks “condescending” and others “frank and forthcoming.”
    This “mixed response” to key individuals will also shape whether voters’ are satisfied with the 4G’s virus measures which is being “couched as a litmus test for them,” Chong said.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie in Singapore; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

3/3/2020 ‘Provocative’ China pressures Taiwan with fighters, fake news amid virus outbreak by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: A F-16 fighter jet takes off during a military drill at Zhi-Hang
Air Base in Taitung, Taiwan January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China is pressuring Taiwan with “provocative” air force maneuvers near the island and spreading fake news to sow discord during the coronavirus outbreak, security sources and government officials in Taiwan say.
    The epidemic has strained already poor ties between Taipei and Beijing, with Taiwan especially angry at China’s efforts to block its participation at the World Health Organization (WHO).
    The two governments have also argued about the fate of about 1,000 Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan, the outbreak’s center, and China has made no obvious moves to respond to offers of help to fight the virus from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
    Tsai won re-election by a landslide in January, pledging to stand up to Beijing.    China believes she wants to push for formal independence for the island, which it claims as its own.    Tsai denies that, saying Taiwan is already an independent nation called the Republic of China, its official name.
    In the last month, Taiwan has reported three nearby Chinese air force drills, and in two cases Taiwanese fighter jets scrambled to intercept them.
    Two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that in one instance, a Chinese fighter’s radar locked onto one of the Taiwan aircraft.    In combat, that is a precursor to a missile launch.
    “This was a very provocative action by China,” said one of the sources, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
    Taiwan’s air force said it was unaware of the incident, but that it had full knowledge of Chinese military moves near the island.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    Last week, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, answering a question on the recent drills, said Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was “playing with fire” and that any attempt at independence was “doomed to fail.”
    China’s actions have provoked anger in Taiwan, which has told Beijing it should focus on fighting the virus.
    “Xi Jinping is trying to make the point that he is still in control of the military,” Wang Ting-yu, a member of the Taiwan parliament’s defense committee, told Reuters.
    “China is using external problems to relieve domestic pressure.”
ONLINE REPORTS
    Accompanying the military moves has been what Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has called a cyber “war” of fake online news reports from China about the virus.
    The fake reports, which Taiwan’s government has quickly refuted, include false claims that the island is covering up the true number of cases – officially at 42 and one death – and that Tsai had been infected.
    Globally there are more than 90,000 cases of the virus, most of them in mainland China, where it emerged late last year.
    Taiwan says many of the online posts include expressions only used in China, as well as simplified Chinese characters, which are not used on the island.
    Taiwan’s Investigation Bureau has also warned that China is trying to undermine trust in factual news – and disrupt disease-control measures – by portraying Taiwan’s official announcements on the outbreak as Chinese-made fake news.
    The pressure and online campaigns seem to have had little effect.
    A poll last week by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation reported high approval ratings for Tsai’s China policy, as well as high mistrust of the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to control the virus.
    Tracking and reporting fake news on the virus outbreak suspected to have links to the “mainland cyber army” has become a top priority for several national security agencies in Taiwan, a security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
    “We have been told to track if the origins are linked to instructions given by the Communist Party, using all possible means,” the official said, adding that authorities had increased scrutiny on online platforms, including chat rooms.
    China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in a statement sent to Reuters, said Taiwan’s DPP was spreading “lies” in its fake news accusations against China and was “inciting hatred” between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
    “The DPP continues to politically manipulate the virus,” it said.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel)

3/3/2020 Violence resumes following U.S.-Taliban peace deal by OAN Newsroom
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan,
Sunday, March, 1, 2020. Ghani said Sunday he won’t be releasing the 5,000 prisoners
the Taliban say must be freed before intra-Afghan negotiations can begin. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    Taliban-driven attacks have continued in Afghanistan after the country’s president rejected a major part of the U.S peace deal. On Sunday, Ashraf Ghani refused to release 5,000 militants in return for peace talks with the the Islamic group.
    “There is no commitment to release the 5,000 prisoners…there was a request, but it can only be part of the negotiations and it cannot be a precondition,” he stated.    “There must be no issue of goodwill because the Afghan nation must be assured that whoever is going to be released will not stand against it one day.”
    A recent bomb attack, which killed three people and injured 11 others, happened amid a “week-long reduction of violence” agreement with the militant group. U.S. officials addressed the violence by noting it will not end immediately, but will hopefully decline over time.
    “I would caution everybody to to think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan, that is probably not going to happen,” said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.    “It’s probably not going to go to zero.”
Supporters of Pakistani religious group Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Nazryate party rally to celebrate the signing agreement
between United States and Taliban, in Quetta, Pakistan, Sunday, March 1, 2020. The United States is poised to
sign a peace agreement with Taliban militants aimed at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan
and allowing U.S. troops to return home from America’s longest war. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)
    The number of U.S. troops will be reduced from 13,000 to 8,600, with an end goal of fully withdrawing both U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan in the next 14 months.
    “We had good meetings with the Taliban and we are going to be leaving, and we’re gonna be bringing our soldiers back home,” stated Mark Esper, U.S. Secretary of Defense.    “We’ve been there for almost 20 years, that’s a long time.”
    Intra-Afghan talks between the government and the Taliban are expected to take place next week.

3/3/2020 U.S. cuts rates over coronavirus economic impact as global death toll rises by Andrea Shalal and Tetsushi Kajimoto
South Korean soldiers in protective gears sanitize shacks as a luxury high-rise apartment complex is seen
in the background at Guryong village in Seoul, South Korea, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    WASHINGTON/TOKY0 (Reuters) – As the new coronavirus spreads in South Korea, Europe and the United States, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Tuesday in an emergency move to try to prevent a global recession with the virus taking a heavy toll on air travel, tourism and other industries.
    Despite the Fed’s attempt to stem the economic fallout from the coronavirus, U.S. stock indexes were down more than 2%, safe-haven gold rose 3% and analysts and investors questioned whether the rate cut will be enough if the virus continues to spread. [.N] [MKTS/GLOB]
    In Iran, doctors and nurses lack supplies and 77 people have died, the highest number outside China.    The United Arab Emirates announced it was closing all schools for four weeks.
    The death toll in Italy, Europe’s worst-affected country, jumped to 79 on Tuesday and Italian officials are considering expanding the area under quarantine.    France reported its fourth coronavirus death and Indonesia, Ukraine, Argentina and Chile reported their first coronavirus cases, taking the global total to around 80 countries.
    About 3.4% of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have died, far above seasonal flu’s fatality rate of under 1%, but the virus can be contained, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
    “To summarize, COVID-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.
    Health officials have said the death rate is 2% to 4% depending on the country and may be much lower if there are thousands of unreported mild cases of the disease.
    The coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has spread around the world, with more new cases now appearing outside China than inside.
    There are almost 91,000 cases globally of which more than 80,000 are in China.
    China’s death toll was 2,943, with more than 125 fatalities elsewhere
.
    In a unanimous decision, the Fed said it was cutting rates by a half percentage point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25%.
    Finance ministers from the G7 group of rich countries were ready to take action, including fiscal measures where appropriate, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said.    Central banks would continue to support price stability and economic growth.
AGGRESSIVE CONTAINMENT
    In the United States, there are now at least 108 people in 12 states with the coronavirus and nine deaths, all in the Seattle area.
    New York state reported its second case, a man in his 50s who works in Manhattan and has been hospitalized.
    The public transportation agency in New York, the most densely populated major U.S. city of more than 8 million, said on Twitter it was deploying “enhanced sanitizing procedures” for stations, train cars, buses and certain vehicles.
    China – where new coronavirus cases have been falling sharply and the 129 cases in the last 24 hours was the lowest reported since Jan. 20 – is increasingly concerned about the virus being brought back into the country by citizens returning from new hotspots elsewhere.
    Travelers entering Beijing from South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy would have to be quarantined for 14 days, a city official said. Shanghai has introduced a similar order.
    The worst outbreak outside China is in South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in declared war on the virus, ordering additional hospital beds and more masks as cases rose by 600 to nearly 5,000, with 34 deaths.
    WHO officials also expressed concerns about the situation in Iran, saying doctors lacked respirators and ventilators needed for patients with severe cases of the respiratory illness.
    WHO emergency program head Michael Ryan said the need in Iran was “more acute” than for other countries.
    While the case numbers in Iran appear to be bad, he said, “things tend to look worse before getting better.”
    The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday said the summer games in Tokyo set to begin on July 24 were still expected to happen despite Japan having nearly 1,000 coronavirus cases and 12 deaths.    Health officials said they would continue to monitor the situation in Japan before any final decision on the Olympics is made.
(GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Takahiko Wada in Tokyo; Writing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Alexander Smith, John Stonestreet and Bill Berkrot)

3/3/2020 Trump speaks to Taliban leader as prisoner feud threatens Afghan peace plan by Charlotte Greenfield and Jonathan Landay
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the National Association of Counties' 2020
Legislative Conference in Washington, U.S., March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund on Tuesday, the first known direct communication between a U.S. leader and a top Taliban official, as a dispute over a prisoner release threatened a U.S.-led effort to bring peace to Afghanistan.
    The telephone call, first announced on Twitter by a Taliban spokesman and then confirmed by Trump, came three days after Baradar and U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad signed an agreement for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
    That deal, an important step toward ending America’s longest war, could help boost Trump’s bid for a second term in the November election.
    It calls for a phased withdrawal of U.S.-led international troops and the start on March 10 of talks between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that would include government officials on a political settlement to decades of conflict.
    But the peace effort quickly hit an obstacle, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refusing to implement a provision of the accord – to which his government was not a party – for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners, saying the issue should be negotiated.    The Taliban, however, demanded about 5,000 prisoners be freed before they will begin the peace talks.
    In a statement on the Trump-Baradar conversation, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid indicated that Baradar had given no ground on the insurgents’ demand.
    “Baradar said to Trump,‘It is the inherent right of the Afghans that all the points of this agreement are implemented as soon as possible so that peace may come to Afghanistan,’” said Mujahid.
    During the 35-minute discussion, he said, Trump told Baradar that he would soon have U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak to Ghani “so that the barriers against the inter-Afghan talks get removed.”
    Speaking with reporters as he left the White House, Trump gave few details of the discussion.    “They’re dealing with Afghanistan but we’ll see what happens.    We had actually a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban,” he said.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul and Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Mary Milliken/Mark Heinrich)

3/3/2020 Chinese cybersecurity company accuses CIA of 11-year-long hacking campaign by Raphael Satter
FILE PHOTO: A sign of Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd is pictured at Internet Security
Conference 2018 in Beijing, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Chinese anti virus firm Qihoo 360 said CIA hackers have spent more than a decade breaking into the Chinese airline industry and other targets, a blunt allegation of American espionage from a Beijing-based firm.
    In a brief blog post http://blogs.360.cn/post/APT-C-39_CIA_EN.html published on Monday in English and Chinese, Qihoo said it discovered the spying campaign by comparing samples of malicious software it had discovered against a trove of CIA digital spy tools released by WikiLeaks in 2017.
    Qihoo – a major cybersecurity vendor whose research is generally followed for the insight it offers into China’s digital security world – said the Central Intelligence Agency had targeted China’s aviation and energy sectors, scientific research organizations, internet companies, and government agencies.    It added that the hacking of aviation targets might have been aimed at tracking “important figures’ travel itinerary.”
    Qihoo published a catalog of intercepted malicious software samples as well as an analysis of their creation times that suggested that whoever devised the tools did so during working hours on the U.S. East Coast.
    The CIA and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return messages seeking comment.    A message seeking additional comment from Qihoo’s chief security officer, Yuejin Du, was not immediately returned after business hours in Beijing.
    The United States – like China and other world powers – rarely comments when accused of cyberespionage.    There has, however, long been evidence in the public domain – released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, in the U.S. case, or by U.S. prosecutors and private cybersecurity firms, in China’s case – that both countries hack their opponents.
    The allegations leveled against Beijing by U.S. companies have for years been laid out in lengthy, data-heavy reports.    More recently, Chinese companies have begun doing the same with respect to other foreign hacking groups.
    The timing of Qihoo’s most recent publication could be related to last month’s indictment of four Chinese military hackers over a massive breach at U.S. credit reporting agency Equifax, said Adam Segal, who studies China and cybersecurity issues at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
    He said outing CIA operations publicly could be a way of sending a message to Washington – while at the same time burnishing Qihoo’s reputation.
    “This is great public relations for them,” Segal said.
    Qihoo’s publication is the latest fallout from WikiLeaks’ release of CIA hacking tools in 2017.
    U.S. prosecutors have accused a disgruntled CIA coder, Joshua Schulte, of handing the digital espionage arsenal to WikiLeaks as revenge for a series of professional setbacks, calling the leak “instantly devastating.”
    “Years of work and millions of dollars developing those tools went up in smoke,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Denton told a jury at Schulte’s trial in New York last month, according to a transcript https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6768406-20200204.html#document/p14/a549062 of his remarks.
    Schulte denies the allegation, saying he is being unfairly blamed for the breach because of his contentious relationship with his colleagues.
    The Manhattan jury in Schulte’s case is expected to begin its deliberations Tuesday.
(Reporting by Raphael Satter, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

3/3/2020 U.N. nuclear watchdog admonishes Iran for denying access to two sites by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters amongst other flags in front of the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. watchdog policing Iran’s troubled nuclear deal with major powers admonished Tehran on Tuesday for failing to answer its questions about past nuclear activities at three sites and for denying it access to two of them.
    Reuters first reported on Monday that the IAEA planned to issue a second report in addition to its regular quarterly update on Iran’s nuclear activities, rebuking Iran for less than full cooperation in general and for failing to grant U.N. inspectors access to one or more sites of interest.
    The regular report showed Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium nearly tripling since November to more than a ton, as Tehran continues to breach key limits of its steadily eroding nuclear deal in response to renewed U.S. sanctions against it since Washington pulled out of the accord in May 2018.
    The extraordinary second report delved into the International Atomic Energy Agency’s open questions and Iran’s denial of access to sites which a senior diplomat said are believed to have been active in the early 2000s.
    “Iran has not provided access to the agency to two locations … and not engaged in substantive discussions to clarify agency questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities,” the second confidential IAEA report to member states said.
    “The director general calls on Iran to immediately cooperate fully with the agency, including by providing prompt access to the locations specified,” said the report, seen by Reuters, referring to new IAEA chief Rafael Grossi of Argentina, who took office in December.
    What exactly is thought to have happened at the three sites, none of which the IAEA has visited before, is unclear.
    They are also different to the site in Tehran to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew attention in 2018, calling it a “secret atomic warehouse,” where the IAEA later found uranium traces.
    Discussions with Iran aimed at explaining those traces of uranium that was processed – but not enriched – are ongoing, despite the agency previously encouraging Iran to do more.
SANITIZING
    The second report said the IAEA’s open questions include whether natural uranium was used at one of the three sites, one that the IAEA has yet to say it wants to visit.
    At one of the other two the agency has seen activities “from early July 2019 onwards that were consistent with efforts to sanitize part of the location,” it said.
    The term “sanitize” is often used to denote construction or demolition work intended to remove traces of nuclear material.
    Diplomats who tipped off Reuters about the second report said the agency was looking at sites which – like the Tehran one where uranium particles were found – were mentioned in a trove of data on Iran’s past nuclear activities that Israel calls the “atomic archive,” which it says its agents seized in Iran.
    U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe the Islamic Republic had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that it halted in 2003, long before the 2015 deal.
    That is also roughly the time at which an exiled Iranian opposition group exposed the existence of Iran’s underground uranium enrichment complex at Natanz.    The revelation raised international alarm about Tehran’s covert nuclear activities, which it later declared to the IAEA.
    Tuesday’s second report also said Iran had informed the IAEA that it “will not recognize any allegation on past activities and does not consider itself obliged to respond to such allegations.”
    While the 2015 deal drew a line under Iran’s past atomic activities, the IAEA’s non-proliferation mandate must also account for all nuclear material and activities.    If previously unknown items come to light, it investigates.
    The deal, which lifted international sanctions against Tehran in exchange for limits on its uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities, is aimed at keeping Tehran at least a year away from accumulating enough fissile material for an atomic bomb if it sought one.
    Iran denies ever having had a nuclear arms program and says it would never seek to build an atomic bomb.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/3/2020 Pakistan court gives green light to women’s march – with conditions by Mubasher Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: A woman carries a sign and chants slogans during a rally to mark International
Women's Day in Lahore, Pakistan March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/File Photo
    LAHORE (Reuters) – A Pakistani court on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to the country’s largest women’s rights event but told organizers to ensure participants adhere to “decency and moral values.”
    The country-wide event, known as Aurat March, using the Urdu word for women, has been attended by tens of thousands over the last two years to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.
    A court in Lahore was petitioned last month to place restrictions on the organizers and participants of the march, whom the complainant said had an agenda to “spread anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy and hatred” against Islam.
    The court told organizers to consult local officials to finalize arrangements for the event, which campaigns for reclaiming space for women as well as the LGBT community.
    Global watchdogs have expressed concern in recent years over what they see as a growing clampdown on rights campaigns in Pakistan.
    “The court remarked that the participants should not ignore decency and moral values while carrying placards and chanting slogans,” the movement’s lawyer Saqib Jilani told Reuters, adding that organizers had been ordered to devise a code of conduct but already had one.
    Local police, told to ensure security for the march, submitted a report to the court stating the event faced a threat from radical groups including Pakistani Taliban militants.
    The police told the court they would provide security but it was essential for organizers to prohibit participants from engaging in “controversial acts.”
    There was uproar in conservative circles over slogans at last year’s event.    Some said: “My body, my choice!”    “My body is not your battleground!” and “Stop being menstrual phobic!
    Following last year’s event, organizers said they faced a backlash including murder and rape threats.
    Ahead of this year’s event, volunteers and organizers in Islamabad and Lahore say posters and murals are being vandalized.
(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

3/3/2020 Wash your hands, Iran’s Khamenei says, as coronavirus toll rises
FILE PHOTO: Members of a medical team spray disinfectant to sanitize outdoor place of Imam Reza's holy shrine, following
the coronavirus outbreak, in Mashhad, Iran February 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Iranians should follow the recommendations of authorities to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as the deputy health minister reported more infections and a higher death toll of 77.
    Speaking on state TV, he also described the outbreak as “not something extraordinary.”
    Iran has had the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where it originated, and several officials have been infected — including the head of Iran’s emergency medical services, ILNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
    The death of one top official was reported on Monday.
    Khamenei said government bodies and the armed forces should give full support to the health ministry and that Iranian authorities have dealt transparently with the virus’s spread.
    “Don’t violate the recommendations and instructions of the responsible authorities in terms of prevention, in terms of keeping hands, face and living environment clean and not infecting these and preventing the infection of these,” he said.
    Khamenei also said the outbreak should not be overblown.
    “The issue is an issue that will pass.    It’s not something extraordinary,” he said.    “I don’t want to minimize the issue but let’s not make it very big either."
    “It’s an issue that has occurred, it’s for a period … that inshallah will not be very long.”
Separately, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said 2,336 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Iran.
    “Based on the latest statistics that have been compiled there have been an additional 835 definite new infections. Unfortunately we have 11 new deaths,” he told state TV.
    “With these numbers the definite number of new infections is 2,336 and the definite number of deaths has reached 77.”
    Those infected with coronavirus include head of emergency medical services, Pirhossein Kolivand, ILNA reported.
    Lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri said 23 members of parliament have been infected, according to state TV-affiliated website YJC.    He did not specify when they had been infected.
    “Meetings between people and the representatives have been temporarily stopped,” Mesri was quoted as saying.
    The announcement in a short period of time of dozens of deaths and hundreds of infections from coronavirus has led some Iranians on social media to accuse authorities of a cover up.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/4/2020 Researchers identify two coronavirus types as China cases dwindle by Andrew Galbraith and David Stanway
A man wearing a face mask rides a kick scooter through an intersection in Wuhan, the epicentre
of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Scientists in China studying the viral disease outbreak’s origin said they had found that two main types of the new coronavirus could be causing infections.
    The researchers, from Peking University’s School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, cautioned that their analysis examined a limited range of data, and said follow-up analyses of larger data sets are needed to better understand the virus’s evolution.
    The preliminary study found that a more aggressive type of the new coronavirus associated with the disease outbreak in Wuhan accounted for about 70% of analyzed strains, while 30% was linked to a less aggressive type.
    The prevalence of the more aggressive virus decreased after early January 2020, they said.
    “These findings strongly support an urgent need for further immediate, comprehensive studies that combine genomic data, epidemiological data, and chart records of the clinical symptoms of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19),” they wrote.
    Their findings were published on Tuesday in the National Science Review, the journal of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
    The findings come amid a fall in new coronavirus cases following crippling restrictions imposed on the world’s second largest economy to stop its spread, including transport suspensions and the extension of the Lunar New Year holiday.
    Mainland China had 119 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the National Health Commission said, down slightly from 125 the previous day, in a broad trend that has seen numbers of new cases fall from the middle of February.
    The total number of cases on the mainland has now reached 80,270.    The number of deaths rose by 38 to bring the total toll for mainland China to 2,981 by March 3.
    All but one new death occurred in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.
OVERSEAS SPREAD
    With the number of new daily infections overseas now exceeding new cases in China, Chinese officials have begun to seek ways to control the spread of the virus outside of China and guard against future outbreaks.
    Authorities have asked overseas Chinese hoping to return home to reconsider their travel plans, while cities across the country have set up quarantine rules for those entering from high-risk places.
    Italy, South Korea and Iran have all become infection hot spots.
    An infected person is known to have arrived in China from Iran last week.
    China is encouraging domestic producers of medical protective equipment to export protective suits to meet overseas demand as the virus spreads, Cao Xuejun, an official with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.
    China’s health authorities are also studying setting up emergency reserves for medical resources and protective materials, Mao Qunan, an official at China’s National Health Commission said at the same briefing.
    The coronavirus outbreak had exposed the weakness of China’s emergency reserves, he said.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Sophie Yu, Muyu Xu, Se Young Lee, Engen Tham and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Mike Collett-White)

3/4/2020 IAEA Chief: Iran failed to answer questions about 3 possibly undeclared nuclear sites by OAN Newsroom
FILE – A worker rides a bike in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear
power plant, outside Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency, File)
    The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog recently slammed Iran after it refused to answer questions about three potentially undeclared nuclear sites.    In an interview Tuesday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, said the country’s lack of cooperation could spur on a new nuclear crisis.
    A recent report by the agency found Iran has more than tripled its supply of enriched uranium within the past three months, which is an amount in strict violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.
    The IAEA sent three separate letters to Iran, but reportedly did not receive a response and were even denied access to two of the sites.
    “We haven’t been receiving the necessary cooperation from Iran on certain clarifications, access and information that we need, not directly related to the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear deal),” Grossi explained.    “…But rather to the comprehensive safeguards’ agreement and the additional protocol that they have in place, which requires them to help us and collaborate with us.”
Designated Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi
from Argentina, addresses the media during a news conference during a general confernce of the IAEA,
at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
    Grossi said he hopes Iran will return to full compliance, but Tehran has said it hopes to use the violations to put pressure on other nations to provide economic incentives.    Iranian officials have said they will stop violating nuclear agreements if their economic needs are met.
    Nonetheless, UN officials have urged world powers not to panic as they still need to verify all the information is complete.
    “So, when we have information that indicates that there could be information, activities, materials that could not be accounted for, then we have to ask for clarification and this is all we’re doing,” said Grossi.
    Officials stressed that if the information is true then there is no indication Iran will rush to creating a nuclear bomb.

3/4/2020 U.S. carries out air strike on Taliban, calls for halt to ‘needless attacks’ by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Charlotte Greenfield
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand at a checkpost, where last night clashes took place
between Taliban and Afghan forces in Kunduz, Afghanistan March 4, 2020 REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday carried out its first air strike on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan since the two sides signed a troop withdrawal agreement on Saturday.
    A U.S. forces spokesman confirmed the incident in southern Helmand province, hours after President Donald Trump spoke by phone with chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund on Tuesday, the first known conversation between a U.S. leader and a top Taliban official.
    The Taliban fighters “were actively attacking an (Afghan National Security Forces) checkpoint.    This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for U.S. Forces, Afghanistan, said in a tweet.
    He said Washington was committed to peace but would defend Afghan forces if needed.
    “Taliban leadership promised the (international) community they would reduce violence and not increase attacks.    We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments,” he said.
    The air strike was the first by the United States against the Taliban in 11 days, when a reduction in violence agreement had begun between the sides in the lead up to Saturday’s pact.
    Since the signing, the Taliban had decided on Monday to resume normal operations against Afghan forces, though sources have said they will continue to hold back on attacks on foreign forces.
    The Taliban has declined to confirm or deny responsibility for any of the attacks.
    Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a Tweet that “according to the plan (the Taliban) is implementing all parts of the agreement one after another in order to keep the fighting reduced.”
    A Taliban senior commander in Helmand who declined to be named said that a drone had targeted their position.     “As far as I know we didn’t suffer any human losses but we are working on it and sent our team to the area,” he told Reuters, adding that the group’s senior leadership in Afghanistan had called an emergency meeting to discuss what he described as a “major violation” of the agreement.
THINGS COULD SPIRAL
    Experts said the public agreement was vague on details around ongoing violence in the country, but that the air strike and comments from U.S. officials suggested the United States had a plan to ensure reduced violence against Afghan forces and civilians.
    “It is significant.    I don’t think it signals the collapse of the whole U.S.-Taliban agreement…(but) you can easily see how things could spiral,” said Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst covering Afghanistan at International Crisis Group.
    A spokesman for Helmand’s provincial governor said the Taliban had attacked a security checkpoint in Washer district – a different district to the one in which the U.S. carried out its air strike – on Tuesday evening, killing two police officers.
    An interior ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, said on Wednesday the Taliban had conducted 30 attacks in 15 provinces in the previous 24 hours, killing four civilians and 11 security and defense force members. Seventeen Taliban members had been killed, he said.
    The weekend agreement envisages a full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces within 14 months, dependent on security guarantees by the Taliban, but faces a number of hurdles as the United States tries to shepherd the Taliban and Afghan government towards talks.
    In Washington, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives said secret annexes of the accord contained conditions for the U.S. withdrawal and questioned why they were classified.
    “The administration is telling a terrorist group the conditions (such as they are) of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, but not telling the American people,” Tom Malinowski, formerly the State Department’s top official for human rights, wrote on Twitter.    “This is wrong.    And serves no national security purpose.”
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul; additional reporting by Zainullah Stanekzai in Helmand, Sardar Razmal in Kunduz, Orooj Hakimi in Kabul, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Jonathan Landay in Washington; editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean, Timothy Heritage and David Gregorio)

3/4/2020 Coronavirus has spread to nearly all Iran provinces: president by Babak Dehghanpisheh
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran,
March 4, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Coronavirus has spread to almost all of Iran’s provinces but the country will get through the outbreak with a “minimum” number of deaths, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday.
    “This disease is a widespread disease,” he said during a Cabinet meeting, according to the official presidency website.
    “It has reached almost all our provinces and in one sense it’s a global disease.”
    The health ministry said on Tuesday that 92 people had died so far from coronavirus, one of the highest death tolls outside China where the epidemic originated late last year.    It said 2,922 people had been infected with the disease.
    Among those infected is first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, the IranWire news site reported, citing an “informed source.”    There was no immediate confirmation from officials.
    Several Iranian officials have come down with coronavirus and one senior official died from an infection on Monday.
    The Islamic Republic has canceled Friday prayers in all provincial capitals this week because of the coronavirus outbreak, state television reported on Wednesday.
    Rouhani said Iran would get through the outbreak with a minimum number of deaths and in the shortest period of time thanks to the skills of its doctors and nurses.
    He took a jab at an American offer to help with the outbreak without mentioning the United States directly.
    Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had offered to help Iran with the outbreak.
    “They’ve appeared with a mask of sympathy that ‘we also want to help the people of Iran’,” Rouhani said.    “If you are really telling the truth, then lift sanctions from medicine.”
    President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions which have hammered Iran’s economy.
    U.S. officials have said that the sanctions do not target medicine for Iran, a point Iranian officials dispute.
    Video aired on state television of Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting showed Rouhani and ministers in a larger room than the usual venue for the weekly gathering.
    IranWire reported that Jahangiri was quarantined last week after a government meeting on combating coronavirus that was attended by several ministers and senior officials.
    Separately, Bahrain on Wednesday reported three new coronavirus cases, raising its total number to 52.
    Oman also reported three new cases – two Iranians and one Omani, raising its total number to 15, according to the Omani health ministry.    All three cases were related to travel to Iran, the ministry said.
    And the Dubai Health Authority reported on Wednesday that a 16-year-old student had tested positive for coronavirus, raising the total number of cases in the United Arab Emirates to 28.
    Several countries in the Gulf region have reported coronavirus infections in individuals who had traveled to Iran.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Nafisa Eltahir, Alaa Swilam, and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)

3/4/2020 India’s coronavirus cases nears 30, hits major payments firm by Alasdair Pal
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff with protective clothing are seen inside a ward specialised in receiving any person who may have been
infected with coronavirus, at the Rajiv Ghandhi Government General hospital in Chennai, India, January 29, 2020. REUTERS/P. Ravikumar
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The total number of known coronavirus cases in India rose sharply to 29 on Wednesday, including 16 Italian tourists who had tested positive for the disease as well as an employee of a digital payments company who had traveled to Italy.
    On Monday, the world’s second-most populous country had only six reported cases of coronavirus, but it is one of the places U.S. intelligence agencies are most closely monitoring due to fears over how it would cope with a widespread outbreak.
    Authorities are increasing screenings at airports and border crossings, and urging citizens to avoid large crowds.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would not attend celebrations for the Hindu Holi festival, scheduled to be held across the country next week.
    “Experts across the world have advised to reduce mass gatherings to avoid the (virus) spread,” Modi said in a tweet on Wednesday.    “Hence, this year I have decided not to participate.”
    An employee of Paytm – an Indian payments company whose parent firm is backed by Alibaba and SoftBank – who had vacationed in Italy and is based in Gurugram near New Delhi tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson said late on Wednesday.
    “We have also advised all our colleagues to work from home for a couple of days while we get our offices sanitized,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that daily operations and services would not be impacted.
    Paytm has six offices around New Delhi, employing more than 3,000 people.
SCREEN ALL INTERNATIONAL PASSENGERS
    An Italian visiting the western desert state of Rajasthan was among those who had tested positive earlier.
    And on Wednesday, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said 15 of 21 tourists from Italy – Europe’s worst-affected country – who had been taken to a quarantine facility on the outskirts of New Delhi had tested positive for the virus.
    Their Indian driver was also placed in quarantine.
    Indian stock markets slid nearly 2% after the government disclosed the rise in cases, before paring losses late in the day.
    Vardhan said authorities were taking extra precautions against the spread of the virus after the sharp rise in cases.
    “We will now screen all international passengers.    We will not limit our screenings to 12 countries as we did earlier,” Vardhan told a news conference.
    More than 93,000 cases have been reported worldwide, and several thousand have died from the flu-like coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has since spread to more than 80 countries.
    India, the world’s largest supplier of generic drugs, has curbed the export of pharmaceuticals due to fears of coronavirus-related shortages and this has caused “panic” in Europe, the head of the country’s top pharmaceuticals export group told Reuters on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal,; Editing by Euan Rocha and Mark Heinrich)

3/4/2020 Thousands wait for hospital beds in South Korea as coronavirus cases surge by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha
South Korean soldiers in protective gear sanitize a shopping street in Seoul, South Korea, March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as many sick people waited for hospital beds in Daegu, the city at the center of the worst outbreak outside China.
    The new cases bring South Korea’s total to 5,621, with at least 32 deaths, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
    Most cases were in and around Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city, where the flu-like virus has spread rapidly through members of a fringe Christian group.
    Health officials expect the number of new cases to be high for the near future as they complete the testing of more than 200,000 members of the sect, as well as thousands of other suspected cases from smaller clusters.
    “We need special measures in times of emergency,” South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a cabinet meeting, referring to extra medical resources for hotspots and economic measures including a $9.8 billion stimulus.
    “In order to overcome COVID-19 as quickly as possible and minimize the impact on the economy, it is necessary to proactively inject all available resources.”
    COVID-19 is the illness caused by the new coronavirus which emerged from China late last year to spread around the world.
    Hospitals in South Korea’s hardest hit areas were scrambling to accommodate the surge in new patients.
    In Daegu, 2,300 people were waiting to be admitted to hospitals and temporary medical facilities, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said.    A 100-bed military hospital that had been handling many of the most serious cases was due to have 200 additional beds available by Thursday, he added.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday declared “war” on the virus, apologized for shortages of face masks and promised support for virus-hit small businesses in Asia’s fourth-biggest economy.
TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS     Moon’s office on Wednesday said he had canceled a planned trip to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey in mid-March due to the crisis.
    At least 92 countries have imposed some form of entry restrictions on arrivals from South Korea, according to a tally by Yonhap news agency.
    Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young met the U.S. ambassador on Wednesday as part of Seoul’s efforts to prevent the United States from imposing restrictions.
    In the meeting, Cho outlined South Korea’s efforts to control the outbreak and urged the United States not to take steps that would affect exchanges between the two countries, the foreign ministry said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said this week his administration was watching Italy, South Korea and Japan – all with severe outbreaks – and would make a decision about travel restrictions “at the right time.”
    “We remain confident in the South Korean government’s robust and comprehensive response efforts to limit the spread of the virus,” U.S. ambassador Harry Harris tweeted after meeting Cho.
    Up to 10,000 people are being tested each day in South Korea, and daily totals have decreased slightly since a peak of 909 new cases on Saturday, the KCDC said.
Experts caution that the results of those tests could take some time to be processed, leading to future spikes in confirmed cases.
(Reporting by Josh Smith, Sangmi Cha, and Jack Kim; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Stephen Coates and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/5/2020 China coronavirus infections spike in central city of Wuhan
Medical workers wearing face masks jump rope as they take a break outside the hotel where they stay, in Wuhan,
the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China March 5, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported a rise in new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Thursday, reversing three straight days of declines, because of a spike in new infections in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak.
    Mainland China had 139 new confirmed cases as of Wednesday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said, bringing the total accumulated number of cases to 80,409.    Authorities reported 119 new cases the previous day and 125 the day before that.
    The increase was driven by more cases in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, where the virus is believed to have emerged in a market late last year.
    Wuhan’s new infections climbed to 131 from 114 a day earlier.    There was no immediate elaboration and health officials were due to hold a briefing later in the day.
    After what some critics said was an initially hesitant response to the new virus, China imposed sweeping restrictions to try to stop it, including transport suspensions, lockdowns of cities and extending a Lunar New Year holiday across the country.
    World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said other countries have much to learn from the way China has handled the outbreak and Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said many countries had asked for help and China was responding.
    The number of new confirmed cases in Hubei, excluding Wuhan, has remained in single digits for seven consecutive days, with three new infections recorded on Wednesday.
    In the rest of mainland China, outside Hubei, there were only five new confirmed cases, the health commission said.
    The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 3,012 as of the end of Wednesday, up by 31 from the previous day. Hubei accounted for all of the new deaths.    In Wuhan, 23 people died.
    With the downward trend in new cases, Chinese authorities have turned their attention to stopping the virus being brought in from new coronavirus hot spots abroad.
‘REPAY KINDNESS’
    The number of new infections overseas now exceeds the tally of new cases in China, with Italy, South Korea and Iran, in particular, seeing worrying spreads of the virus.
    Authorities have asked overseas Chinese hoping to return home to reconsider their travel plans, while cities across the country have set up quarantine rules for those entering from high-risk places.
    An infected person is known to have arrived in China from Iran, one of the virus’ new hot spots, last week.
    The cities of Shanghai and Guangdong have ordered people who have been in countries with severe outbreaks within the previous two weeks to stay in quarantine for 14 days.
    The city of Chengdu in central Sichuan province said it was also ordering quarantine for such people.
    The NHC has said authorities were transitioning from “overall containment to targeted containment” measures, with a focus on containment within communities, and medical treatment.
    Ma told a briefing China would make donations to South Korea, Iraq, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, on top of what it has already given to Pakistan, Japan and Iran.
    China was also considering responding to WHO call for donations, he said.
    “Many of the countries which have requested for our help had actually helped us previously, so when we help these countries, it is to help them fight the virus, and also to repay their kindness,” Ma said.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun, Yew Lun Tian, Gao Liangping and Brenda Goh; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel)

3/5/2020 South Korea declares new ‘special care zone’ as coronavirus spreads by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
South Korean soldiers in protective gear sanitize a street in Seoul, South Korea, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea declared a “special care zone” on Thursday around a second city hit hard by the coronavirus and the U.S. military confirmed two new cases among relatives of its troops in the country, which is battling the biggest outbreak outside China.
    Australia became the latest country to impose travel restrictions on South Koreans, with almost 100 nations now limiting arrivals from the East Asian country, which reported 760 new coronavirus cases on Thursday for a total of 6,088.
    The government declared a “special care zone” around Gyeongsan, a city of about 275,000 people 250 km (150 miles) southeast of Seoul, promising extra resources such as face masks.
    Gyeongsan has seen a spike in cases in recent days, many of them linked to a fringe Christian group at the center of South Korea’s outbreak.    Similar zones have been declared around neighboring Daegu city and Cheongdo County.
    About 75% of all cases in South Korea are in and around Daegu, its fourth-largest city, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
    “Every day is sad and tough like a war. But our Daegu citizens are showing surprise wisdom and courage,” Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin told reporters on Thursday.
    About 2,120 patients were waiting for hospital beds in Daegu, city officials said. Dozens of newly commissioned military nurses were due to begin work in the city on Thursday, the health ministry said.
    The KCDC reported five more deaths from the virus, bringing the total to 37.    The flu-like virus that emerged from China late last year has infected more than 95,300 people and killed almost 3,300 around the world, mostly in China, according to a Reuters tally.
    South Korea also said it was banning the export of face masks, stepping up their production and would ration them to limit individual purchases to two a week, in a bid to ease shortages and curb hoarding.
    People have flocked to supermarkets, pharmacies and online distributors to buy masks and other supplies, with hundreds lining up at some stores every morning.
    KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook advised all South Koreans to stay home and avoid “any gatherings, especially those that take place in enclosed places with many people such as religious events.”
    He also advised employers in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, home to tech giants like Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, to allow staff to work from home.
‘DEEPLY REGRETTABLE’
    U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) reported two new cases, for a total of six among soldiers, employees or people related to the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
    Despite the new cases, USFK had resumed sending troops to bases in Daegu and surrounding areas, according to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
    Commanders believed the bases were protected from the outside population, and troop rotations were needed to maintain readiness in the face of threats from nuclear-armed North Korea, the newspaper reported.
    Australia’s ban on the arrival of foreigners from South Korea is a blow to Seoul’s efforts to prevent the United States from imposing such restrictions.
    “It is a deeply regrettable step, and we will closely consult Australian authorities for a swift revocation of the measure and to minimise inconvenience for our citizens,” foreign ministry spokesman Kim In-chul told reporters.
    South Korean officials met the U.S. ambassador in Seoul on Wednesday to urge the United States not to limit travel.
    Similar talks would be held on Friday with diplomats from other nations, the foreign ministry said.
    According to the U.S. State Department, anyone with a fever of 100.4 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) is already banned from boarding direct flights from South Korea to the United States.
    Korean Air Lines said it would screen all departing passengers for high temperatures and reject those deemed a risk.
    South Korea sent three “rapid response” teams to Vietnam on Thursday to help more than 270 citizens quarantined there over coronavirus concerns, the foreign ministry said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel)

3/5/2020 Special Report: Before coronavirus, China bungled swine epidemic with secrecy by Dominique Patton
Two surviving pigs are pictured in a pigpen at a village in Henan province, China
January 13, 2020. Picture taken January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    (Reuters) – When the deadly virus was first discovered in China, authorities told the people in the know to keep quiet or else.    Fearing reprisal from Beijing, local officials failed to order tests to confirm outbreaks and didn’t properly warn the public as the pathogen spread death around the country.
    All this happened long before China’s coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives worldwide in less than three months.    For the past 19 months, secrecy has hobbled the nation’s response to African swine fever, an epidemic that has killed millions of pigs.    A Reuters examination has found that swine fever’s swift spread was made possible by China’s systemic under-reporting of outbreaks.    And even today, bureaucratic secrecy and perverse policy incentives continue undermining Chinese efforts to defeat one of the worst livestock epidemics in modern history.     Beijing’s secretive early handling of the coronavirus epidemic has troubling similarities to its missteps in containing African swine fever, but with the far higher stakes of a human infection.    After the coronavirus was found in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, local and national officials were slow to sound the alarm and take actions disease experts say are needed to contain deadly outbreaks.    Beijing continues to gag negative news and online postings about the disease, along with criticism of the government’s response.
    With swine fever, Beijing set a tone of furtiveness across government and industry by denying or downplaying the severity of a disease that the meat industry estimates has shrunk China’s 440-million-hog herd by more than half.    The epidemic has taken a quarter of the world’s hogs off the market, hurt livelihoods, caused meat prices to spike globally and pushed food inflation to an eight-year high.
(For a graphic on soaring China pork prices, click https://graphics.reuters.com/SWINEFEVER-CHINA-EPIDEMIC/0100B5HN3X1/index.html)
    Cover-ups across China – coupled with underfinancing of relief for devastated pig farmers and weak enforcement of restrictions on pork transport and slaughter – have enabled the spread of the livestock virus to the point where it now threatens pig farmers worldwide, according to veterinarians, industry analysts and hog producers.    Since the China outbreak, African swine fever has broken out in 10 countries in Asia.
    The vacuum of credible information has made it impossible for farmers, industry and government to tell how and why the disease spread so quickly, making preventive measures difficult, said Wayne Johnson, a Beijing-based veterinarian who runs Enable Ag-Tech Consulting.
    “To get it under control, you have to know where it is,” Johnson said.
    China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in a statement to Reuters that it has repeatedly communicated to all regions the importance of timely and accurate reporting of African swine fever outbreaks and had zero tolerance for hiding and delaying the reporting of cases.
    Interviews with farmers, industry analysts and major suppliers to China’s pork sector indicate otherwise.    More than a dozen Chinese farmers told Reuters they reported disease outbreaks to local authorities that never made it into Beijing’s official statistics.    Those infections are going unreported to central authorities in part because counties lack the cash to follow a separate requirement from Beijing to compensate farmers for pigs killed to control the disease.
    Local officials have also avoided reporting outbreaks out of fear of the political consequences.    And they have routinely refused to test pigs for the virus when mass deaths are reported, according to interviews with farmers and executives at corporate producers.
    A farmer surnamed Zhao, who raises a herd in Henan province, said local officials told him as much when they resisted recording the outbreak he reported on his farm, which wiped out his herd.
    “‘We haven’t had a single case of African swine fever.    If I report it, we have a case,’” Zhao recalled an official telling him.    The local officials could not be reached for comment and a fax seeking comment went unanswered.
    When the coronavirus hit, Chinese authorities reacted with a push to reassure the public that all was well.    The first reported death from the virus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, came on Jan. 9 – a 61-year-old man in Wuhan.    In the following days, Chinese authorities said that the virus was under control and not widely transmissible.
    The assurances came despite a lack of reliable data and testing capacity in Wuhan.    Testing kits for the disease were not distributed to some of Wuhan’s hospitals until about Jan. 20, an official at the Hubei Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Hubei CDC) told Reuters.    Before then, samples had to be sent to a laboratory in Beijing for testing, a process that took three to five days to get results, according to Wuhan health authorities.
    During that gap, city hospitals reduced the number of people under medical observation from 739 to 82, according to data from Wuhan health authorities compiled by Reuters, and no new cases were reported inside China.
    China’s top leadership has dramatically ramped up the public-health response since its early missteps.    Beijing built new hospitals in days to treat the sick and launched an unprecedented blockade of the disease epicenter on Jan. 23, first quarantining Wuhan’s 11 million residents at home, then suspending transport in all major cities of Hubei province, home to about 60 million people.
    Still, the initial attempts to tightly control information left many people unaware of the risks and unable to take precautions that might have prevented infection – and the suppressing of news and commentary continues today.    Wuhan authorities reprimanded eight people they accused of spreading “illegal and false” information about the disease.    One of them, 34-year-old doctor Li Wenliang, later died from coronavirus, triggering an angry backlash on social media.
    Some critical posts were allowed during a brief and unusual period of online openness in late January.    But Beijing’s censors – the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) – have since cracked down on posts about Li and other information that authorities deem negative, according to CAC censorship orders sent to online news outlets and seen by Reuters. One CAC notice ordered online outlets to guard against “harmful information.”    Another ordered them not to “push any negative story.”
    The CAC did not respond to a request for comment sent by fax.
UNREPORTED OUTBREAKS
    Beijing had years to prepare for African swine fever.    Veterinarians have frequently warned Chinese authorities of the risks since the disease started spreading through the Caucasus region in 2007.
    Pigs infected by the virus initially suffer high fever, loss of appetite and diarrhea.    Then their skin turns red as internal hemorrhaging starts and their organs swell, leading to death in as little as a week.
    With no vaccine or cure available for the disease, experts recommend that infected pigs and others housed in the same barn are culled, with the carcasses either burned or buried to prevent further infection.    Farms, equipment and vehicles that could be contaminated need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected
.
    The first case in China was discovered on Aug. 1, 2018, on a farm near Shenyang, in the northeastern province of Liaoning.    Just two weeks later, the virus was found more than 1,000 kilometers to the south in pigs bought by the country’s top pork processor, WH Group, from another northeastern province, Heilongjiang.    It took Beijing another two weeks to block pig exports from the whole region, and that and other transport restrictions were poorly enforced, said Johnson and other industry experts. WH Group declined to comment.
    One factor behind the epidemic: Chinese consumers prefer fresh pork – straight from the slaughterhouse, rather than chilled.    This means hundreds of thousands of live pigs are moved long distances every day to supply processors in major cities. That mass movement spread the disease relentlessly.
    Over the first four months of the outbreak, Beijing reported swine-fever cases almost daily as the virus spread from the northeast down through central China, west into Sichuan, and to the huge province of Guangdong by year-end.    Veterinarians believe the virus spread quickly because it can survive for weeks on dirty farm equipment or livestock trucks.
    And yet gaps in counting and tracking the pig disease have been routine across China.    Reuters found a striking absence of reported outbreaks in some of the nation’s most productive pork regions.
    For instance, almost none of the reported outbreaks have come from the major hog-raising provinces of Hebei, Shandong and Henan.    The three contiguous northern provinces were the source of some 20% of the 700 million pigs China slaughtered in 2017.    Many came from backyard farms, which make up a large part of China’s industry and have proven fertile breeding grounds for the disease.    Yet each of the three provinces has reported just a single case of African swine fever, despite widespread anecdotal reports of outbreaks there that industry sources believe killed millions of pigs.
    Neither Shandong nor Henan authorities responded to requests for comment.    Hebei’s department of agriculture said it had “strictly reported and verified the epidemic” and that the disease situation was currently “stable.”
    Six Henan farmers told Reuters they reported outbreaks during late 2018 and the first half of 2019.    In some cases, local authorities helped deal with dead pigs, they said, but never tested for the virus.
    That’s what happened when Wang Shuxi, a farmer in Henan’s Gushi County, lost more than 400 pigs in March 2019.    Wang said he had no doubt that his pigs had African swine fever, even though authorities never tested them – and he couldn’t test them himself, because Beijing did not permit the commercial sale of disease test kits at the time.
    His pigs showed telltale symptoms of the disease.
    “The whole body went red,” he said.    He injected the animals with an anti-fever medication to no avail.    “At the start, they didn’t eat, and even after injections, it kept returning,” he said.    “If you can’t cure it, you know it’s swine fever.”
    Provincial and county governments had strong incentives to avoid verifying and reporting outbreaks because of Beijing’s rules on compensating farmers, said Huang Yanzhong, specialist in health governance with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
    Under an African swine fever contingency plan drawn up in 2015, Beijing ordered the culling of all pigs on farms where the disease is found and on every farm within a three-kilometer radius.    The central government raised compensation from 800 yuan ($115) to 1,200 yuan for every pig culled in 2018.    Beijing typically promised to provide between 40% and 80% of the money, depending on the province. Localities would fund the rest.
    In April 2019, the national agriculture ministry said the central government had allocated 630 million yuan to cull 1.01 million pigs to contain the disease.    But that money either wasn’t sufficient or regularly did not get paid out, farmers told Reuters.    None of about a dozen farmers who told Reuters they tried to report outbreaks said they had received the promised 1,200 yuan for each pig.
    Many got nothing.    Wang, the Gushi County farmer, said that almost a year after his pigs died, he has received no recompense.    Gushi County officials could not be reached for comment.
    Many farmers, eager to salvage value from their herds, have resorted to sending their pigs to slaughter at the first sign of illness – thereby thrusting the virus into the human food supply.    The swine fever virus does not threaten people.    But its presence in meat – where it can survive for weeks – creates a cycle of infection because many backyard farmers feed pigs with restaurant scraps that include pork.
    Garbage feeding caused 23 outbreaks in 2018, Huang Baoxu, deputy director of the China Animal Health and Epidemiology Center, told reporters at a briefing in November that year.    His remarks were a rare instance where the central government revealed findings about the spread of the hog virus.    The center declined to comment for this story.
    Farmers visiting slaughterhouses dealing in sick pigs also likely picked up the virus on their trucks or equipment, spreading it back to their farms, Johnson said.
    In the southern province of Guangxi, the disease raged through the spring of 2019 and early summer, several farmers told Reuters last year.    Bobai County was hit hard.
    A Bobai farmer surnamed Huang said she lost almost 500 pigs during April and May.    She said she tried to report the diseased pigs to the local government but was ignored. The official she spoke to by phone never came to her farm.    He told Huang that her pigs could not be saved – but that they didn’t have African swine fever.    His advice, she said: “hurry and sell the pigs while they could be sold.”
    Huang said she sold more than 30 pigs that she believed had the virus.    They looked healthy when she sold them, she said.    Others sold obviously sick pigs at very low prices.    “Traders took all the pigs, including the sick ones – as long as they could walk to the trucks,” she said.
    Huang buried her dead pigs daily for weeks on a relative’s land. Others simply dumped their dead pigs on the roadside or in the mountains, she said. The government provided no help.
    Eventually, in late May, Bobai County reported one pig dead from the disease, official statistics show.
    Authorities in Guangxi did not respond to a request for comment, and officials in Bobai county’s agriculture bureau could not be reached.
    Beijing’s agriculture ministry said in a statement that it had issued an August 2019 order requiring punishments in situations where localities failed to report outbreaks.    The ministry said it meted out unspecified discipline to more than 600 local personnel for what it called failures to manage the disease that were uncovered in its investigations of problem areas.
    The practice of processing infected hogs has persisted despite new rules from Beijing in July that required slaughterhouses to test all batches of pigs for the virus.    The agriculture ministry said in January that 5% of the more than 2,000 samples taken from slaughterhouses in November tested positive for the disease.
    An Australian study in September found 48% of meat products confiscated from Asian travelers arriving at its ports and airports contained the virus.
    “It showed there’s an awful lot of unrevealed infection not being reported to the authorities,” said Trevor Drew, director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory.
    One such information gap is at the top of the industry – China’s large corporate pig producers.    They have also been hit hard by the disease, despite taking more extensive measures than backyard farms to disinfect trucks and require workers to change clothes and shower before and after shifts.
    None of China’s top publicly traded producers have publicly announced any swine fever outbreak, but executives of major hog producers acknowledged in interviews with Reuters that their herds were hit by the disease.
    Thai conglomerate C.P. Pokphand , one of China’s leading pig producers, has had swine-fever outbreaks on farms in Liaoning, Shandong, Henan and Jiangsu provinces, Bai Shanlin, chief executive of China operations, told Reuters in a rare admission by a listed firm.    Executives at three other listed companies, also among China’s top pig producers, acknowledged outbreaks at several farms but declined to be identified.
    None of the outbreaks that these large companies have confirmed to Reuters were reported by Beijing, according to a Reuters review of the agriculture ministry’s data on outbreaks.
    By August 2019, a year after the first case was found in China, pork prices had passed a record set back in 2016.    And they were still climbing rapidly. With a crucial national celebration approaching in October – the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic – China’s top leaders took note.    Pork is a staple of Chinese cuisine, and rising meat production has been among the many signature achievements in the Communist Party’s decades-long drive to bring prosperity to China.
    In a video conference that month with officials from all 34 provinces and regions, Vice Premier Hu Chunhua issued a warning: Sufficient pork was vital to people’s lives and the country’s stability.    He called for the urgent recovery of the herd as a key “political task.”
    A raft of new production policies and incentives emerged from Beijing. And as the provinces rallied to replenish the nation’s herd, reports of African swine fever grew even more rare.    Disease outbreaks reported by the agriculture ministry have tailed off since August.    In January, Agriculture Minister Han Changfu said the situation has stabilized.
    The government’s statistics are rife with contradictions, however.    The ministry has reported 163 outbreaks of African swine fever since August 2018 and said 1.19 million pigs have been culled, a fraction of 1% of China’s total herd.    Separate ministry data tracking the herd monthly show that, by September 2019, the herd had shrunk by 41% from the prior year.
(For a graphic on the decline in China’s pig herd, click https://graphics.reuters.com/SWINEFEVER-CHINA-EPIDEMIC/0100B5HM3WZ/index.html)
    These official estimates of the decline are far too low, three major industry suppliers told Reuters.
    “It’s at least 60%,” said Johan de Schepper, managing director of Dutch feed ingredients firm Agrifirm International. His assessment, based on sales to about 100 large pig producers, echoed those of others in the industry.
    The virus is still killing pigs nationwide and the herd may still be shrinking, say farmers and industry suppliers.    “Half of the herd was gone before this winter, and I think half of the rest will be gone by the end of the season,” said Johnson, the veterinarian, citing conversations with clients from across China.
    The problem: Some areas were hit with a second wave of the disease.
    Henan province is among them, farmers told Reuters. Last year, about 60% of Henan’s herd was wiped out, mainly in the densely farmed areas in the south and west of the province, analysts at Guotai Junan Securities wrote in an internal memo seen by Reuters.    Recently, the memo noted, the virus has moved through east Henan, taking out another 20%.
    The vicious disease ruined Zhao, the farmer in central China’s Henan province.    The virus struck in October, causing high fever, internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea in his pigs.    Just two survived.    The other 196 died in a week.
    When Zhao tried to report the outbreak to the county veterinary authority, he said, officials strongly encouraged him to keep quiet.    A local official reminded him of the national mandate to cull all pigs within three kilometers of an infected farm. That could spell disaster for his neighbors if Zhao spoke up.
    “If it’s found to be African swine fever, people nearby will have to stop raising pigs,” Zhao recalled a local official telling him.    Zhao decided against filing a report to protect his neighbors, he told Reuters on a recent visit to his farm.
    Further up the political hierarchy, the deputy governor of Henan province was quoted by the provincial agriculture bureau as saying in December that Henan had been free of the disease for 14 months, after a single reported case in September 2018.    The provincial government did not respond to requests for comment.
    The disinformation game continues.    Zhao says that when county officials came by his farm in January, they recorded that he still had 180 pigs.    In fact, he said, he had just the two hogs that survived the October outbreak.
The country is being kept in the dark,” he said.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Additional reporting from the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

3/5/2020 Judges say investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan can proceed by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops assess the damage to an armoured vehicle of NATO-led military coalition
after a suicide attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Nadeem
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday ruled that an investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and U.S. forces may proceed.
    The decision, which comes days after the United States agreed to pull its troops from the long-running conflict, overturns a lower court decision and opens the way for prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to launch a full investigation, despite U.S. government opposition.
    “The Appeals chamber considers it appropriate to…authorize the investigation,” said presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski, noting that Bensouda’s preliminary examination had found reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed in Afghanistan and that the court has jurisdiction.
    Afghanistan is a member of the Hague-based court, though the United States is not and U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration imposed travel restrictions and other sanctions against ICC employees a year ago.
    A pretrial panel last year had rejected Bensouda’s 2017 request to open an investigation, arguing that the odds of success were low, given the passage of time, a lack of cooperation from Kabul and Washington, and because it would not “serve the interests of justice.”
    But Hofmanski said Bensouda should proceed and not limit her investigation to preliminary findings, as that would “erroneously inhibit the prosecution’s truth-seeking function.”
    Bensouda believes there are grounds to open an investigation into abuses committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and to a lesser extent by U.S. forces and the CIA.
    U.S. forces and other foreign troops entered Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 al Qaeda attacks on the United States and overthrew the Taliban government, which had been protecting al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
    In what has become the United States’ longest war, about 13,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan.
    The United States and the Taliban signed an agreement on Saturday to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops still in the country, but Washington carried out an air strike on Taliban fighters on Wednesday.
    The ICC, which began operations in The Hague in 2002, is a court of last resort for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity when committed by nationals of a signatory state, or if they took place on the territory of one of its member states.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Anthony Deutsch, Jonathan Oatis, William Maclean)

3/5/2020 Iran reports 107 deaths, 3513 infections from coronavirus: health ministry spokesman
A member of the medical team wears a protective face mask, following the coronavirus outbreak, as he prepares disinfectant
liquid to sanitise public places in Tehran, Iran March 05, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – One hundred and seven people have died and 3513 have been infected with coronavirus in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur announced on state TV on Thursday.
    “In the last 24 hours the lab samples that have been confirmed include 591 infections from COVID-19 …so we have 3513 cases of COVID-19,” Jahanpur said.    “Unfortunately 15 people died in the past day which brings the total of our dear countrymen who have passed away from COVID-19 to 107.”
    All schools and universities will be closed until the end of the Iranian calendar year on March 20, Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced on state TV earlier.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/5/2020 With North Korea border shut, China warns citizens to keep away, or else by Keith Zhai and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: North Korean fishermen are seen behind a Chinese flag fluttering from the Broken Bridge as the sun sets over the Yalu River
between the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in Liaoning province, China, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo
    SINGAPORE/SEOUL (Reuters) – Chinese authorities have told people to stay away from the border with North Korea, which has banned people from China to keep out the coronavirus, or risk being shot by North Korean guards, residents of the area said.
    Residents said the warning came in a printed notice that Chinese authorities in the area issued this week, the latest indication of how seriously North Korea takes the threat of the virus.
    Close allies China and North Korea share a 1,400-km (880-mile) frontier that is especially porous in winter, when rivers separating the countries freeze, allowing people to cross.
    Residents of the Chinese cities of Jian and Baishan were warned that people who get too close to the border might be shot, according to three people who received the notice, which was reviewed by Reuters.
    “We’re told that we may get killed if we get too close to the border area,” said one restaurant owner in Jian, which is separated from North Korea by the Yalu River, declining to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.
    Residents are prohibited from fishing, grazing livestock or throwing rubbish near the river, according to the notice issued this week.
    North Korea asked China to tighten border controls to avoid its citizens getting shot and killed as North Korea had raised its coronavirus threat assessment to its highest level, it said.
    “The public security organs will monitor the border 24 hours a day and anyone found will face administrative detention” by Chinese police, authorities said in the notice, which was seen by Reuters.
    “Violators will be shot,” it said, meaning by North Korean guards.
    A Jian propaganda official, who declined to be identified, confirmed by telephone that the city’s border control office issued a similar warning in a text message.
    “During the epidemic prevention period, any activities including fishing on the Yalu River or shouting to North Koreans across the river are strictly prohibited,” the office said in the message, although it stopped short of warning of shots.
    The official said the wording on such messages may have gone too far in some areas.    Reuters could not reach city officials in Baishan.    It was not clear if other cities issued such warnings.
    China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ENTRY BANS
    Isolated and impoverished North Korea has imposed strict entry bans during past global epidemics, including a 2014 ebola outbreak.
    North Korea has not reported any coronavirus cases, but experts say its measures in recent weeks go beyond those it took previously.
    North Korea moved quickly to restrict travel and trade from China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year.
    The coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 and killed more than 3,000 in China and is rapidly spreading around the world.
    Most flights and trains in and out of North Korea have been restricted, foreign diplomats in Pyongyang were quarantined for a month, and authorities have cracked down on cross-border smuggling.
    South Korea, separated from the North by the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), has reported nearly 6,000 cases.
    In January, North Korea told travel agencies that it was closing its borders to travelers from China, Reuters reported, cutting off one of its few sources of external revenue.
    It is unclear how much trade continues, but sources who work near the border have said much of the official and unofficial trade was affected.    Activists who work with North Korean refugees trying to leave through China said the border lockdown has made an already dangerous journey nearly impossible.
    “At the border crossings, personnel in charge of inspection and quarantine are discharging their duty in a responsible manner to completely keep the virus from spreading to the country,” the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported last month.
(Reporting by Keith Zhai in Singapore and Josh Smith in Seoul; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

3/5/2020 Japan to suspend visas for Chinese, South Korean visitors, quarantine them
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference on coronavirus
at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will suspend existing visas for visitors from China and South Korea and quarantine them for two weeks in response to the widening coronavirus virus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday.
    The measures will go into effect on March 9.
(Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/5/2020 Europeans, Britain raise North Korea missile launches at U.N. Security Council by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A missile is seen as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a drill of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean
People's Army, in North Korea in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 2, 2020.?KCNA?via REUTERS
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium raised North Korea’s latest missile launches behind closed-doors in the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, condemning the tests as a provocative action in violation of U.N. resolutions.
    North Korea fired two short-range missiles off the east coast into the sea on Monday, resuming testing after a three-month pause, South Korea’s military said.    The launch was the first since North Korea fired what it called “super-large multiple rocket launchers” on Nov. 28.
    In a statement after the 15-member Security Council met, the European members and Britain urged North Korea to engage in good faith negotiations with the United States aimed at Pyongyang’s denuclearisation and take concrete steps toward abandoning nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
    “Continued provocations risk undermining the prospects for a successful negotiations.    It is vital that the Security Council ensures full implementation of its resolutions and that sanctions remain in place,” they said in a joint statement.
    “We call on the international community to comply with the obligation to strictly enforce these sanctions,” they said.
    Russia and China have raised concerns that sanctions were harming North Korean civilians, and have expressed hope that easing some restrictions could help break a deadlock in nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
    Russia and China proposed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution in December that would lift sanctions on industries that earned North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars.    Those sanctions were imposed in 2016 and 2017 to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
    Pyongyang has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its missile and nuclear programs, which the Security Council has unanimously strengthened over the years.    Though some diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, have warned that unity would be broken if Russia and China put their new plan to a vote.
    “That text of the draft resolution remains on the table and we are open for views on that,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters on Monday.    “We believe that it’s a very important step in creating a more favorable environment for the further improvement of the situation in the Korean Peninsula.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

3/5/2020 Afghan president’s rival threatens parallel inauguration after disputed election by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a live debate
at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s main political rival said on Thursday the two sides were holding talks over a disputed presidential election result but that if no solution could be found, he would hold a parallel inauguration next week.
    The dispute between Ghani and his longtime political foe, Abdullah Abdullah, is threatening to hamper the next steps toward a peace deal as the United States attempts to usher the government toward talks with the Taliban after the signing of a U.S. troop withdrawal deal on Saturday.
    “Today, delegations from both sides had a meeting for finding a solution to the current (election) crisis, meetings may continue,” Abdullah said in an interview hosted by local broadcaster Tolo News.
    Ghani is set to hold his inauguration on Monday, and Abdullah has said he will hold a parallel ceremony on the same day.
    “We still have hope to solve the (election) crisis, if not we will have an inauguration ceremony,” said Abdullah.
    Ghani and Abdullah are old rivals who both held roles in the previous government under a U.S.-brokered power-sharing agreement.    A former foreign minister, Abdullah held the specially created post of chief executive in the outgoing government.
    The Election Commission last month announced that Ghani won September’s presidential election but Abdullah has also proclaimed himself winner.
    Afghan government push-back to the Taliban’s prisoner release demand, included in its agreement with the United States, also threatens the U.S.-led effort to bring peace to Afghanistan.
    “Something should be done for sure to release prisoners from both sides as part of a peace deal,” Abdullah told Tolo News.    “The release of 5,000 prisoners should be part of a peace package.”
    He did not elaborate on whether the release needed to take place before or after talks with the Taliban but said that so called intra-Afghan talks should take place “without preconditions.”
    The Taliban have said the release of 5,000 prisoners is a pre-condition to talks.
    Abdullah’s comments appeared to be a softening of his spokesman’s comments to Reuters earlier in the day that the prisoner release should take place “without delay” before talks with the Taliban get under way.
    A spokesman for Ghani did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday but a senior government official reiterated that the release was neither practical nor a prerequisite for the intra-Afghan talks.
    “Over the years, we’ve released hundreds of insurgents as a gesture of good faith but it didn’t help with peace,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
    “The government has to be sure the release guarantees peace negotiations with the Taliban,” the official said.     U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the negotiations with the Taliban, had asked both sides to delay their inaugurations, Abdullah’s spokesman told Reuters, but the senior government official said there was no plans to delay Ghani’s.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, additional reporting by Hamid Shahlizi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Nick Macfie)

3/6/2020 Afghan political leader Abdullah escapes attack on Kabul ceremony by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
Afghan security forces keep watch near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Gunmen attacked a ceremony in the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday where a top Afghan political leader, Abdullah Abdullah, was present but escaped unharmed.
    Eighteen were wounded at the event, according to Afghan officials, the first substantive attack on the capital since a troop withdrawal agreement was signed in Doha between the United States and the Taliban Islamist militant group, who denied responsibility.
    “The attack started with a boom, apparently a rocket landed in the area, Abdullah and some other politicians … escaped the attack unhurt,” Abdullah’s spokesman, Fraidoon Kwazoon, who was also present, told Reuters by telephone.
    The Taliban said in a statement they were not involved in the attack on the gathering, which marked the anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara leader who was killed in 1995 after being taken prisoner by the militants.
    Broadcaster Tolo News showed live footage of people running for cover as gunfire was heard.
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that the attack was “a crime against humanity and against the national unity of Afghanistan.”
    He added he had telephoned Abdullah, his longtime political rival.    Abdullah is contesting an Electoral Commission announcement last month declaring Ghani the winner of September’s presidential election.
    Several people were killed in a similar attack on the same commemoration last year.    Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for that attack.
    Hazaras are mostly Shi’ite Muslims.    Minority Shi’ites have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni Muslim militant groups in Afghanistan.
    The United States has been trying to spearhead efforts towards a lasting peace arrangement.    Violence decreased during a seven-day hold-down agreement with the Taliban leading up to last Saturday’s deal, though the Taliban has since resumed attacks on Afghan forces.
    A senior Western security official said all checkpoints in Kabul were on high alert.
    “It’s too early to say but for now we are intensifying security,” the official said.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi and Rupam Jain; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Robert Birsel and Kevin Liffey)

3/6/2020 Deaths in Singapore ‘inevitable’ as coronavirus spreads globally – minister
FILE PHOTO: Members of the multi-ministry taskforce, Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Health Kenneth Mark, Minister of
Health Gan Kim Yong, Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong and Liew Wei Li, Director of Schools, Ministry of Education, give a
news conference after raising the coronavirus outbreak alert to Orange in Singapore, February 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aradhana Aravindan
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Praised by the World Health Organisation for its efforts to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, Singapore warned on Friday that deaths in the city state would become “inevitable” as a global pandemic emerges.
    Since erupting in China late last year, the epidemic has spread to other parts of the world with cases recently mounting in Europe and North America.
    “It is starting to look like a global pandemic,” said Lawrence Wong, who co-heads Singapore’s virus fighting taskforce.    “It’s not going to be possible to shut ourselves out.”
    The WHO has not categorized the current situation as a pandemic, saying that such a term may amplify fear and signal that the virus cannot be contained.    It has said it would use the term if it became necessary.
    Singapore was one of the worst hit countries outside China in the early stages of the outbreak.    But more than two months since its first case, it has kept infections to just over 100 people, most of whom have been discharged, and had no deaths.
    But officials have warned that its rigid travel restrictions and containment measures may be less effective the further the virus spreads.
    “It is inevitable that at some point in time we will see fatalities from COVID-19 as we have seen all around the world,” health minister Gan Kim Yong said.
    Of the countries with more than 100 cases, Singapore is one of only two not to have recorded fatalities.
    The other is Germany, although the surge in cases there is more recent and almost all of its patients are in care.
    The WHO has praised wealthy Singapore’s virus fight as having left “no stone unturned.”
    Leong Hoe Nam, a disease expert, said early diagnosis and medical support for patients had helped prevent fatalities so far.
    “We catch them early and treat them with good supportive care early and it helps,” Leong said.
    Treatment was the same as in other countries, but Singapore has been “fortunate” that many of its cases were mild, said Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s top medical official.
    Mak said seven of its current patients were critical and that many of them needed ventilators for breathing support.
    Significantly, only eight of 117 virus patients have been aged over 65 years, said Singapore-based infectious diseases expert Dale Fisher, noting age can be a determining factor in the severity of the illness.
(Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/6/2020 Bhutan bans tourists after first coronavirus case, India total hits 31 by Alasdair Pal
A commuter wearing a protective mask travels in a crowded suburban train during
morning rush hour in Mumbai, India, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Bhutan said on Friday it had banned the entry of tourists for two weeks after it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, in a tourist who arrived form neighboring India.
    The tiny Himalayan kingdom, which is heavily reliant on high-end tourism for foreign exchange, said a 79-year-old American who entered by air from India on March 2 had tested positive for the virus.
    “The government will impose two weeks restriction on all incoming tourists with immediate effect,” the health ministry said in a statement.
    “This is to enable rigorous monitoring, source assessment of infection and mitigate the situation.”
    The government also announced the closure of several schools and the postponement of international conferences and seminars for two weeks.
    The ministry said the patient, who had entered India on Feb. 21, had been put in quarantine in hospital in the capital, Thimpu.
    India’s total number of confirmed cases rose to 31, after a person from New Delhi with a history of travel from Thailand and Malaysia tested positive, its health ministry said.
    The coronavirus, which can cause respiratory illness that can lead to pneumonia, is believed to have emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
    Globally, there have been more than 98,000 cases and more than 3,300 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.    Most of the cases and deaths have been in China but the virus is now spreading in numerous countries.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal, additional reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/6/2020 South Korea confirms 196 new coronavirus cases, total 6,284; deaths up by 7 to 42
People wearing face masks stand in line to buy masks at a post office amid the rise in confirmed cases
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – South Korea confirmed a total of 6,284 coronavirus cases on Friday, up by 196 cases from late Thursday.
    The Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention also said seven more deaths from the virus were reported, bringing the total to 42.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

3/6/2020 Australia closes first school after pupil contracts coronavirus by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks walk by Flinders Street Station after cases of the coronavirus
were confirmed in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia ordered its first school closure on Friday after a 16-year-old pupil tested positive for the coronavirus, as the country’s prime minister warned the public bill for treating infected patients could top A$1 billion ($661 million).
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he has written to Australia’s state governments to create a A$1 billion fund to treat coronavirus patients, though he cautioned more money may be needed.
    Australia has recorded 60 cases of the coronavirus while two elderly people have died from the virus as authorities struggle to contain the outbreak.
    Morrison in late February said a global pandemic of the coronavirus was likely, and on Friday he detailed the healthcare costs for the first time.
    “We are estimating based on the advice that we have at the moment that this could be as much as about A$1 billion,” he said.
    “I hope it is not that much.    It could be more.”
    While the majority of those infected in Australia contracted the virus overseas before returning home, the outbreak is now spreading locally.
    A 16-year boy in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, became the latest to be diagnosed.
    Desperate to ensure the coronavirus doesn’t spread, the New South Wales government ordered the closure of Epping Boys High School in the city’s north for at least one day, the country’s first school closure as a result of the outbreak.
    Health officials said the nearly 1,200 pupils and staff will need to quarantine themselves.
    “Students at the school are advised to stay at home and self-isolate over the weekend,” the NSW state government said in an emailed statement.
    “Staff are also asked to stay at home and self-isolate.    The school will provide a further update over the weekend about next steps.”
    NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the teenager is believed to have contracted the virus through contact with another coronavirus patient, making his a case another local transmission.
    The spread of the coronavirus is expected to have a significant economic toll with the government on Thursday warning the crisis would subtract at least half a percentage point from first quarter growth.
    Australia’s government is poised to announce a stimulus package to cushion the economic hit of the virus.
    Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the multi-billion dollar package would target sectors most affected by the coronavirus.
    Local media on Friday reported the government was considering subsidizing wages for small- and medium-sized businesses amid fears of widespread job losses that could lead to a recession.
    Australia’s A$2 trillion economy has already hit turbulence after 29 years of recession-free growth, with many economists predicting a contraction in the current quarter.
    Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy said it was too early to determine the long-term economic toll of the epidemic, but it was clear it would have immediate and significant effects.
    The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has already cut interest rates four times in less than a year to a record low 0.50%, in response to a range of growing economic challenges.
    Deputy Governor Guy Debelle said late on Wednesday the central bank has the capacity to reduce its cash rate one more time to 0.25% before deploying quantitative easing.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Sam Holmes)

3/6/2020 Islamic State attacks Kabul gathering, killing at least 32 by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
British soldiers with NATO-led Resolute Support Mission arrive at the site of
an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Islamic State gunmen opened fire at a ceremony in Kabul on Friday, killing at least 32 people in the first major attack in the city since the United States reached an agreement with the Afghan Taliban on a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.
    A top Afghan political leader, Abdullah Abdullah, was present along with other key political figures and escaped unharmed.
    Some 81 people were wounded, a government spokesman said, adding that the death toll could rise.
    Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency reported on its telegram channel.
    The Taliban, who were ousted from power by U.S.-led troops in 2001, denied involvement almost immediately.
    The gathering marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara leader who was killed in 1995 after being taken prisoner by the Taliban.
    Several people were killed in a similar attack on the same commemoration last year, which Islamic State had also said was carried out by its militants.
    “The attack started with a boom, apparently a rocket landed in the area, Abdullah and some other politicians … escaped the attack unhurt,” Abdullah’s spokesman, Fraidoon Kwazoon, who was also present, told Reuters by telephone.
    Broadcaster Tolo News showed live footage of people running for cover as gunfire was heard.
    Afghan defense forces continued to fight gunmen throughout the day, finally securing the area by killing about three gunmen in the late afternoon, according to ministry of interior spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.
    President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that the attack was “a crime against humanity and against the national unity of Afghanistan.”
    Abdullah was runner-up in the last three Afghan presidential elections, each of which he disputed.    He has served as chief executive of a coalition government since 2014 and is also a former foreign minister.
    Ghani said he had telephoned Abdullah, his longtime political rival.    Abdullah is contesting an Electoral Commission announcement last month declaring Ghani the winner of September’s presidential election.
    Dozens of relatives gathered at the morgue of a hospital not far from the blast, with many breaking down in tears as they waited to identify their loved ones.
    Ambulances and stretchers bustled back and forth at the hospital to deliver the wounded for treatment.
    “I was at the ceremony when gunshots started.    I rushed toward the door to get out of the area but suddenly my foot was hit by a bullet,” Mukhtar Jan told Reuters from a stretcher at the hospital.
    Ali Attayee, at the hospital to support his wounded brother, said: “Those who committed this crime want to destroy our people… We’re sorry for those committing such crimes.”
    Representatives of the United States, European Union and NATO condemned the attack.
    “We strongly condemn today’s vicious attack…We stand with Afghanistan for peace,” the U.S. charge d’affaires in Kabul, Ross Wilson, wrote on Twitter.
    The attack was one of the largest on civilians in Afghanistan in a year.
    “Horrific attack in Kabul today…heartbreaking and unacceptable.    We are tired of war and violence,” said Shahrzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
    Hazaras are mostly Shi’ite Muslims.    Minority Shi’ites have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni militants in Afghanistan.
    The United States has sought to spearhead efforts toward a lasting peace arrangement.    Violence decreased during a seven-day hold-down accord with the Taliban before last Saturday’s deal, though the Taliban have since resumed attacks on Afghan forces.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi, Rupam Jain, Samargul Zwak, Sayed Hassib and Hesham Abdul Khalek; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Robert Birsel, Kevin Liffey, Peter Graff and Nick Macfie)

3/6/2020 Vietnam reports new coronavirus case, first in three weeks
A woman wears a protective mask while she waits for customers at her empty tent
on a beach in Da Nang City, Vietnam March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam reported a new coronavirus case on Friday, the first in three weeks, Hanoi city chairman Nguyen Duc Chung said.
    Nguyen Hong Nhung, a 26-year-old woman, was admitted to a hospital in the Vietnamese capital on Thursday suffering from fever, Chung told a news conference.    Nhung had returned on Monday from a trip to Europe during which she visited London, Milan and Paris, according to Chung.
    The Southeast Asian country has reported 17 people, including Nhung, with coronavirus infections to date, 16 of whom have been cured and released from hospitals.    There have been no deaths.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/6/2020 Chinese province reports 17 new coronavirus infections imported from Iran
FILE PHOTO: People wear face masks and plastic raincoats as a protection from coronavirus near the Shanghai railway station
as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Shanghai, China March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The northwestern Chinese province of Gansu has confirmed 17 new coronavirus cases imported from Iran, bringing the total imported cases to 28, the province’s health authorities said late on Friday.
    The 17 new patients were among quarantined passengers who entered the provincial capital of Lanzhou on commercial flights from Iran between March 2 and March 5, the Gansu Health Commission said in a statement on its website.
    Before the new cases, Gansu had reported 11 imported infections from Iran.    A total of 283 passengers arriving from Iran are currently under quarantine, it said.
    Last month, Gansu became the first province to lower its emergency response measures from level I to level III, reflecting the lack of new infections.
(Reporting by Min Zhang and Meg Shen; Writing by Yawen Chen; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/6/2020 Indonesia confirms two more coronavirus cases, total four
A child wears protective mask in school after Indonesia confirmed its first cases of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Tangerang near Jakarta, Indonesia, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia confirmed on Friday that two more people had tested positive for the coronavirus, taking the total of confirmed cases to four.
    The two Indonesians were in their 30s and had been tested after being in contact with the first two confirmed cases, Health Ministry official Achmad Yurianto told a news briefing.
    Indonesia had announced its first confirmed cases on Monday, a mother and her daughter who live in the Depok area near Jakarta.

3/6/2020 Malaysia’s health ministry confirms 28 new coronavirus infections
A couple wearing protective face masks cross a street, following the outbreak of the
coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s health ministry said on Friday 28 new coronavirus infections were reported, bringing the total confirmed cases to 83 in the country.
    Of those, 23 people had fully recovered and been discharged.
(Reporting by Liz Lee; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/7/2020 Philippines to declare health emergency after first community transmission of coronavirus by Neil Jerome Morales
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session at a
regional summit in Bangkok, Thailand November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will declare a public health emergency to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, after the country recorded its first case of community transmission, officials said on Saturday.
    The nation’s health ministry has reported three new cases of the infection since Friday, adding to the three Chinese tourists who were diagnosed with the virus in January and the first week of February.
    Duterte has agreed to declare a health emergency following the latest development, Bong Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and a close aide of the president, told reporters.
    All government agencies were asked to “undertake critical, urgent and appropriate response and measures in a timely manner to curtail and eliminate the COVID-19 threat,” Go said.
    The Philippines’ first case of community transmission involves a 62-year-old male Filipino who had not traveled abroad recently.    His 59-year-old wife has also been infected, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the country to six, the health ministry said, adding that both are being treated at a government hospital.
    The health ministry declared a code red alert which calls on medical professionals to be prepared to report for duty and recommended the declaration of a public health emergency, which would help with the procurement of critical supplies as well as with quarantine measures.
    “This is a preemptive call to ensure that national and local governments and public and private healthcare providers can prepare for possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque told a news conference.
    The coronavirus has spread to more than 90 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people and killing over 3,400 people worldwide.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Edwina Gibbs & Shri Navaratnam)

3/7/2020 South Korea’s coronavirus cases climb above 7,000, most cases traced to church by Jane Chung
South Korean soldiers carry out disinfection work at the international airport amid the rise in confirmed
cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s coronavirus cases jumped above 7,000 on Saturday, up by 448 from the previous day, with more than half of the total number linked to a secretive church at the center of the country’s outbreak, health authorities said.
    The death toll rose by two to 46, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
    Since mid-February when a woman tested positive after attending services at a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu, the number of infections has exploded in South Korea, giving it the most cases outside China.
    There are 7,041 cases in total including a new small cluster of cases reported on Saturday at an apartment complex in Daegu, where some members of the church live, the KCDC said.
    While 448 new cases remains a sizeable jump, it marked a third straight day of declines in the number of new cases for South Korea.
    “There is a possibility that new cases increase as tests are still underway,” Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director at the KCDC told a briefing.
    Lee Man-hee, the founder of the church, apologized on Monday calling the epidemic a “great calamity.”
    The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has voiced concerns over members of the Shincheonji Church being blamed for the spread of the coronavirus.
    “We urge the South Korean government to condemn scapegoating and to respect religious freedom as it responds to the outbreak,” it said on Twitter on Friday.
    The large amount of infections in the country has prompted nearly 100 nations to impose curbs on travelers from South Korea.
    On Friday, South Korea said it would suspend visas and visa waivers for Japan in response to Tokyo’s travel restrictions on Koreans, as fears over the coronavirus reignited a feud between the neighbors dating back to before World War Two.
    Dr. Mike Ryan, top emergencies expert at the World Health Organization, told a briefing in Geneva on Friday that Japan and South Korea should focus on managing the epidemic and saving lives and not on “a political spat over travel restrictions.”
    The coronavirus, which emerged in China, has spread to more than 90 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people and killing over 3,400 people globally.
(Reporting by Jane Chung; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Edwina Gibbs)

3/7/2020 70 trapped after coronavirus quarantine hotel collapses by OAN Newsroom
Rescuers evacuate an injured person from the rubble of a collapsed hotel building in Quanzhou city
in southeast China’s Fujian province Saturday, March 07, 2020. (Chinatopix Via AP)
    A five-story hotel, which was being used for coronavirus quarantine, has collapsed in the southeast China.    The hotel came crumbling down on Saturday, trapping nearly 70 people.
    According to news agency Xinhua, the committee that’s responsible for ensuring safety under the state council sent an emergency response team to the site.
Rescuers work at the site of a collapsed five-story hotel building in Quanzhou city in southeast China’s Fujian province
Saturday, March 7, 2020. The hotel used for medical observation of people who had contact with coronavirus patients
collapsed in southeastern China on Saturday, trapping dozens, state media reported. (Chinatopix Via AP)
    Fortunately, more than 40 people have been rescued from the wreckage. So far, no fatalities have been reported.

A man is assisted out from the rubble of a collapsed hotel building in Quanzhou city
in southeast China’s Fujian province Saturday, March 07, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)

3/7/2020 Report: China’s February trade surplus with U.S. plummets, coronavirus blamed by OAN Newsroom
In this March 5, 2020 drone photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a mobile crane moves a container at a logistic station
of Shenyang East Railway Station in Shenyang, northeast China’s Liaoning Province. (Pan Yulong/Xinhua via AP)
    China’s industrial production has slowed amid extended holidays and coronavirus containment efforts, which seemingly affected its exports to the U.S. last month.    According to a new report, China’s February U.S. trade surplus amounted to roughly $7.1 billion, compared to the expected $24.6 billion.
    These bilateral trade figures are the result of a sharp decline in China’s industrial production, owing to the coronavirus’s impact on multiple global supply chains.
    The economic effect of the virus has also hit other countries’ exports.
    “As COVID-19 shook the Chinese economy, it has also affected the South Korean economy since February,” stated Hyundai Research Institute Director Joo Won.    “If this trend reaches America, our economy will be badly affected.”
A couple wear face masks as they ride an escalator at a shopping mall in Beijing, Saturday, March 7, 2020. Crossing more borders,
the new coronavirus hit a milestone, infecting more than 100,000 people worldwide as it wove itself deeper into the daily
lives of millions, infecting the powerful, the unprotected poor and vast masses in between. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
    A chief Chinese economist claimed the March economic numbers for China “won’t look so good either.”    However, analysts have predicted the country’s industrial production will eventually recover with time.
    Due to the slowing rate of new coronavirus infections in the region, local containment measures crushing production have reportedly been somewhat scaled back.

3/7/2020 At least 32 killed in attack in Afghan capital by OAN Newsroom
British soldiers with NATO-led Resolute Support Mission forces arrive near the site of
an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, March 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Tamana Sarwary)
    At least 32 people were killed and dozens more were injured after gunmen opened fire at a ceremony in Afghanistan’s capital.    The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Friday’s shooting, which targeted attendees of a ceremony commemorating the late leader of the Hazaras ethnic group.
    The two gunmen were taken down by local police.    While many prominent political leaders were at the event, none were reportedly harmed.    According to reports, the death toll could rise.
    Government officials have condemned the violence and responded by quickly rushing special forces to the scene.
    “Fortunately, the Afghan National Security Forces, specifically special forces, came up with the help of American special forces and they just evacuated us from the building,” explained one witness.

Relatives and family members attend during the funeral of a victim who was killed in Friday’s deadly
attack on memorial ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    According to local reports, Afghan officials said the incident should be taken more seriously than previous shootings.    They called for a full investigation and a period of mourning for the nation.

    This was the first major attack in the Afghan capital since the U.S.-Taliban peace deal was signed earlier this month.    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement later that day, in which he condemned the attack.

Blood stains and shoes are seen the aftermath of Friday’s deadly attack on memorial
ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

3/7/2020 Afghan political rivals issue parallel invites for inauguration ceremonies by Orooj Hakimi and Charlotte Greenfield
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (L) and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (R) participate
in a family photo at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland July 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Abdullah Abdullah, the bitter rival of Afghanistan’s president-elect Ashraf Ghani, has issued invitations to a parallel swearing-in ceremony due next week, his spokesman said on Saturday.
    “We’ve sent the invitation to all national and international organizations and all necessary preparations have been taken,” Fraidoon Khwazoon, Abdullah’s spokesman said on Saturday, referring to invitations to an inauguration ceremony due to take place in Kabul on Monday morning at a similar time to Ghani’s.
    A political impasse and threat of parallel governments jeopardize a nascent peace process in the nation, as the United States tries to push the Afghan government toward talks with the Taliban.
    In February, Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission announced Ghani as the winner of September’s presidential election, but Abdullah claimed that he and his allies had won the polls and insisted that he would form a government.
    Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Ghani, emphasized that his side was the recognized winner of last year’s polls.
    “The election season is over and President-elect Ghani was given the winner’s certificate by the independent election commission based on the outcome of the election and country’s constitution,” Sediqqi said on Saturday.
    Diplomatic sources have said the United States and other international players in Afghanistan are nervous of the prospect of parallel inauguration ceremonies. The United States has previously asked that both parties delay them.
    Ghani and Abdullah are old rivals who both held roles in the previous government under a U.S.-brokered power-sharing agreement.    A former foreign minister, Abdullah held the specially created post of chief executive in the outgoing government.
    Diplomats and experts have said a lack of cohesion among Afghan political leaders will make it difficult for talks with the Taliban, which are due to start on Tuesday, to take place.
    “This is a bad omen for the peace process,” said a diplomat whose country’s embassy in Kabul had been told an invitation to Abdullah’s ceremony was on the way.
    He said diplomats from different countries had been calling and messaging each other to find out about each other’s plans.
    U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was holding talks with both camps to try to broker a solution before Monday, the diplomat said.
    The U.S. embassy in Kabul did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Khalilzad’s involvement.
(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Euan Rocha and James Drummond)

3/7/2020 Shanghai tightens airport checks as imported virus infections in China jump
FILE PHOTO: Community workers in protective suits disinfect a residential compound in Wuhan, the epicentre
of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Shanghai increased airport screening on Saturday as imported coronavirus infections from countries such as Italy and Iran emerge as the biggest source of new cases in China outside Hubei, the province where the outbreak originated.
    Mainland China had 99 new confirmed cases on Friday, according to official data.    Of the 25 that were outside Hubei, 24 came from outside China.
    Shanghai, which had three new cases that originated from abroad on Friday, said it would step up control measures at the border, which had become “the main battlefield.”
    At a news conference, Shanghai Customs officials said they city would check all passengers from seriously affected countries for the virus, among other airport measures.
    Shanghai already requires passengers flying in from such countries, regardless of nationality, to be quarantined for 14 days.    They will now be escorted home in vehicles provided by the government.
    Tighter screening has greatly lengthened waiting times at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport – some passengers say they have had to wait as long as seven hours.
    The Shanghai government vowed on Saturday to severely punish passengers who concealed infections.
    Beijing police said on Saturday they would work with other departments to prevent imported infections.    They said some members of a Chinese family flying in from Italy on March 4 had failed to fill in health declarations accurately, and later tested positive for the virus.
MIGRANT WORKERS
    In addition to the growing risk of imported infections, China faces a challenge in trying to get migrant workers back to work by early April.
    So far, 78 million migrant workers, or 60% of those who left for the Lunar New Year holiday in January, have returned to work.
    Yang Wenzhuang of the National Health Commission (NHC) said that the “risk of contagion from increased population flows and gathering is increasing … We must not relax or lower the bar for virus control.”
    But new cases in mainland China continued to decline, with just 99 new cases on Friday, the lowest number the NHC started publishing nationwide figures on Jan. 20, against 143 on Thursday.
    Most of these cases, which include infections of Chinese nationals who caught the virus abroad, were in the northwesterly Gansu province, among quarantined passengers who flew into the provincial capital Lanzhou from Iran between March 2 and 5.
    For the second day in a row, there were no new infections in Hubei outside the provincial capital Wuhan, where new cases fell to the lowest level since Jan. 25.
    The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far is 80,651, with 3,070 deaths, up by 28 from Thursday.
    Hubei reported 28 deaths, 21 of them in Wuhan.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Lusha Zhang and Samuel Shen; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/8/2020 Ten die at collapsed China quarantine site; virus spread slows ex-Wuhan
FILE PHOTO: A community worker in protective suit disinfects a residential compound in Wuhan, the
epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Ten people have died and 23 remain trapped after the collapse of a hotel that was being used to quarantine people under observation for the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Quanzhou, authorities said on Sunday.
    More than 70 people were believed to have been initially trapped in the seven storey building, which collapsed on Saturday evening.
    As of 16:00 Beijing time on Sunday, authorities had retrieved 48 individuals from the site of the collapse, with 38 of them sent to hospitals, the Ministry of Emergency Management said.
    Pictures from the site showed rescue workers clad in hard hats, goggles and face masks carrying injured people away to waiting medical staff in white overalls and surgical masks.
    A rescue force of over 1,000 people, including firefighters, police forces, and other emergency responders, arrived at the site on Saturday night, authorities told a media conference organized by the Quanzhou government on Sunday.
    Of the 71 people inside the hotel at the time of the collapse, 58 had been under quarantine, they added.
    According to state media outlet Xinhua, the owner of the building, a man surnamed Yang, has been summoned by police.
    The building’s first floor had been under renovation at the time of the collapse, the news agency said.
    News of the collapse comes as the spread of COVID-19 continues to slow in China.
    According to data from China’s National Health Commission (NHC), cases fell by roughly one half on Saturday from the day prior.
    The agency confirmed 44 new cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the new coronavirus as at the end of March 7, a decline from 99 the previous day.
    Chinese cities are gradually relaxing quarantine measures put in place over a month ago, while authorities keep a close watch on the virus’ spread overseas.
    Of the 44 new confirmed cases, 41 were discovered in Wuhan, the origin of the virus’ outbreak and its hotbed.
    The remaining three were cases imported from outside mainland China.
    This marks the second consecutive day in which all of China’s newly confirmed cases outside of the city of Wuhan originated from overseas.     The three cases bring China’s total imported case count to 63.
    According to the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, two of the cases found in Beijing originated in Italy and Spain.
    As the virus slows its spread in Wuhan, authorities have reacted by closing hospitals built specifically to house its patients.
    After the first such closure last week, on Sunday, CCTV reported that operations at a second hospital had been suspended, with its 25 remaining patients now discharged and declared cured.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz, Huizhong Wu and Kevin Yao; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/8/2020 Mayor in virus-hit South Korean city says outbreak may be slowing by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A South Korean solider sprays disinfectant at the herbal medicine market street amid the rise in
confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 7, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The mayor of the South Korean city hardest hit by that country’s coronavirus outbreak expressed cautious hope on Sunday that the numbers of new cases may be dropping, after the rate of increase slowed to its lowest in 10 days.
    The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Sunday 272 new coronavirus cases, for a total of 7,313 in the country.    Two further deaths took the toll to 50, it added.
    The increase in cases was lower than the same period a day before, though health officials have warned that numbers could fluctuate as more tests are processed.
    In the city of Daegu, which accounts for as much as 75% of all of South Korea’s confirmed cases, mayor Kwon Young-jin told reporters the number of new cases has dropped below 300 for the first time since Feb. 29, Yonhap news agency reported.
    “The increase in the number of infection cases is showing signs of slowing down,” he said, according to Yonhap.
    Daegu and two neighbouring areas have been declared “special care zones” by the government, which has sent extra medical supplies and staff and deployed military troops to disinfect the streets.
    KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said the decrease appeared to be due to the fact that authorities were nearing the end of testing more than 200,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which was at the centre of the largest outbreaks.
    “We put the Shincheonji church followers in quarantine to prevent the further spread of and tested them, and many of confirmed cases came from them,” she told reporters during a briefing in Seoul.    “The testing of the church followers is almost finished, so the number of confirmed cases has dropped accordingly.”
    South Korea has conducted one of the most ambitious coronavirus testing programmes in the world, with thousands of people being tested every day.
    Health officials have tested a total of 181,384 people suspected of having the virus, with 162,008 testing negative.
    Facing shortages of face masks, the government will impose a rationing system to limit the number of masks each person can buy each week, starting on Monday.
    On Sunday, South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun issued a public message, asking citizens to “actively cooperate” with the efforts to make sure healthcare workers and sick people have access to enough masks.
    “Even if you feel inconvenienced, I ask you to show a mature sense of civil awareness, based on concessions, consideration and cooperation so that people who really need face masks can buy them,” he said.
    The government has imposed export restrictions on masks and urged factories to increase production.
    South Korea – which has confirmed the largest number of coronavirus cases outside of China – has also faced an increasing number of travel restrictions, with more than 100 other countries imposing at least some restrictions on arrivals from South Korea.
    The issue of travel restrictions rekindled a political and economic feud between South Korea and Japan last week, as South Korea said on Friday it would suspend visas and visa waivers for Japan in response to Tokyo’s own travel restrictions on Koreans.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Christopher Cushing.)

3/8/2020 Indonesia confirms two more coronavirus cases, total six
Officials spray disinfectants inside a mosque, after Indonesia confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in
Jakarta, Indonesia, March 8, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Galih Pradipta/ via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia confirmed on Sunday that two more people had tested positive for the coronavirus, taking the total of confirmed cases in the country to six.
    One of the Indonesians is a 36-year-old male, a crew member on the Japan-docked Diamond Princess cruise ship where he contracted the virus, Health Ministry official Achmad Yurianto told a news briefing.
    The other Indonesian, a 55-year-old male, contracted the virus locally in Jakarta, Yurianto said.
    “Both of them are in stable condition. They do not have fever, don’t need intravenous drip, oxygen, are not coughing, and don’t have a cold,” he said.
    Indonesia reported its first infections on Monday, a mother and her daughter who live in the Depok area near Jakarta.
    On Friday, Indonesia confirmed two more people in their 30s who had tested positive for the coronavirus.
(Reporting by Nilufar Rizki; Writing by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/8/2020 IranAir stops all flights to europe: IRNA
FILE PHOTO: An Airbus A321 with the description "IranAir" is pictured on the
tarmac in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
    DUBAI (Reuters) – IranAir has stopped all flights to European destinations, the official IRNA news agency reported on Sunday, citing a statement from the Civil Aviation Organization.
    “With attention to the restrictions that have been placed on (IranAir) flights by Europe for unclear reasons all IranAir flights to European destinations have been suspended until further notice,” IRNA reported, citing the statement.
    Iran is in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, with 5,823 infections and 145 deaths, one of the highest rates of fatality from the illness outside of China, where the virus originated.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, editing by Louise Heavens)
[I would bet the Mullahs are shielded from the virus while their population is in the threat of it and their stubborness to stop their actions they would not concieve to open up to the West for help to stop the coronavirus.].

3/8/2020 Women’s rights activists attacked then detained in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz law enforcement officers detain a women's rights activist during a rally on
International Women's Day in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov
    BISHKEK (Reuters) – Police in Kyrgyzstan detained dozens of women’s rights activists on Sunday shortly after journalists witnessed the protesters being attacked by masked men.
    The activists gathered in one of the squares of capital Bishkek in the Central Asian country, to stage a march of solidarity against violence on International Women’s Day.
    But masked men, some of whom wore traditional Kyrgyz white felt hats, attacked the protesters, grabbing and tearing apart their banners, in the presence of multiple journalists including a Reuters reporter.
    The attackers left as soon as police arrived on the scene and proceeded to detain about 50 activists, mostly women.
    It was unclear what charges they could face.    The Bishkek police department could not be immediately reached for comment.
    Citing multiple cases of forced marriage and domestic violence, activists say women’s rights are deteriorating in the former Soviet republic of 6 million amid a resurgence of right-wing ideology.
    Last December, an art exhibition in Kyrgyzstan that featured a woman undressing in front of an audience was censored by the government, and the head of the gallery resigned after receiving death threats.
(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko and Vladimir Pirogov; writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

3/8/2020 Hong Kong records third coronavirus death: health authorities
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wears a protective face mask at the airport, following the outbreak
of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A 76-year-old Hong Kong woman became the third coronavirus patient who died in the Chinese-ruled city, the Hospital Authority said on Sunday.
    The female patient had developed fever, shortness of breath, cough and abdominal pain on Feb. 28 and was admitted to hospital the same day. Hong Kong recorded four new cases of infections on Sunday, taking the total to 114.
(Reporting by Felix Tam and Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; editing by Louise Heavens)
[HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT THERE HAS NOT BEEN ANY PROTESTS IN HONG KONG AS ALL PARTYS ARE CONCERNED FOR THEIR HEALTH AND CHINA IS TRYING TO MAINTAIN ITS OWN ISSUES.].

3/8/2020 Six confirmed dead from collapsed China hotel used as quarantine site
Rescue workers move casualty on the site where a hotel being used for the coronavirus quarantine collapsed, as the country is hit by
the novel coronavirus, in the southeast Chinese port city of Quanzhou, Fujian province, China March 7, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS.
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Six people have died in the collapse of a hotel in the Chinese city of Quanzhou, the Ministry of Emergency Management said on Sunday, after state media said the place was being used to quarantine individuals under observation for the coronavirus.
    The hotel began to collapse on Saturday evening.    As of 11:30 a.m. Beijing time on Sunday, authorities had retrieved 43 individuals from the site of the collapse, the ministry said.
    Of that total, six have been confirmed dead, 36 have been sent to the hospital for care, and one individual has been deemed in need of no medical treatment, according to the ministry’s Weibo post.
    Authorities are still searching for 28 people, the ministry added.
    According to state media outlet Xinhua, the owner of the building, a man with surname Yang, has been summoned by police.
    The building’s first floor had been under renovation at the time of the collapse, the news agency said.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz and Huizhong Wu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/8/2020 Taliban say parallel presidential ceremonies threatens progress on peace talks by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference
in Kabul, Afghanistan March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban militant group said peace talks with the Afghan government next week were unlikely to take place because rivals for the presidency were both holding swearing-in ceremonies on Monday, and urged them instead to focus on an end to the war.
    The United States is trying to push the government toward talks with the Taliban, due to start on begin on Tuesday, under an agreement signed in Doha last month.
    But the threat of parallel governments is jeopardizing the nascent process to end a war that has killed tens of thousands of people since the United States launched attacks on Afghanistan just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
    In February, Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission announced incumbent Ashraf Ghani as the winner of September’s presidential election, but his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah said he and his allies had won and insisted that he would form a government.
    Both Abdullah and Ghani, have issued invitations to parallel swearing-in ceremonies on Monday.
    “We don’t think they will make it to getting ready for the intra-Afghan talks on March 10, because of … the disagreement between the politicians that is even leading to two swearing-in ceremonies,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.
    “Instead of swearing in, we want them to focus on intra-Afghan talks.    We call upon them to leave the internal disagreements, stop the swearing in, and work for peace.”
    He added another major factor was that no practical steps had been taken to implement a condition as a part of the U.S.-Taliban agreement that the government release 5,000 prisoners, a demand that Ghani has rejected.
    Nevertheless, meetings between prison officials from both sides took place in Doha on Saturday and Sunday, Mujahid said, the first known contact between Afghan government officials and the Taliban since the Taliban signed the troop withdrawal agreement with the United States on Feb. 29.
    A presidential spokesman declined to comment on whether the meeting took place.
    While insisting they were not formal intra-Afghan talks, Mujahid said the meetings covered technical aspects of the prisoner release, such as preparing a list of detainees and their identifying details.
    U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding talks with both Abullah and Ghani’s camps over the weekend to try and broker a solution to the impasse, diplomatic and political sources have said.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/8/2020 Islamists hurl stones and shoes at Women’s Day marchers in Pakistan by Asif Shahzad
Women and men carry signs as they take part in an Aurat March, or Women's March in Lahore, Pakistan March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Islamists pelted campaigners with stones, shoes and sticks as they marched through Pakistan’s capital on Sunday to mark International Women’s Day.
    Women and men joined the event in Islamabad, one of several rallies across the country, for what is known in Pakistan as the Aurat March, using the Urdu word for women.
    Hundreds of men and women from the Red Mosque brigade, consisting of several local militant groups, and a Taliban allied religious party staged a rival rally just across from the women’s march venue, District Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat said.
    Police official Mazhar Niazi said the officers blocked the Islamists as they tried to break through a cordon to attack the marchers.
    A Reuters witness and Niazi said the Islamists threw stones, bricks, sticks and shoes at the marchers.    Niazi said no one was injured.
    He said a criminal case would be registered against the Islamists for violating the law and attempting to attack the women’s march.
    The event organizers said some of those marching hit by stones and bricks were injured.
    One of the organizers Ammar Rashid posted a photo on Twitter of a secular woman leader Ismat Shahjahan with a head injury.
    Police said they were investigating the claim.
    There has been an uproar in conservative circles over slogans used at the past two such events, including “My body, my choice,” “My body is not your battleground” and “Stop being menstrual phobic.”
    Following last year’s event, organizers said they faced a backlash including murder and rape threats.
    Ahead of this year’s event, organizers say posters and murals were vandalized, including one by the Islamists from the Red Mosque.
    Marches in other cities across Pakistan were held peacefully amid tight security with a large participation from students, civil rights groups and other women’s organizations.
    The marchers at some of these other events carried colorful placards and banners, chanted slogans to challenge patriarchy and misogyny in the mainly Muslim country where extremists see such movements a threat to the core values of society.     “You know, whatever they do, they can’t scare us.    Their scare tactics aren’t going to work on us,” Anam Rathore, one of the organizers of the marches, told Reuters.
    Earlier this month, a court had given permission for the country-wide event on condition that organizers and participants adhered to “decency and moral values
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Additional Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi; Editing by Alison Williams/Kevin Liffey/Jane Merriman)

3/8/2020 Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters hold vigil to mourn student’s death
Anti-government protesters attend a vigil to mourn student's death, in Hong Kong, China March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of black-clad Hong Kong protesters, holding candles, returned on Sunday to the parking lot where a student fell to his death in November, vowing to continue their fight for greater democracy in the Chinese-ruled city.
    The death of Chow Tsz-lok, 22, who fell from the third to the second floor in a parking lot in the eastern Tseung Kwan O district as police cleared crowds in the area, was the catalyst for some of the most intense clashes since the protests escalated in June last year.
    Fears over the coronavirus have reduced the scale and frequency of protests this year, but there have been violent demonstrations on some weekends in a sign the pro-democracy movement remains active.
    On Sunday evening, protesters, mostly in trademark black clothing and surgical masks, laid down white flowers, origami cranes and messages on colored post-it notes at a makeshift altar where placards read “Keep the heat; Fight until the end.”
    One protester was waving a “Liberate Hong Kong” black flag, while a banner that read “murderer” was hung up.
    There was a heavy riot police presence nearby and at least one arrest was made.
    “It’s very touching.    When I came here half an hour ago I almost cried, because I didn’t expect so many people would come today,” said 22-year-old computer programer Sean Chow, who is not related to the student who died.
    “(His death) means something that is unresolved and something that needs to be fully investigated and I believe all the people here want an answer.    It’s an absolute tragedy.”
    Earlier on Sunday, Hong Kong police said they arrested 17 people, aged between 21 and 53, during an overnight raid of 22 flats in relation to a series of bomb plots between late January and early February.
    Items including three homemade bombs, three electronic circuits and 2,600 kilograms of chemicals were found.
    “In recent months Hong Kong has been faced with an ongoing … violent campaign designed to intimidate, in order to try to achieve political aims,” Alick McWhirter, senior bomb disposal officer of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau told reporters.
    “It seems a potential tragedy has been averted.”
    Police said the bombs were intended to be used in public events and aimed at police officers.
    Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.
    China says it is committed to the arrangement and denies meddling. It has accused foreign governments including the United States and Britain of inciting the unrest.
(Reporting by Pak Yiu; Writing by Clare Jim; Editing by Mark Potter)

3/9/2020 Japan’s Abe, under fire over coronavirus, to alter law to allow emergency declaration by Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: FILE PICTURE: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives a policy speech at the start
of the regular session of parliament in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is set this week to revise a law allowing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare a formal state of emergency over the coronavirus, if needed, as Abe faces persistent criticism for his handling of the outbreak ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
    In perhaps his biggest test since returning to office in 2012, Japan’s longest-serving premier has come under fire for what critics have called an initial lack of leadership, followed by abrupt steps like school closures that left parents and employers scrambling.
    Japan more than 1,000 cases of the virus including about 700 from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo last month.    Fourteen people have died, including seven from the liner.    The virus has spread rapidly around the world, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases and 3,600 deaths.
    Among criticisms is that Abe’s government was too slow to put curbs on visitors from China – a key source of economic growth – after the outbreak originated there late last year.    In a recent opinion poll, 50% said they didn’t approve of Abe’s handling of the outbreak, versus 37% who said they did.
    Commentators have also said Japan has lacked sufficient capacity to test for the virus, while failing to mobilize what capacity it has, leading to suspicions that the virus is spreading faster than data show.    Vigorous testing programs in countries like South Korea have detected high numbers of infections.
    Speculation – denied by organizers – is swirling that the global outbreak will scupper Japan’s dream of hosting the Tokyo Olympics, an outcome that could become more likely if a state of emergency is declared.
    “I want the Olympics to succeed more than anyone, but the negative factors are increasing,” Yoichi Masuzoe, a former Tokyo governor who was health minister during a 2009 influenza epidemic, told Reuters.
    In its latest move, the government plans on Tuesday to submit to parliament a bill to revise a 2012 law, enacted after the 2009 epidemic, so it can be applied to the coronavirus if necessary. Parliament is expected to sign off on Friday.
    The 2012 law was enacted while Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party was in opposition.    Officials have said it could not be applied to the coronavirus without changes, although opposition parties and other critics say reinterpreting it is enough.
APPEAL TO THE PUBLIC
    The law would let the prime minister declare an official state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread could have a huge impact on the economy.    The impact of the virus outbreak is already increasing Japan’s risk of recession.
    Governors in hard-hit regions could then ask residents to stay inside, close public facilities, expropriate land and buildings for medical facilities and request or order emergency transport of goods.    The state of emergency could last up to two years with a possible one year-extension.
    In the virus-hit northern island of Hokkaido, the governor declared a state of emergency late last month, although he acknowledged there was no legal basis to do so.
    Abe has already requested that schools nationwide close and large-scale events be pared back or canceled.
    “Abe could apply the law by re-interpreting it. He’s good at that,” said Masahiro Kami, head of the Medical Governance Research Institute and a critic of the government’s response.
    Abe’s government in 2014 controversially reinterpreted the post-war, pacifist constitution to let troops fight abroad.
    “He wants to appeal (to the public) because things are not going well,” Kami said.    He added the most urgent issue was not further limits on public activities, but beefing up virus testing and early treatment of elderly and other high-risk patients.
    Abe has not made clear what exactly would trigger a state of emergency, repeating on Monday that the revision was to prepare for a “worst-case scenario.”
    That has left some analysts thinking he is reluctant to do so for fear of scuppering the Olympics.
    “I suspect Abe doesn’t want to declare a state of emergency because it would be killing the Olympics himself,” said Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Sophia University.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Additional reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Rocky Swift; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

3/9/2020 South Korea sees coronavirus ‘stable phase’ but ‘too early to be optimistic’ by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers in protective gears walk into a hospital facility to treat coronavirus patients amid the rise
in confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed guarded hope for the country’s fight against the coronavirus on Monday, saying a downward trend in new infections could lead to a phase of stability, but he warned that it was too early to be optimistic.
    The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 165 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national tally to 7,478, while the death toll rose by one to 51.
    The numbers showed the rate of increase in new infections fell to its lowest level in 11 days in one of the most severely affected countries outside mainland China.
    Moon said South Korea can enter the “phase of stability” soon if it continues to reduce the number of new cases.
    “We must maintain this trend,” he told a meeting of senior aides.    “We’ve come this far thanks to the citizens who were united and cooperated well with the government."
    “But it’s too early to be optimistic… Please be a little bit more patient and stay away from mass gatherings such as religious events.”
    Health authorities say the number of new infections being identified has dwindled as most of the roughly 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the center of the epidemic in the hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu have now been tested.
    Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also said at a separate meeting that he was still extremely cautious but “there’s hope we can reach a turning point in the near future
    U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) reported a new case, bringing the total to eight cases among soldiers, employees or people related to the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
    South Korea started rationing surgical masks on Monday after imposing an export ban amid panic buying.    Dozens of people were seen lining up outside pharmacies across the country.
    Mutual travel restrictions imposed by South Korea and Japan also took effect, an issue that rekindled a diplomatic and economic feud between the old foes.
    South Korea suspended visas and visa waivers for Japan on Friday, after Tokyo announced travel restrictions, joining more than 100 other countries limiting arrivals from South Korea.
    The dispute, together with oil price swings, sent South Korean shares and the won sharply lower and prompted the finance ministry to issue a verbal warning against disorderly market movement.
    A series of K-pop concerts planned in Japan has been called off or postponed, including by Super Junior, Stray Kids and CJ ENM which had planned a major annual festival featuring TWICE and IZ*ONE.
    Korean Air, which had previously operated 17 flights to Japan, said it had stopped all but one between Seoul and Tokyo, while Asiana Airlines halted all of its 11 Japanese routes for the first time since it started flying to Japan 30 years ago, company officials said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates, Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

3/9/2020 Iran releases about 70,000 prisoners because of coronavirus: judiciary chief
FILE PHOTO: A member of the medical team wears a protective face mask, following the coronavirus outbreak, as he sprays disinfectant
liquid to sanitise a taxi station in Tehran, Iran March 05, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has released approximately 70,000 prisoners because of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday, according to Mizan, the news site of the judiciary.
    “The release of the prisoners, to the point where it doesn’t create insecurity in society … will continue,” he said.
    Raisi did not specify if or when those released would need to return to jail.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/9/2020 North Korea fires three projectiles into sea; China urges dialogue by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of the 160-metre tall tower at North Korea's propaganda village of
Gijungdong, in this picture taken from Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the
demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Picture
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea launched multiple short-range projectiles into the sea on Monday as part of firing drills, a week after it resumed missile tests following a three-month break, South Korea’s military said.
    The projectiles, including from a multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS), flew up to 200 km (124 miles) and reached 50 km in altitude, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
    They were launched from the eastern coastal town of Sondok, home to a military airfield where nuclear-armed North Korea fired missiles last year, the JCS said in a statement.
    The JCS said the latest test appeared to be part of firing drills that have been under way since late last month and have been overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    After a three-month halt in missile testing, North Korea tested an MLRS on March 2.
    The JCS expressed “strong regret” over the launch and said it was watching for any more tests.
    South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, held a video conference with the defense minister and intelligence chief to analyze the North’s latest test and its intent, the presidential Blue House said.
    “The ministers once again pointed out that the continued firing drills are unhelpful for efforts to build lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” the Blue House said in a statement.
    Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono said the projectiles appeared to be ballistic missiles and did not fall into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, though the government was examining details about the launch.
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said North Korea had fired at least three projectiles towards the eastern sea and a detailed analysis was being conducted.
    China’s foreign ministry called for all sides to use dialogue and show flexibility, saying the situation was “complex and sensitive.”
    “We also urge parties to make positive efforts to calm the situation for talks to continue, and to realise the denuclearisation and lasting peace in this region and the peninsula,” spokesman Geng Shuang told a briefing.
    Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium raised North Korea’s recent missile firings at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, calling them provocative action that violated U.N. resolutions.
    North Korea’s foreign ministry criticized the European stand as “U.S.-instigated reckless behaviour.”    The sister of Kim Jong Un said the drills were not meant to threaten anyone.
    Hopes were raised for dialogue with North Korea on its nuclear weapons and missiles when Kim met U.S. President Donald Trump for a historic summit in Singapore in June 2018.
    But no significant progress has been made despite two more meetings between the leaders.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Hyonhee Shin, additional reporting by Chris Gallagher in Tokyo, Idrees Ali in Washington and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel)

3/9/2020 Tokyo man dies from new coronavirus: Kyodo News
A man, wearing protective face mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
takes photos outside Tokyo station in Tokyo, Japan March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A man in his 90s living in Tokyo has died from the coronavirus on Monday, Kyodo news agency reported, citing the Tokyo government.
    If confirmed, it would be the 16th death from the virus, including seven from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo last month.
(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/9/2020 Even mask-wearers can be ID’d, China facial recognition firm says by Martin Pollard
A software engineer works on a facial recognition program that identifies people when they wear a face mask at the
development lab of the Chinese electronics manufacturer Hanwang (Hanvon) Technology in Beijing as the country is hit
by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), China, March 6, 2020. Picture taken March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese company says it has developed the country’s first facial recognition technology that can identify people when they are wearing a mask, as most are these days because of the coronavirus, and help in the fight against the disease.
    China employs some of the world’s most sophisticated systems of electronic surveillance, including facial recognition.
    But the coronavirus, which emerged in Hubei province late last year, has resulted in almost everyone wearing a surgical mask outdoors in the hope of warding off the virus – posing a particular problem for surveillance.
    Now Hanwang Technology Ltd, which also goes by the English name Hanvon, said it has come up technology that can successfully recognize people even when they are wearing masks.
    “If connected to a temperature sensor, it can measure body temperature while identifying the person’s name, and then the system would process the result, say, if it detects a temperature over 38 degrees,” Hanwang Vice President Huang Lei told Reuters in an interview.
    The Beijing-based firm said a team of 20 staff used core technology developed over the past 10 years, a sample database of about 6 million unmasked faces and a much smaller database of masked faces, to develop the technology.
    The team began work on the system in January, as the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace, and began rolling it out to the market after just a month.
    It sells two main types of products that use the technology.    One performs “single channel” recognition that is best used at, for example, entrances to office buildings.
    The other, more powerful, product is a “multi-channel” recognition system that uses “multiple surveillance cameras.”
    It can identify everyone in a crowd of up to 30 people “within a second,” Huang says.
    “When wearing a mask, the recognition rate can reach about 95%, which can ensure that most people can be identified,” Huang said, adding the success rate for people without mask is about 99.5%.
LOSING FACIAL INFORMATION
    A big customer, not surprisingly, is the Ministry of Public Security, which runs the police.
    Using Hanwang’s technology, the ministry can cross-reference images with its own database of names and other information and then identify and track people as they move about, Huang said.
    “It can detect crime suspects, terrorists or make reports or warnings,” he said.
    But the system struggles to identify people with both a mask and sunglasses, he said.
    “In this situation, all of the key facial information is lost.    In such cases recognition is tough,” Huang said.
    The company has about 200 clients in Beijing using the technology, including the police, and expect scores more across 20 provinces to start installing it soon, Huang said.
    It is not immediately clear how Chinese citizens are reacting to this new technology.
    When it comes to other surveillance tools being used in the fight against the coronavirus, there has been some grumbling on social media but most people seem to be accepting extra intrusion, or even embracing it, as a means to deal with the health emergency.
    Although domestic customers have been driving Hanwang’s business, Huang also said he expected more foreign interest, as the virus spreads around the world and more people wear face masks.
It not only benefits Chinese people, but also, when the technology is applied globally, it can benefit the world,” he said.
(Editing by Brenda Goh, Robert Birsel)

3/9/2020 South Korea reports 96 new coronavirus cases, total 7,478
A South Korean soldier sprays disinfectants at an apartment complex which is under cohort isolation after mass
infection of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reported in Daegu, South Korea, March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported 96 new coronavirus cases on Monday, taking the country’s total infections to 7,478, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
    The updated numbers added to the 69 recorded earlier in the day, showing the rate of increase slowed to its lowest in 11 days.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/9/2020 Two Australian schools close as coronavirus cases jump by Swati Pandey
FILE PHOTO: Epping Boys High School, the site of Australia’s first ordered school closure after a 16-year-old pupil
tested positive for the coronavirus, is pictured in Sydney, Australia, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Two schools in the Australian city of Sydney closed on Monday after three students tested positive for the coronavirus, taking Australia’s tally of cases to more than 80 as the government prepares a fiscal stimulus to ward off recession.
    Australia has seen a worrying increase in coronavirus cases in the past couple of days, though Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the majority were travelers who caught the virus abroad, with only one instance of community transmission.
    Two year-10 students at Sydney’s St Patrick’s Marist College Dundas had tested positive for the virus while a year-7 pupil tested positive at the Willoughby Girls High School.
    “This is likely to be the new norm,” said Brad Hazzard the minister of health for New South Wales state.
    The school closures come days after another high school in Sydney shut down when a 16-year-old there tested positive.
    Epping Boys High School reopened on Monday though nearly 70 students and staff who had close contact with the infected student remained in self-isolation.
    The coronavirus has infected 107,000 people around the world in an ever-growing list of countries and caused hefty economic damage, prompting central banks to ease monetary policies.
    Three people have died in Australia.
    “This is a public health emergency of an unprecedented nature that our nation and that the entire global community is facing,” the health minister of Victoria state, Jenny Mikakos, told a televised briefing.
    Her state also recorded a jump in the number of cases after two people who recently arrived from the United States and one who returned from Iran were diagnosed as infected with the virus.
    “We do anticipate that this likely pandemic will have significant impacts on our health system.    This has been my absolute focus, making sure that our system is prepared to respond,” Mikakos said.
    Worries about the hit to the economy saw nearly A$108 billion ($70.5 billion) wiped off Australian shares <.AXJO> in yet another day of panic selling in global financial markets.
FISCAL RE-THINK?
    The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) last week became the first in the developed world to ease monetary policy to fight the economic fallout.
    The government is finalizing a fiscal stimulus package though the size of the measure is not known.
    An announcement on the likely A$10 billion package is expected this week, media reported.
    Economists are less optimistic about the scale of the stimulus.
    Citi economist Josh Williamson expects an initial package of A$3 billion to A$5 billion, or about 0.1% of Australia’s gross domestic product.
    “Such a package would be designed to offset the expected loss of output, rather than deliver a material boost to activity that closes the negative output gap that existed prior to COVID-19,” he added, referring to the illness caused by the virus.
    “If the broader economy is impacted more severely than currently assumed, then the government could be forced to rethink its fiscal strategy in May, that is, abandon hopes of a near-term budget surplus and bring forward other stimulatory measures.”
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Sam Holmes, Robert Birsel)

3/9/2020 Intelligence experts raise concerns over U.S.-Taliban peace deal odds by OAN Newsroom
Supporters of Pakistani religious group Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Nazryate party rally to celebrate the signing agreement
between United States and Taliban, in Quetta, Pakistan, Sunday, March 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)
    Intelligence officials are raising concerns on whether the Taliban plans on upholding its recent peace deal struck with the U.S.
    In the deal, the Taliban pledged to halt all attacks against U.S. troops or America’s allies.    However, intelligence officials and political analysts have warned the agreement is still fragile and is unlikely to completely solve the nearly two decades-long conflict.
    Furthermore, analysts have raised concerns over the fragmented nature of the Taliban.
    “And this is one of the reasons that one group came and in a meeting for the negotiations, but later on the second groups still, they are having military operations,” explained Ayubzada, a political analyst in Afghanistan.    “I think there is a lot of disorganization among the Taliban groups and they are not united on the peace talks.”
    On Friday, President Trump addressed concerns the Taliban would use the U.S.’s withdraw from the region to overthrow the government of Afghanistan.    However, he noted that “countries have to take care of themselves.”

3/9/2020 Afghan President Ghani to issue decree on Taliban prisoner release this week
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during his inauguration as president,
in Kabul, Afghanistan March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will issue a decree for at least 1,000 Taliban prisoners to be released this week, five official sources said on Monday, paving the way for opening direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents.
    Two Afghan sources said the decree will permit the release of old, ageing Taliban prisoners, a decision that comes hours after Ghani was sworn in as president for a second term.
    The Taliban wants Ghani to release 5,000 prisoners as a pre-condition to hold talks with the Afghan government.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul, Jonathan Landay in Washington, Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Leslie Adler)

3/10/2020 Taliban wait for Afghan president to order release of fighters in prisoner swap by Jibran Ahmad and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani arrives to his inauguration
as president, in Kabul, Afghanistan March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    PESHAWAR/KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban sent vehicles for fighters set to be released by the Afghan government in a prisoner swap expected to be announced on Tuesday, and were ready to honor their side of the deal by handing over 1,000 captured government troops, militant leaders said.
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will issue a decree for at least 1,000 Taliban prisoners to be released this week, Reuters reported on Monday, paving the way for opening direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents.
    A senior Taliban leader in Doha, the capital of Qatar where negotiations between the militants and U.S. officials have taken place, said vehicles had been sent to an area near Bagram Prison to fetch the freed fighters.
    The prisoner release is part of a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban last month that allows U.S. forces and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan to end more than 18 years of war.
    The Taliban have demanded the release of the prisoners as a confidence-building measure.
    Ghani, who was sworn in on Monday at a ceremony attended by U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, had earlier rejected the Taliban demand for its fighters to be released.
    “After our conversation with Zalmay Khalilzad on Monday, in which he conveyed to us the release of our 5,000 prisoners, we sent vehicles to pick them up,” the senior Taliban leader said via phone from Doha.
    It is unclear how many prisoners will be released immediately, but three other sources told Reuters on Monday that it could vary between 1,000 to 1,800.    It was also unclear whether prisoners would be released from other prisons aside from Bagram.
    The U.S. Embassy declined to comment.    A spokesman for NATO’s mission referred questions to the Afghan government.
    The Taliban leader in Doha also confirmed the group had finalised arrangements for the release of 1,000 prisoners held by them, adding that they had shifted all prisoners to safe locations in Afghanistan.
    “We are planning to release the 1,000 prisoners of the Afghan government to the Red Crescent and they could then shift them to their hometowns or pay them cash for travelling home,” he said.
    An official Taliban spokesman said he could not comment as he had yet to be informed of the plans.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Euan Rocha & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/10/2020 Xi visits Wuhan, signaling tide turning in China’s coronavirus battle by Yew Lun Tian and Se Young Lee
A workers wears a face mask as he sweeps the street after it was sprayed with disinfectant in Beijing as the
country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday made his first visit to Wuhan since a coronavirus outbreak forced an unprecedented lockdown of the central city of 11 million people, in a sign that authorities’ efforts to control the virus are working.
    Xi’s arrival came on the same day that Wuhan shut the last of 14 makeshift hospitals opened to manage a surge in coronavirus patients that had overwhelmed the city’s health care system, news website The Paper reported.
    Earlier on Tuesday, China announced that it had just 19 new coronavirus infections on Monday, down from 40 a day earlier.    That also marked the third straight day of no new domestically transmitted cases in mainland China outside of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, even as the disease spreads rapidly in other countries, including Italy and the United States.
    News of Xi’s Wuhan visit gave a lift to Chinese stocks, with the blue-chip index <.CSI300> ending the day 2.1% higher after falling into negative territory in morning trade.
    “It is obvious that Xi could not have visited Wuhan earlier because the risk of him contracting the virus there was initially too high,” Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters.
    “He is there now to reap the harvest.    His being there means the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) may declare victory against the virus soon,” Zhang said.
    China came in for criticism at home and globally over its early response to the outbreak, suppressing information and downplaying its risks, but its draconian efforts at control, including the lock-down of Wuhan and Hubei province, have been effective at curbing the spread.
    Also on Tuesday, Hubei said it would implement a “health code” system to allow people in areas at medium or low risk to start traveling.
    Qianjiang, another city in Hubei, said that all traffic checkpoints will be removed, public transportation will restart and firms will resume work in the near future, according to a report on an official website.
IMPORTED CASES
    During his trip to Wuhan, Xi will “visit and express regards to medical workers, military officers and soldiers, community workers, police officers, officials and volunteers who have been fighting the epidemic on the front line, as well as patients and residents during the inspection,” state news agency Xinhua said.
    Separately, Taiwan’s government said a second round of evacuations of its citizens stranded in Wuhan had begun, after weeks of arguments between the Chinese-claimed island and Beijing over the arrangements.
    Of the new coronovirus cases announced by China on Tuesday, 17 were in Wuhan. Two others – in Beijing and Guangdong province – involved people who had arrived from Britain and Spain, respectively.
    That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,754.
    Chinese authorities have ramped up warnings about the risks from foreigners and Chinese nationals traveling to China from viral hot spots abroad such as Iran and Italy.    As of Monday, there were 69 imported cases.
    Globally, more than 114,300 people have been infected by the coronavirus and over 4,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements.
    Since the outbreak, 59,897 patients have been discharged from hospitals in China.    Recently discharged patients need to go into quarantine for 14 days.
    Xi, who was mostly absent from Chinese state media coverage of the crisis in its early days, has become for more visible in recent weeks.
    The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, on Tuesday detailed the various instructions and actions Xi had given and taken between Jan. 7 and March 2 to combat the epidemic.
    “Xi personally commands the people’s war against the epidemic.    He has been paying constant attention to the epidemic prevention and control work and made oral or written instructions every day,” the newspaper said.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Yilei Sun; Additional Reporting by Brenda Goh, Lun Tian Yew, Huizhong Wu, Stella Qiu, Lusha Zhang, Gao Liangping, and Samuel Shen, and Yimou Lee in Taipei; Vincent Lee in South Korea; Writing by Engen Tham and Tony Munroe; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Michael Perry, Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/10/2020 Singapore charges visitors for coronavirus treatment after imported Indonesian cases by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie
FILE PHOTO: Passengers arriving from Batam, Indonesia, pass a temperature screening station at the
Singapore Cruise Center, following the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore has started charging visitors for coronavirus treatment, the city-state said as it reported new imported infections involving people who had traveled from neighboring Indonesia.
    Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, reported its first virus case earlier this month and officially has just 19 infections compared to 160 in Singapore.    Disease experts have questioned how many cases could be going undiagnosed in Indonesia.
    Singapore’s new measures announced late Monday came into effect on March 7, when authorities said two symptomatic Indonesian travelers arrived in Singapore.
    Both had reported coronavirus symptoms in Indonesia before arriving in Singapore.    One had previously sought treatment at a hospital in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.
    Another case involved a Singaporean who had visited her sister in Indonesia who had pneumonia.
    The health ministry did not say whether its new stance on payment for treatment related to specific cases.
    “In view of the rising number of COVID-19 infections globally, and the expected rise in the number of confirmed cases in Singapore, we will need to prioritise the resources at our public hospitals,” the health ministry said in a statement.
    Foreigners who are short-term visit pass holders who seek treatment for COVID-19 in Singapore need to pay but testing for the virus remains free.
    Treatment of severe respiratory infections in Singapore public hospitals typically cost between S$6,000 – S$8,000 ($4,300-5,800), according to the Ministry of Health’s website.
    Of 33 imported cases reported by Singapore to date, 24 involve travel to China – where the virus first surfaced late last year – three to Indonesia and the others to Italy, Britain, France and Germany.
    Singapore has also determined that some of its local cases had travel history to Indonesia.
    Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in the United States, said in a study last month Indonesia’s lack of confirmed cases at that time “may suggest the potential for undetected cases,” urging authorities there to strengthen outbreak surveillance and control.
    “Are they (Indonesia) lucky or are they missing cases? It’s a little bit hard to say…but it’s certainly got people asking the question,” said Dale Fisher, a Singapore-based diseases expert who chairs the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the World Health Organisation.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/10/2020 Lower trend in new coronavirus cases raises glimmer of hope in South Korea by Hyonhee Shin
Women wearing masks make their way in downtown amid the rise in confirmed cases of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A downward trend in new coronavirus cases in South Korea raised hope on Tuesday that Asia’s biggest outbreak outside China may be slowing, but officials urged vigilance with new clusters of infections emerging in a call center and a dance class.
    The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 35 new coronavirus cases, down from a peak of 909 on Feb. 29.    The new figures brought the national tally to 7,513, while the death toll rose by three to 54.
    The numbers are expected to be updated later on Tuesday.
    The fall in the daily tally of new infections to its lowest level in 11 days coincided with the completion of testing of most of the roughly 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the center of South Korea’s epidemic.
    Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy at the health ministry, urged businesses to do what they could to help stem the outbreak after the discovery of 64 new cases among call-centre workers and their relatives.
    “The rate of increase is declining but there are still many new cases,” Yoon told a briefing.
    “We need to pay attention to crowded workplaces including call centers.    The cooperation of business owners is essential as they shouldn’t let employees come in if they show symptoms like fever.”
    More than 90% of South Korea’s cases have been in the southeastern city of Daegu, where the church at the center of the outbreak is based, and the nearby province of North Gyeongsang.
    But alarm has been raised in the capital, Seoul, with the new cases there linked to the call-center, operated by an insurance company.
    Authorities are investigating in the cluster and say more infections are likely among the 200 people packed into the floor where the call-center is located.    They are being tested.
    Seoul’s mayor, Park Won-soon, told a briefing the call-center outbreak was the capital’s largest.
    “We will urgently check companies where many people work in the same space like call centres,” Park said.
    More than 90 out of 102 cases in the central province of South Chungcheong have been traced to a Zumba dance class.
    Among the infections linked to the class were three government officials, including one from the health ministry, triggering extensive disinfection efforts at the buildings where they work.
    The U.S. military in south Korea reported a new case on Tuesday, a Korean worker at a base in Daegu.    That took the total number of infections to nine among soldiers, employees or people related to the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
    President Moon Jae-in has expressed guarded hope for the fight against the virus, saying the downward trend in new infections could lead to a phase of stability, but he warned that it was too early for optimism.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel)

3/10/2020 India’s celebration of festival of colors muted amid coronavirus fears
People dance as they throw coloured powder at each other during Holi, the festival of
colours, celebrations in Kolkata, India March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Hindu festival of Holi was subdued on Tuesday with fears of the coronavirus putting a damper on the usually boisterous celebration marked by the throwing of colored powder and dousing with dyed water.
    The two-day spring festival is a rowdy explosion of color, with people smearing each other’s faces with green, yellow and red powder.
    But the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 40 people in India, looks set to spoil the fun this year.
    “Avoid participating in large gatherings,” the Ministry of Health said in notice warning of the danger of the virus, while wishing everyone a “Happy and Safe Holi.”
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he would not celebrate Holi this year. Shopkeepers said rumors that the colored powders and dyes revelers use in the festival were imported from China had hurt their sales.
    The virus originated in China late last year.
    “Customers are down by at least 50 to 60%,” said Suresh Singh, a shopkeeper in Lucknow, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who sells the powders and dyes.
    “Usually at this time of year the market is very crowded but now it’s quiet,” Singh said.    “I’m not even selling colours from China … they’re from Delhi.”
    In a suburb of Mumbai, people put up a giant effigy of the coronavirus and set it ablaze.    Women sang songs to banish the virus, telling it to “go away,” videos shared on social media showed.
(Reporting by New Delhi newsroom; Editing by Alasdair Pal, Robert Birsel)

3/10/2020 Exclusive: Japan plans to spend $4.1 billion on coronavirus measures, sources say
A worker, wearing protective face mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is pictured on
an almost empty street in Yokohama?s Chinatown, south of Tokyo, Japan March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government plans to spend 430.8 billion yen ($4.1 billion) in a second package of steps to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, two government sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
    The government also plans to adopt fiscal measures totaling 1.6 trillion yen to support corporate financing as part of the package, due to be announced later on Tuesday, the sources said on condition of anonymity, as the plan is not public yet.
(Reporting by Takaya Yamaguchi; Writing by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by David Dolan and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by David Dolan)

3/10/2020 North Korea leader Kim Jong Un oversaw latest missile launch: KCNA
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a drill of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean People's Army, in
North Korea in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 2, 2020.?KCNA?via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Jong Un personally oversaw Monday’s “firepower strike drill,” North Korea state media reported on Tuesday, including the launch of what appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles for the second time in a week.
    North Korea launched multiple projectiles into the sea on Monday as part of firing drills, according to South Korea’s military, drawing U.S. and Chinese appeals for Pyongyang to return to talks on ending its nuclear and missile programs.
    Kim was joined by the commanders of the Korean People’s Army and expressed “great satisfaction with the result,” North Korean state news agency KCNA reported.
    “The purpose of the firepower strike drill was to inspect the sudden military counterattack capability of the long-range artillery units on the front,” KCNA said.
    Photos released by KCNA showed troops firing a number of artillery guns, as well as missiles from a multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) with four launching tubes.
    The missiles flew up to 200 km (124 miles) and reached 50 km in altitude, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
    Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium raised North Korea’s recent launches at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, calling them provocative actions that violated U.N. resolutions.
    But North Korea’s foreign ministry criticized the European stand as “U.S.-instigated reckless behavior” and Kim’s sister said the drills were not meant to threaten anyone.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

3/10/2020 Afghan opposition inaugurate Abdullah Abdullah as ‘President’ to contest President Ghani’s reelection by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Feb. 29, 2020, file photo, Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference
in Kabul, Afghanistan. Squabbling Afghan presidential rivals threatened to declare themselves president in
dueling ceremonies Monday, March 9, 2020, throwing plans for intra-Afghan negotiations into chaos. (AP Photo/Tamana Sarwary, File)
    The Afghan opposition held its own presidential inauguration to protest the reelection of President Ashraf Ghani.    During a ceremony in Kabul on Monday, Afghan opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah was proclaimed the nation’s president following highly contested elections last September.
    On the same day, President Ghani was sworn in for his second term in office.    This standoff came just days after the U.S. negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban, which some have said may now be in jeopardy.
    The Afghan opposition said Ghani failed to ensure peace, adding that they may appoint an alternative government.
    “If we had not compromised in 2014 for national stability and unity, the country would have been in crisis, but now the case is quite the opposite,” stated Abdullah.    “And if we were to accept the result of fraud under any name this time, it would mean the end of democracy in Afghanistan.”
    The Afghan opposition leader went on to say his key priority is reaching lasting peace with Taliban, including by making concessions if necessary.

3/10/2020 Xi visits Wuhan, signaling tide turning in China’s coronavirus battle by Yew Lun Tian and Se Young Lee
A workers wears a face mask as he sweeps the street after it was sprayed with disinfectant in Beijing as the
country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday made his first visit to Wuhan since a coronavirus outbreak forced a lockdown of the city of 11 million people, in a sign that authorities’ efforts to control the virus are working.
    Xi’s arrived on the same day that Wuhan shut the last of 14 temporary hospitals that had been opened to manage a surge in coronavirus patients, news website The Paper reported.
    Earlier on Tuesday, China said it had just 19 new coronavirus infections on Monday, down from 40 a day earlier.    That also marked the third straight day of no new domestically transmitted cases in mainland China outside of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, even as the disease spreads rapidly in other countries, including Italy and the United States.
    “The situation of coronavirus prevention in Hubei and Wuhan has shown positive changes and achieved phased results, initially realizing goals to stabilize and turn around the situation,” the official Xinhua news service cited Xi as saying.
    He acknowledged that people under lengthy quarantine – Wuhan and much of Hubei province have been under strict controls since late January – may have frustrations to vent.
    “We must understand and tolerate them,” he was quoted as saying.
    During his visit, a masked Xi was shown meeting with local officials, medical staff, and volunteers, state broadcaster CCTV reported. He addressed frontline medical workers and a hospitalized patient by videolink.
    Residents of Wuhan were shown cheering Xi from their apartment windows, while negative comments on China’s heavily censored social media were quickly removed.
    “Why only come now when the epidemic is almost over?” one comment on the official People’s Daily’s Weibo feed said before disappearing.
    News of Xi’s Wuhan visit gave a lift to Chinese stocks, with the blue-chip index <.CSI300> ending the day 2.1% higher after falling into negative territory in morning trade.
    “It is obvious that Xi could not have visited Wuhan earlier because the risk of him contracting the virus there was initially too high,” Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters.
    “He is there now to reap the harvest. His being there means the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) may declare victory against the virus soon,” Zhang said.
    China came in for criticism at home and globally over its early response to the outbreak, suppressing information and downplaying its risks, but its draconian efforts at control, including the lock-down of Wuhan and Hubei province, have been effective at curbing the spread.
    Xi, who was mostly absent from Chinese state media coverage of the crisis in its early days, has become far more visible in recent weeks.
DWINDLING NEW CASES
    Of the new coronovirus cases announced by China, 17 were in Wuhan.    Two others – in Beijing and Guangdong province – involved people who had arrived from Britain and Spain, respectively.
    That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,754.
    Chinese authorities have ramped up warnings about the risks from foreigners and Chinese nationals traveling to China from viral hot spots abroad such as Iran and Italy.    As of Monday, there were 69 imported cases.
    Also on Tuesday, Hubei said it would implement a “health code” system to allow people in areas at medium or low risk to start traveling.     Qianjiang, a city in Hubei, said that all traffic checkpoints will be removed, public transportation will restart and firms will resume work in the near future, according to a report on an official website.
    Globally, more than 114,300 people have been infected by the coronavirus and over 4,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements.
    Since the outbreak, 59,897 patients have been discharged from hospitals in China.    Recently discharged patients need to go into quarantine for 14 days.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun, Se Young Lee, Gabriel Crossley, Judy Hua, Brenda Goh, Lun Tian Yew, Huizhong Wu, Stella Qiu, Lusha Zhang, and Gao Liangping in Beijing; Brenda Goh and Samuel Shen in Shanghai; and Yimou Lee in Taipei; Writing by Engen Tham and Tony Munroe; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Michael Perry, Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/10/2020 Japan’s live music clubs emerge as new coronavirus transmission sites by Chang-Ran Kim and Naomi Tajitsu
An indoor music venue called Soap Opera Classics Umeda were some people confirmed as infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
after visiting the venue in Osaka. Japan March 4, 2020, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Kyodo via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A handful of small music clubs in Japan’s western city of Osaka have emerged as a new transmission ground for the coronavirus, showing the difficulty of stemming the outbreak even as authorities have focused on stopping large gatherings.
    Japan has closed schools, zoos and theme parks, and drastically scaled back public events since the outbreak.    The annual spring sumo tournament is being held in Osaka without spectators, leaving public broadcaster NHK to televise bouts of wrestlers facing off in an eerily quiet stadium.
    Despite those steps, and the government’s urging telecommuting, there are signs that smaller crowds – including those at restaurants and tiny “live houses” where fans stand cheek by jowl to hear live music – are spreading the virus.
    Osaka reported its first coronavirus case on Feb. 27.    As of Tuesday, it had 73 cases, according to data from the local government and public broadcaster NHK.    At least 49 of those were linked to four small music venues.
    Many of the cases concentrated on three dates: Feb. 15, 16, and 19 – but a possible cluster-type spread wasn’t identified until early March, Osaka’s daily announcements show.    Many of those infected were in their 30s and 40s and showed minimal or no symptoms.
    As of Monday, 34 cases were linked to one venue in particular – Soap opera classics Umeda – and another 18 to Live House Arc.    About 100 people attended each performance at the clubs.
    Another 19 people outside Osaka, from as far away as Hokkaido, the northernmost island, and Kumamoto, in the southernmost main island of Kyushu, have also been traced back to those two venues, authorities said.
    Sushi chain operator Sushiro Global Holdings said on Tuesday it would temporarily close one of its branches in neighboring Hyogo prefecture to disinfect it after an employee who had been to one of the music venues on Feb. 16 tested positive.    The worker had displayed no symptoms, it said.
(For an interactive chart on coronavirus infections in Osaka, click https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-JAPAN-MUSIC/0H001R8FKC89/index.html)
    Infections have been found in people who had been to two other venues – LIVE HOUSE Rumio and americamura FANJ twice, said the local government.
    All four clubs, located within a radius of around 3 kms (1.9 miles) of each other in the city center, have since been disinfected under the direction of Osaka health authorities.
    “The only way to prevent this disease from a very rapid transmission and high infection rate is to reduce person-to-person contact,” said Eyal Leshem, the director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, which has treated coronavirus patients evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise liner.
    “Communities that are experiencing what we call community transmission need to shift to the stage of outbreak response called mitigation,” Leshem said, adding that meant “social distancing” as a means to prevent person-to-person infection.
‘UNDERGROUND SCENE INFECTED’
    Already, there are signs that the virus is spreading beyond people who were in the clubs. A man in his 30s with no symptoms who had been to Arc on Feb. 15 tested positive on March 8.    Two of his family members have also tested positive.
    The Osaka prefectural government is asking anyone who had been to concerts on seven dates in mid- to late February at the four venues to get tested for the coronavirus, whether or not they have symptoms.
    On its website, Live House Arc said it was cancelling all of its events for the remainder of the month.
    “Can it be?    The coronavirus has engulfed the underground live house scene!” said local guitar pop trio White Shadow in a blog post this month.
    The band was on the bill at Live House Rumio on Feb. 18. It said it would postpone all of its performances through mid-month.
    Japan has more than 1,000 cases of the virus, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship which was quarantined near Tokyo last month.    Sixteen people have died, including seven from the liner.    The virus has spread around the world, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases and 3,600 deaths.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Naomi Tajitsu; Additional reporting by Rocky Swift and Yuki Nitta; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/10/2020 Iran coronavirus deaths reach 291, cases at more than 8,000: health ministry
An Iranian woman wears a protective face mask, following the coronavirus outbreak, as she
walks in Tehran, Iran March 5, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from coronavirus infections jumped on Tuesday to 291 and the total number of infections rose to more than 8,000, the health ministry said.
    Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur announced on state television that in the last 24 hours the number of new infections was 881, bringing the total to 8,042, and that another 54 patients had died.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/11/2020 As new cases of coronavirus subside in China, Wuhan told to go back to work
People wearing protective face masks are seen on a crossroads as the country is
hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Shanghai, China March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Some key industries in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, were told they can resume work on Wednesday, a day after President Xi Jinping visited the city for the first time since the outbreak began.
    The city of 11 million has been in lockdown since late January, but Xi’s visit signaled the tide was turning in the government’s favor as it fights to contain a virus that as of Tuesday had infected 80,778 people in China and killed 3,158.
    As some people were told they could gradually return to work at the epicenter of the epidemic, authorities elsewhere in the country were lowering emergency response levels to the epidemic and relaxing travel restrictions.
    Drawing confidence from Xi’s visit and falling new infections, the Hubei provincial government posted a notice on its website saying public transport workers in Wuhan, and workers engaged in making medical supplies and producing daily necessities would be allowed to return to work.
    Other industries that impact national or global supply chains can also return to work with permission from relevant authorities, it said.
    Wuhan is known as one of China’s ‘Detroits’, accounting for nearly 10% of vehicles made in the country and home to hundreds of parts suppliers.    Across China, manufacturing is slowly returning to normal.
    Though the economy is still operating at about 25% below its usual levels, activity should be fully restored by the end of April, Francoise Huang, senior economist at Euler Hermes, predicted in a note to clients.
    On Wednesday, Japanese automaker Nissan said it planned to partially resume production at two Chinese plants, one of them in Hubei.    Its competitor Honda said that some employees had returned to work at its plant in Wuhan, and that it would gradually restart production from Wednesday.
    While relaxing some restrictions, the Hubei government said curbs on transport in Wuhan would remain in place, and schools in the province would remain closed until further notice.
    The city of Qianjiang in Hubei also bucked a wider loosening trend, with authorities saying they would retain strict transport bans, revoking a previous policy of removing traffic checkpoints and resuming public transport.
    Latest figures from the National Health Commission on the spread of the virus showed 24 new cases nationwide, and 22 more deaths as of Tuesday.    All the latest deaths occurred in Wuhan.
    But, new infections in Hubei continued to stabilize, with new cases declining for the sixth day.    All 13 new cases in Hubei were recorded in Wuhan.
IMPORTED CASES
    The most encouraging trend to be taken from the latest infection figures was lower rate of transmission within communities in China, as 10 of Tuesday’s 24 new cases involved people traveling from abroad.
    While only 79 of the cases in China have come from abroad, the rising number of such incidences has prompted authorities to shift their focus on containing the risk of imported cases.
    The capital of Beijing saw six new cases on Tuesday involving individuals who traveled from Italy and the United States, while Shanghai had two imported infections, Shandong province one and Gansu province one.
    Elsewhere, however, Hunan province and the municipality of Chongqing lowered their emergency response level, while cities around Shandong province resumed inter-city and rural passenger transportation routes, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
    Shandong, however, stopped short of resuming routes to Beijing and Hubei province.
    So far, about three-quarters of China’s municipalities, regions and provinces have lowered their emergency response level from the highest tier.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Emily Chow and Andrew Galbraith; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/11/2020 Afghan government to release Taliban prisoners as U.N. backs push to end war by Hamid Shalizi and Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference
in Kabul, Afghanistan March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is preparing to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners in coming days, according to a decree viewed by Reuters on Tuesday, as the United Nations backed a U.S.-led push to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war.
    The two-page decree signed by Ghani, which requires all released Taliban prisoners to provide “a written guarantee to not return to the battlefield,” is aimed at paving the way for direct talks with the hardline insurgent group.
    The United States warned the Taliban that the current high level of violence was “not conducive to advancing the peace process” after the 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a U.S.-drafted resolution.
    The United States signed an agreement with the Taliban last month for a phased withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces if the Taliban keeps its commitments.    It also prescribed the start of talks between the insurgents and an Afghan government delegation on a political settlement to end decades of conflict.
    The prisoner release decree, which is expected to be made public later by Ghani’s office, said the process will begin in four days.
    “The process of releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners will be completed within 15 days, with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails every day,” it said.
    The decree said talks between the government and the Taliban will run parallel with the prisoner release, and requires the insurgents to stick to commitments to a reduction in violence.
    Taliban commanders have sent vehicles to be ready to collect the prisoners and said they will honor the deal by handing over 1,000 government troops.
    Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Cherith Norman Chalet said the Taliban had taken steps to stop attacks in cities and against major bases.
    “But more needs to be done and we urge them to also reduce violence against Afghan forces in the countryside to give intra-Afghan negotiations and peace the opportunity to succeed,” she said.
    The peace process has been complicated by differing wording of documents drafted in separate meetings between the United States and the Taliban, and the United States and the Afghan government.
    Earlier on Tuesday, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to take a swipe at the U.S. deal with the Taliban, saying: “It is difficult to have an agreement when you leave out the government of the country that you are expecting to uphold and live under that agreement.”
    Speaking at a U.N. event on Afghan women’s rights, Clinton also stressed the need for women to be at the negotiating table.
    “Afghan women today are rightly afraid… that the gains they have made with all of our help will be washed away in a rush to achieve a peace that will not hold anyway,” she said.    “This is not just morally wrong, this is dangerous.”
    The Security Council resolution emphasized the importance of including women, youth and minorities and ensuring any political settlement protects their rights.
POLITICAL TENSIONS
    An escalating political feud is compounding the challenges, with U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus confirming an electoral crisis has delayed Ghani’s naming of a national negotiating team.
    Ghani was sworn in for a second term on Monday, but the ceremony was marred by a rocket attack, while his political rival, former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, held his own inauguration ceremony.
    Both Ghani and Abdullah say they are Afghanistan’s rightful leader following a disputed election in September.
    “We are strongly against the establishment of any parallel administrations or government structures and we call on all concerned to come together and resolve differences constructively,” British U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said in remarks directed at Adbullah.
    Ghani has told U.S. negotiators that he plans to announce “an inclusive team in the coming few days,” Ortagus said.
    If the talks make progress, the government said it will release a further 500 Taliban prisoners every two weeks until a total of 5,000 Taliban prisoners have been freed.
    It was unclear whether prisoners would be released from other prisons aside from Bagram, a detention facility located next to a U.S. military base.
    Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Special Envoy who was the key negotiator urged the two sides to sit down immediately to work out the details, saying the prisoner release deal “will be a significant step in the peace process.”
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Michelle Nichols; additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jane Wardell)

3/11/2020 South Korea reports jump in coronavirus cases after call center outbreak by Hyonhee Shin
Employees from a disinfection service company sanitize a subway car depot amid
coronavirus fears in Seoul, South Korea, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported a jump in new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as authorities tested hundreds of staff at a call center where the disease appeared this week, reversing 11 days of slowing infections, health officials said.
    Another 242 new cases were reported compared with only 35 a day earlier, bringing the total in Asia’s worst outbreak outside mainland China to 7,755, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The death toll rose by one to 60.
    The daily tally of new cases in South Korea peaked at 909 on Feb. 29, as authorities tested about 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the center of the nation’s epidemic.
    With that task almost done, the infection rate had slowed in recent days, raising hopes that South Korea might be bringing the virus under control.
    But new clusters at the call center in Seoul, and among teachers and students of a dance school with classes around the country, have kept authorities on high alert for a fresh spike in infections.
    “The mass infections at the call center could be the beginning of a fresh tide that leads to a widespread regional outbreak,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told a briefing.
    At least 90 cases confirmed this week, including 62 in Seoul, were linked directly to the call center located near a public transportation hub connecting Seoul with Incheon and other major cities, the KCDC said.
    Authorities say they are testing the 200 staff who worked on the floor where the first cases were discovered, while monitoring the other 550 in the center’s workforce who are self-quarantined.
    Many of its workers who tested positive were found to have used the subway and buses for their daily commute, prompting extensive disinfection work around key stations, city officials said.
    The government urged high-risk organizations to take extra prevention measures, including remote work, staggered shifts and greater separation between office desks.    It named call centers, private academies, karaoke bars, computer cafes and sport facilities as some of the places most at risk.
    Around 90% of cases in South Korea including 140 confirmed on Wednesday were in the worst-hit city of Daegu, where the church is based, and the nearby province of North Gyeongsang.
    “There has been a stagnating trend in Daegu cases despite a slight increase today,” said Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy.
    “The situation happening in the Seoul metropolitan area is unlikely to lead to that of the Daegu region … but we will make maximum efforts to stave off further spread.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates)

3/11/2020 Indonesia records first death from coronavirus – health official
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks on a bridge, after Indonesia confirmed new
cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – A 53-year-old woman has died from coronavirus in Indonesia, the first recorded death from the virus in the Southeast Asian country, a health ministry official said on Wednesday.
    The woman, a foreign national, had already been in critical condition when she was admitted to a hospital, said Achmad Yurianto, the health ministry official.
    Yurianto did not say where the woman was from or in what hospital or city she had died, but said her home country’s embassy was aware of her death and would arrange to have her body repatriated.
    Indonesia has 26 other confirmed coronavirus patients.
(Reporting by Maikel Jefriando; Writing by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Tom Hogue)

3/11/2020 Vietnam’s coronavirus cases up to 35 after new infections from Europe
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing protective mask walks near the house of a coronavirus infected
patient, at a quarantined street in Hanoi, Vietnam March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Weeks after Vietnam declared that all 16 of its coronavirus cases had recovered, the number of infected patients is on the rise following the reintroduction of the virus on a flight from Britain.
    Vietnam’s health ministry reported on Wednesday a total of 35 coronavirus cases, more than double the original 16.
    Thirteen passengers who were on a Vietnam Airlines flight from London to Hanoi on March 2. tested positive for the virus, most of them British or Vietnamese people who had traveled to other parts of Europe, including Italy, the ministry said.
    Vietnam’s latest coronavirus case, a 29-year-old saleswoman in the central province of Danang, had close contact with two infected British tourists from the flight on Mar. 4, the ministry said in a statement.
    There have been no coronavirus deaths in Vietnam.
    The health ministry said on Feb. 25 all of the 16 people who had been infected with the virus at the time had been cured, and that no new cases had been recorded since Feb. 13.
    Vietnam on Monday suspended visa-free travel for citizens from eight European countries amid growing concern over the coronavirus epidemic.
    The suspension applied to citizens of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain, the government said in a release on its website.
(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by James Pearson, Robert Birsel)

3/11/2020 Iran agrees to send black boxes of crashed jet to Ukraine: official
FILE PHOTO: General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800 plane
that crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran
January 8, 2020 is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video via REUTERS
    MONTREAL/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Iran’s aviation authority has agreed to send black boxes from a downed Ukrainian jetliner to Kiev for analysis, Iran’s representative at the United Nations’ aviation agency told Reuters on Wednesday.
    Farhad Parvaresh, who heads Iran’s delegation at the U.N.’s Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), said Tehran’s civil aviation authority had also invited other interested countries to participate in reading the data.
    The move ends a two-month stand-off over the fate of the recordings from the jet, which was shot down by the Iranian military on Jan 8 with the loss of all 176 people on board.
    Two sources directly familiar with the matter said Iran had made the announcement to ICAO’s governing council.
    “They did agree … that in the next two weeks or so they will bring the black boxes to Ukraine for reading and if that isn’t possible, they would go to France,” a Canadian government source said. ICAO was not immediately available for comment.
    Canada, which had 57 citizens on board the flight, and other countries had consistently pressured Tehran for access to the boxes.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

3/11/2020 ‘Come home,’ Chinese tell relatives in Spain as coronavirus cases jump by Clara-Laeila Laudette
People walk past a closed shop in the Usera neighborhood, Madrid, Spain March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Juan Medina
    MADRID (Reuters) – In a usually bustling Madrid street popular with the city’s growing Chinese community, 14 of 17 Chinese-owned shops were closed on Wednesday, their shutters pulled down or notes stuck to window fronts saying the owners were away.
    “I wanted to close as well but I’m staying open because people need masks, disinfectant and wipes,” said Luna, 40, who works in one of the few Chinese stores still open.
    “When my stock runs out, I’m closing,” added Luna, who stopped taking her two-year-old daughter with her to the shop for fear she could be infected by the coronavirus.
    Talking through a face mask, she wiped the counter clean with an alcohol spray.
    Across the Usera neighborhood and elsewhere in Madrid, many Chinese shop owners have either closed or said they were considering doing so.    Most other stores across the city were still open despite a steep rise in coronavirus cases in Spain.
    “It’s to protect clients and our workers too,” said 29-year-old Aurora Li, the Chinese owner of a cosmetics shop, when asked why so many Chinese-owned stores were shutting.
    Li said her parents, who also live in Spain, were thinking about going back to China, the country where the coronavirus first appeared but where the number of new cases has slowed following drastic measures to contain the outbreak.
    With over 2,100 confirmed cases and 47 deaths so far, Spain has overtaken France as Europe’s second-largest coronavirus hub after Italy.
    It started taking measures such as shutting down some schools and public libraries this week.    Half of the nation’s confirmed cases occurred in Madrid.
    The government says it wasn’t slow to react and has pledged to do “whatever is necessary” to tackle the outbreak.
    Graphic designer Lily Lee, 23, is under family pressure to leave Spain for China, which has reported over 80,000 coronavirus cases.
    “My family is in China, and my parents worry for me all alone here,” Lee said through a thick grey felt mask.    “They keep telling me to come home.”
    Lee noted that many people in her community were unsure when to reopen their businesses and some had sent relatives back to China.    If the situation gets as bad as in Italy, she will close up too.
(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette; additional reporting by Jessica Jones, Jesus Aguado, Belen Carreno; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Mike Collett-White)

3/11/2020 U.S. gives details on Iran sites under scrutiny of U.N. nuclear watchdog by Francois Murphybr>
FILE PHOTO: A flag with the logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters
in front of their headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – One of the three sites in Iran about which the U.N. nuclear watchdog says it has raised questions that Tehran has failed to answer may have hosted uranium metal, the United States said on Wednesday, providing new details on the locations.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency policing Iran’s troubled nuclear deal with major powers rebuked Tehran last week for failing to reply to its questions about nuclear activities dating back to the early 2000s at three sites and for denying its inspectors access to two of them.
    Uranium metal has long been an issue of interest to the IAEA in investigating Iran’s past work.    In 2005 Iran handed the IAEA a 15-page document given to it by a nuclear black-market network showing how to make two uranium metal half-spheres like those that often make up the core of an atomic bomb.
    “Iran has refused to address the agency’s questions regarding possible undeclared natural uranium at a location that has been heavily sanitized,” the United States said in a statement to the IAEA’s quarterly 35-nation Board of Governors meeting, using a term that often refers to construction or demolition work aimed at removing traces of nuclear material.
    “In the agency’s assessment, the nuclear material in question may potentially be uranium metal,” the U.S. statement said.    The special IAEA report to the board made no mention of uranium metal, though the reference to natural uranium indicates that the uranium was not enriched for use as nuclear fuel.
    Iran has long maintained that it did not ask for the uranium metal document given to it by the network that help it set up a secret uranium enrichment program exposed in the early 2000s.    During its years-long investigation of Iran, the IAEA sought to find out to what extent Iran worked on uranium metal.
    U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program that it halted in 2003.    While Iran’s 2015 deal with major powers largely drew a line under its past nuclear activity, the IAEA must also account for all nuclear material in Iran regardless of when it was produced.
    “Any refusal to cooperate with the IAEA on questions of possible undeclared nuclear material would be of serious proliferation concern,” said the statement by the United States, which exited the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
    “But given the potential for use of uranium metal in nuclear weapons research and development activities, the presence of even small quantities of undeclared uranium metal in Iran today would raise even more worrying questions,” it added.
    One of the two sites the IAEA sought to inspect and was denied access to could have hosted “activities potentially related to uranium conversion,” a process that precedes enrichment in the fuel cycle, the U.S. statement said.
    When asked about the U.S. allegations, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said that reports on such issues are confidential.     “Iran … is not going into detail on the confidential issues,” he said.
    The Islamic Republic denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/11/2020 Life under lockdown: Wuhan’s windows, balconies and rooftops
A man wearing a face mask stands on the terrace of a building in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Hubei province, China, March 5, 2020. REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated, remains under lockdown after more than 50 days, even as the world’s attention has shifted to other hotspots.
    Reuters pictures show – through windows and on balconies and rooftops – how Wuhan residents holed up in their apartments are getting on with their lives.    People can be seen hanging laundry. Children play. One man eats noodles.    Another smokes a cigarette.
    Chinese officials and some public health experts have credited the draconian confinement measures on a city of 11 million, and much of Hubei province, of which it is the capital, with slowing the spread of the disease and turning the tide of infection across China.
    Other countries, including Iran, Italy and the United States, are struggling to manage their outbreaks.
    But even as the number of new reported cases falls in Wuhan, people in the city remain suspended in an isolated new normal.
    Residents are forbidden from venturing out of their homes even to buy food, which must be delivered.    Schools and most shops remain shut, and roads are virtually empty.
    On Tuesday, Wuhan closed the last of 14 makeshift hospitals set up to treat and isolate patients after the outbreak had overwhelmed the city’s healthcare system.
    In a dramatic sign that the situation is improving, President Xi Jinping made a high-profile visit to the stricken city on Tuesday, his first since the outbreak began.
    Nearly 50,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in Wuhan, with 2,423 deaths, making it the location hardest-hit by far in an epidemic that has infected more than 119,000 people globally and killed nearly 4,300.
    The outbreak has also exacted an unquantifiable psychological toll on people in Wuhan as families cope with loss, children are unable to go to school or play outside, and livelihoods are imperiled as people can’t go to work.
    For a photo essay: https://reut.rs/339Hrzs
(Writing by Carlos Garcia and Tony Munroe; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/11/2020 Afghan government to free 1,500 prisoners; Taliban demands 5,000 by Jibran Ahmad, Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani arrives to his inauguration as
president, in Kabul, Afghanistan March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Afghan government said on Wednesday it would free 1,500 Taliban prisoners, while delaying the release of another 3,500 that the militants say must be set free for talks to begin under a peace deal reached with the United States.
    The Taliban promised to open talks with the Afghan government as part of the accord reached with the United States last month to end 18 years of U.S. involvement in war in Afghanistan.
    The militants say the agreement requires the government to release 5,000 prisoners before talks begin.    The government says the talks must begin and violence subside before it will free them all.
    Sources have told Reuters the dispute arises in part because of different wording about the prisoner release in separate agreements the United States reached with the Taliban and the Afghan government.
    President Ashraf Ghani has issued a decree ordering the release of an initial 1,500 prisoners, with the other 3,500 to be set free as conditions are met, Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.
    “The Taliban want all 5,000 prisoners released at once, which is impossible,” Sediqqi told journalists at a news conference.    The first prisoners would be freed on March 14, he said.
    Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban based in Doha, told Reuters the group had never agreed that there would be conditions attached to the release of the 5,000 prisoners.
    “If someone claims this, it will be against the peace accord that we signed on February 29,” Shaheen said.    “It is properly explained in the peace accord that first 5,000 prisoners would be freed and then the Afghan dialogue would be initiated.”
    Despite the accord between the United States and the Taliban, fighting has continued in various parts of the country.
    “The Taliban will be responsible, not the Afghan government, if this process fails,” Sediqqi said.
    Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy who was the key negotiator in talks with the Taliban, has urged both sides to sit down for talks.
    Taliban leaders told Reuters that their leadership council has also rejected an Afghan government demand that they give written guarantees that the released prisoners will not take part in fighting the Afghan government in the future.
    Meanwhile, the formation of a negotiating team that is to participate in the talks with the Taliban as part of the intra-Afghan dialogue has been delayed due to continuing political consultations, Sediqqi said.
    The composition of the team has been a bone of contention between the Afghan president and his main rival Abduallah Abdullah, who has refused to recognize Ghani’s reelection in last year’s presidential polls.
    Abdullah, the runner-up who disputed the outcome in each of Afghanistan’s last three presidential elections, served as chief executive of a unity government since 2014.    He held a ceremony this week to declare himself president on the same day Ghani was sworn in for a second term elsewhere in the capital.
    “President Ghani has told us he is consulting with Dr. Abdullah and other Afghan leaders and will announce an inclusive team in the coming few days,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Tuesday.
    On Wednesday, Ghani’s spokesman announced that a decree had been issued to dissolve Abdullah’s chief executive post.    Abdullah issued his own statement saying Ghani was no longer president and his decrees were not valid.
(Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Robert Birsel and Peter Graff)

3/12/2020 Iran VP, 2 Cabinet members have new virus, news agency reports
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s senior vice president and two other Cabinet members contracted the new coronavirus, a semiofficial news agency reported as the death toll in the Islamic Republic rose by 62 to 354.    The report by the Fars news agency, believed to be close to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, comes as President Hassan Rouhani took control of the nation’s muchcriticized response to the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.    Authorities announced there were some 9,000 confirmed cases of the virus across Iran.

3/11/2020 Nat’l Security Adviser O’Brien: China covered up early stages of COVID-19 outbreak by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers
at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)
    According to National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, China covered up the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages.    On Wednesday, he said the virus could have been contained earlier if the Chinese government had been transparent about it from the start.
    Chinese doctors and citizens who spoke about the virus were reportedly silenced or isolated.
    “The word of this virus could not get out,” said O’Brien.    “It probably cost the world community two months.”
    The adviser added President Trump and his administration have been working to eradicate the fast spreading virus.
    “We stopped air travel, 20,000 people a day coming in from China,” he said.    “That bought the U.S. six to eight weeks to prepare for the virus.”
    O’Brien has also advised Americans to reduce social contacts, improve basic hygiene and use common sense until the outbreak fizzles out.
FILE – In this Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 file photo, a 73-year-old man places a cold compress on his forehead while
battling the flu at a hospital in Georgia. Doctors can test for the flu and get results within a day,
but coronavirus testing as of March 2020 is still limited in the United States by availability. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
    Meanwhile, the top U.S. authority on infectious diseases has said the worst is yet to come with the coronavirus.    While speaking before Congress this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci stated he expects to see more cases in the U.S.
    He added the severity of the outbreak will depend on how well the country can control the influx of infected people and whether communities can contain local outbreaks.
    “Whenever you have an outbreak, you can start seeing community spread, which means by definition that you don’t know what the index case is and the way you can approach it is by contact tracing,” Dr. Fauci explained.    “When you have enough of that, then it becomes a situation where you’re not going to be able to effectively and efficiently contain it.”
    According to the director of the CDC, 31 people have died from the virus in the U.S. among more than 1,000 confirmed cases.

3/12/2020 China says coronavirus peak has passed as epicenter logs single-digit new cases by Liangping Gao and Ryan Woo
Women wears face masks outside an office complex in Beijing as the country is hit
by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s coronavirus epidemic has passed its peak, its top health commission said on Thursday, as it logged just eight new infections in Hubei province, the first time the epicenter of the outbreak recorded a daily tally of less than 10.
    With the marked slowdown of the spread of the virus, more businesses have reopened with authorities cautiously easing strict containment measures.
    Hubei province, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, announced on Thursday a further loosening of travel restrictions and will also allow some industries to resume production in two of its cities and two counties.
    “Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission.
    “The increase of new cases is falling,” he said.
    Hubei’s economy, driven by manufacturing and trade, including a sizable auto sector in the provincial capital of Wuhan, had been virtually shuttered since Jan. 23.
    While the virus is spreading quickly globally, its progress in China has slowed markedly in the past seven days, a result of strict measures imposed to control the movement of people and traffic, including the virtual lockdown of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people.
    Wuhan accounted for all of the new cases recorded on Wednesday, the National Health Commission said. Outside of Hubei, mainland China had seven new cases, six of them imported from abroad.
    Of the six imported cases, Guangdong province accounted for three, while Gansu province and Henan province were responsible for two and one, respectively.
    In all, 15 new cases were recorded in mainland China on Wednesday, down from 24 the day before.
    That brings the total number of cases recorded in mainland China to 80,793.    As of Tuesday, 62,793 people had recovered and been discharged from hospital, or nearly 80% of the infections.
    As of the end of Wednesday, the death toll in mainland China had reached 3,169, up by 11 from the previous day.    Hubei accounted for 10 of the new deaths, including seven in Wuhan.
    The ruling Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, warned in an editorial that while the number of new virus cases in China was falling, conditions were still difficult and there were risks of more outbreaks.
‘ENORMOUS STRAIN’
    China is focusing on restarting factories and businesses hit by the containment policies that prevented millions of people from traveling and returning to work after an extended Lunar New Year holiday.
    Factory activity plunged to its worst level on record in February, and while more businesses have reopened in recent weeks as containment measures have been eased, analysts do not expect activity to return to normal until April.
    Airlines have been hit particularly hard. China’s airlines reported total losses of 20.96 billion yuan ($3 billion) in February.
    The total number of airline passengers fell 84.5% year-on-year last month, compared with the same time last year, China’s aviation regulator said.
    Local governments must do their utmost to ensure people return to work as soon as possible, the official China Daily said in an editorial.
    Many businesses are still facing labor shortages and supply-chain disruptions, the China Daily said.
    “The epidemic control measures have put an enormous strain on China’s enterprises, especially the small and medium-sized ones in the service sector,” it said.
    “Any further delay in their return to normal operations will entail widespread bankruptcies and job losses, which will threaten social stability.”
    The Hubei government on Wednesday said Wuhan would allow some key industries to resume work.
    On Thursday, it said containment measures would be relaxed in two other cities in the province – Qianjian and Shishou – and in the counties of Gongan and Zhuxi.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Se Young Lee, Lusha Zhang, Stella Qiu, David Stanway, Cate Cadell and Gao Liangping; Writing by Engen Tham; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

3/12/2020 South Korea seeks to contain smaller outbreaks as new coronavirus cases slow by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha
A family wearing protective masks following an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks on stepping-stones
at a trail course in Cheongdo county, which has been designated as a 'special care zone' since the coronavirus outbreak,
near Daegu in North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Thursday reported 114 new cases of the coronavirus and six more deaths, resuming a relative decline in new cases after a spike the day before.
    The new cases bring the country’s total to 7,869, with 66 deaths, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said (KCDC), as health officials seek to track down and contain a number of new clusters of infections, including at a call center in the capital Seoul.
    The numbers are far lower than the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb. 29, and health officials said the trend does appear to be slowing in what has been the largest outbreak in Asia outside of China.
    Still, authorities say the coming days will be crucial in South Korea’s fight to contain the outbreak, and the government will double down on its efforts to prevent new clusters from spreading.
    “It is too early to say we are overcoming the disease,” Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, said at a briefing.
    “We are still witnessing sporadic outbreaks so we cannot lower our guard.”
    Nineteen of the new cases reported on Thursday were in Seoul, where at least 102 people working at a call center have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising concerns about a wider outbreak in the capital.
    Nearly 800 people working in the call center and 200 residents of the building have been tested, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said.
    “Containing the spread from the call centre is decisive in blocking additional transmission of the coronavirus,” Park said.    “We will focus all necessary personal and material support on the area.”
    Seventy-three of the new cases were from the city of Daegu, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak.
    Yoon urged South Koreans across the country to avoid public gatherings and maintain “social distancing” from other people.
    The government also said it would expand fever screening and other monitoring measures for people arriving from certain European countries.
    South Korea is one of several countries affected by a new U.S. Defense Department decision announced on Thursday to restrict travel by its troops and their families for the next 60 days.
    Around 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, along with thousands of civilian employees and family members.
    At least eight people connected to the U.S. military in South Korea have tested positive for the virus, and bases in the country have imposed some restrictions and additional screening at their gates.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Stephen Coates)

3/12/2020 ‘Better than nothing’: Thailand encourages cloth masks amid surgical mask shortage by Jiraporn Kuhakan
A woman shows a face mask she made in a workshop, during the coronavirus outbreak,
in Bangkok, Thailand March 9, 2020. Picture taken March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s health authorities are encouraging people to make cloth face masks at home to guard against the spread of the coronavirus amid a shortage of surgical masks.
    Thailand, which has reported a total of 70 cases, put surgical masks and sanitizers under its list of controlled goods last month, as the spread of the coronavirus led to shortages in stores.
    The shortage of surgical masks prompted the Thai government to approve a 225 million baht ($7 million) budget last week for government agencies to produce 50 million cloth masks in a matter of days for nationwide distribution.
    Cloth masks are enough to prevent people from catching the virus via droplets from coughing or sneezing, said Panpimon Wipulakorn, Director-General for the Department of Health.
    “The droplet from coughing and sneezing is around five microns and we have tested already that cloth masks can protect against droplets bigger than one micron,” Panpimon said, adding that the masks needed to be washed daily.
    The official herself appeared in a public health ministry video teaching people how to make cloth masks at home. Workshops have also been set up nationwide to help produce the masks.
    Many Thais answered the government’s call by getting together in small groups at community centers around the country to make masks from cloth and distribute them to others for free.
    It did not take long for Phongsai Kaewvichit, a 63-year-old retiree, to make one.
    “I’m making these cloth face masks for my family and relatives because I can’t find the surgical masks anymore and the price is very high,” said Phongsai.
    “I think it is better than nothing because at least it can protect me from people’s saliva in close contact.”
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/12/2020 Thailand reports biggest daily jump in new coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: A woman sits near a beach which is usually full of tourists, amid fear
of coronavirus in Phuket, Thailand March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai officials played down the possibility of “super spreading” of the coronavirus on Thursday as they reported a group of friends were responsible for the biggest daily rise in the country’s cases since the outbreak began.
    Officials reported 11 new cases, taking the national tally to 70. One person has died.
    The new patients are a group of friends who appeared to pass the virus to each other after one of their number was first infected by a tourist who has since returned to Hong Kong, officials said.
    The male and female friends, all Thai nationals aged in their 20s and 30s, socialized and shared drinks and cigarettes on two occasions in late February.
    “The first patient was infected from a tourist from a dangerous communicable disease area,” Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, director-general of the Disease Control Department, told reporters.    “After that, the person had two social activities with close friends.”
    Officials stressed the foreign source of the group infection and announced they were stepping up travel restrictions for visitors from a list of “designated dangerous communicable disease areas” announced last week.    Those include South Korea, China, Macao, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran.
    “Visitors from the six places will need to present medical certificates before they can obtain boarding passes.    They must be prepared for a full state quarantine when they arrive,” said Sukhum Kanchanapimai, the health ministry’s permanent secretary.
    It was not immediately clear where the state quarantine will take place or when it will begin.
    Tourism-reliant Thailand had previously said on Wednesday that it was temporarily suspending the issuance of visas on arrival and visa waivers to visitors from 22 countries and territories, including China.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Jane Wardell)

3/12/2020 Death toll in Iran from coronavirus reaches 429: health official
FILE PHOTO: A member of a medical team wears a protective face mask, following the coronavirus outbreak, as he prepares disinfectant
liquid to sanitise public places in Tehran, Iran March 05, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Thursday reported 75 new deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said, bringing the death toll to 429 in the worst-hit country in the Middle East.
    “We have identified 1,075 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, meaning that there are 10,075 infected people in the country.    The death toll is 429,” Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state television.
    The outbreak has infected a host of senior officials, politicians, clerics and members of the elite Revolutionary Guards in Iran, the fourth worst-affected nation after China, South Korea and Italy.
    At least seven officials and politicians have died since Feb. 19, when Iran announced first infections and two deaths from the virus.
    Iran’s clerical rulers have been struggling to contain the spread of the virus, despite the closure of schools and universities and the suspension of religious, cultural and sports events across the country.
    Iranian officials have repeatedly urged people to avoid unnecessary trips and stay at home.
    “Stay at home.    Don’t go shopping.    You are making our job more difficult by ignoring the advice,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki told Iranians on a live program.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Kevin Liffey)

3/13/2020 In China’s coronavirus epicenter, just five new cases
A woman wearing a protective mask is seen past a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping on a street as the
country is hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus, in Shanghai, China March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Wuhan city, ground zero of the new coronavirus outbreak, reported five new cases on Friday, the second day in a row the tally has been less than 10, while no locally transmitted infections were reported in the rest of the country.
    Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province, registered the five new cases on Thursday, the National Health Commission said, down from eight cases the previous day.    The commission routinely reports new cases the day after the data is collected.     Excluding Wuhan, Hubei has reported no new infections for eight consecutive days.
    The commission said on Thursday China’s coronavirus epidemic had passed its peak, even as alarm over the virus intensified elsewhere with global markets suffering record falls and governments unveiling measures to try to slow the spread of a disease that has infected more than 127,000 people worldwide.
    The financial hub of Shanghai reported two new cases, while Beijing saw one, all imported by people traveling to China from affected areas abroad, the health authority said.
    Those cases brought the total number of new infections in mainland China to eight on Thursday, down from 15 the previous day, and the lowest since the healthy authority started publishing nationwide figures in January.
    To date, the total accumulated number of cases in mainland China is 80,813.
    The coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 people in mainland China.
    It had also stalled the world’s second-largest economy as, beginning in January, authorities ordered work stoppages, travel restrictions and home quarantines to contain the spread of the pathogen.
    As the tough counter-epidemic measures start to pay off, local governments have been ordered to revive their economies, especially those in areas that have not had to deal with extensive virus outbreaks.
    Hubei province has started to loosen the strict controls that kept up to 60 million people under a virtual lock-down for weeks.
    Wuhan has seen some restrictions relaxed this week and the nearby city of Huanggang, which also had numerous coronavirus cases, on Friday begun relaxing its lockdown, saying that residents could start traveling within the city.
    Outside Hubei, about 60% of small- and medium-sized firms and 95% of large ones have gone back to work, vice industry minister Xin Guobin said on Friday.
    As China gets domestic economic activity back to normal it will also coordinate with other countries to push forward on resuming business as the pandemic stokes concern about China’s prospects, Xin said.
    The death toll in mainland China reached 3,176 as of the end of Thursday, up by seven from the previous day.
    In Hubei, there were six new deaths, with Wuhan accounting for all of them.
    Authorities have urged the public to sweep their ancestors’ tombs remotely, by asking workers to do it for them, instead of flocking to cemeteries for the Qingming tomb-sweeping festival on April 4.
    “We will arrange free services at cemeteries, the staff will offer free tomb cleaning and free flowers,” said Li Quanxi, an official at Beijing’s civil affair bureau.
    “We want to encourage people to transform social traditions amid the coronavirus outbreak.”
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Huizhong Wu, Cheng Leng, Lusha Zhang, Se Young Lee, Muyu Xu, Roxanne Liu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

3/13/2020 South Korea reports more recoveries than coronavirus cases for the first time by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: Quarantine workers in protective gear spray disinfectants at a screening facility for checking
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cheongdo county, which has been designated as a 'special care zone' since
the coronavirus outbreak, near Daegu in North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported more recoveries from the coronavirus than new infections on Friday for the first time since its outbreak emerged in January, as a downward trend in daily cases raised hopes that Asia’s biggest epidemic outside China may be slowing.
    The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) recorded 110 new coronavirus cases on Friday compared with 114 a day earlier, taking the national tally to 7,979.    The death toll rose by three to 70.
    In contrast, 177 patients were released from hospitals where they had been isolated for treatment, the KCDC said.
    This marks the first time that the daily number of recovered people exceeded that of new infections since South Korea’s first patient was confirmed on Jan. 20.
    The latest figures are in line with a downward trend in new cases which has raised hopes that the outbreak may be easing in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
    The trend is expected to persist, with more self-quarantined patients being discharged in the coming days, KCDC chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said.
    But officials urged vigilance after new clusters of infections emerged at a call center in a crowded part of capital Seoul, and the fisheries ministry based in the administrative city of Sejong.
    “We’ve managed to turn the corner, but there are concerns about overseas inflows, as well as possible infections at home around such facilities as call centres, computer cafes and karaoke rooms,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at a meeting in Daegu.
    Of the latest 110 cases, 61 were from the hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu where a fringe Christian church at the center of the epidemic is located, while 17 and 13 were in Sejong and Seoul, respectively.
    At least 109 cases so far have been linked to the call center, operated by an insurance company whose 800-strong workforce is being tested or in quarantine for monitoring.    But the rate of increase in new infections has been slowing over the past couple of days.
    Seoul city said it plans to carry out extensive checks on some 10,500 computer cafes and karaoke bars as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus in crowded workplaces.
    “We assess that we’ve put out a big fire, but cannot lower our guard yet,” Mayor Park Won-soon told a briefing.
    Global alarm over the coronavirus intensified, with governments from Europe to the United States unveiling new measures aimed at slowing the spread of a disease that has infected almost 135,000 people worldwide.
    South Korea said it will subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to reinforced border checks starting Sunday, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran suffering a major outbreak.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.)

3/13/2020 Thailand warns of coronavirus danger of sharing drinks, cigarettes
FILE PHOTO: Women wait for costumers in a handicraft shop on Khaosan Road as tourism has
decreased after the coronavirus outbreak in Bangkok, Thailand March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand issued a new coronavirus warning to the party-going public on Friday after a cluster of 13 cases was traced to a group of friends who shared cigarettes and drinks.
    Sukhum Kanchanapimai, the health ministry’s permanent secretary, told reporters some friends who met up were responsible for the highest daily jump of 11 new coronavirus cases, reported on Thursday.
    “There was inappropriate behaviour, sharing drinks, cigarettes and not avoiding social activities after returning from an at-risk country,” Sukhum said.
    One of the friends had been earlier been in contact with tourists from Hong Kong.
    “Don’t share cigarettes and drinks,” Sukhum warned.
    Thailand on Friday raised its official coronavirus count by five cases on Friday, bringing the total to 75.
    Three of the cases reported on Friday are connected to a confirmed patient who returned from South Korea and went out with friends and family, including the three, to an entertainment venue before being quarantined, he said.
    Officials were monitoring the condition of eight other people linked to that case.
    One person has died of the virus in Thailand.    Thirty-five people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel)

3/13/2020 In ‘People’s War’ on coronavirus, Chinese propaganda faces pushback by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: A screen shows a CCTV state media broadcast of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Wuhan at a shopping centre
in Beijing, China, as the country is hit by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – As Xi Jinping toured the coronavirus-stricken city of Wuhan this week, setting the tone for an official narrative that China will win a “People’s War,” numerous social media users went to extraordinary lengths to make an alternative voice heard.
    The effort to get around China’s censors and publish the words of Wuhan doctor Ai Fen, the first to sound the alarm over the virus, was among the most elaborate in an outpouring of dissent against the government narrative as the outbreak exacts a devastating human and economic toll.
    In a bid to fool censors’ AI software, netizens translated an interview with Ai, head of the emergency room at Wuhan Central Hospital, into at least five languages and reformatted it in at least 22 ways.
    The text was rendered backwards, into emojis, Braille, oracle bone script, Morse code, song sheets and even the Elvish language from Lord of the Rings.
    “The scale and intensity of the pushback against propaganda during this virus outbreak is unprecedented,” said Zhan Jiang, a media professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
    “To some extent, the ‘404 system’ has collapsed temporarily,” he told Reuters, referring to the error message that appears when content has been moved or deleted.    “It will bounce back into this seesaw game with the netizens.”
    Under Xi, censorship has steadily tightened.    Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, expects that to continue after the virus outbreak.
    “Aware that many are unhappy, it is in the nature of the party to adopt the strategy of offence as defence,” he said, referring to the ruling Communist Party.
    The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator, did not reply to a request for comment.
    Xi acknowledged the suffering of those infected or forced to stay at home when he visited Wuhan.
    “People under lengthy quarantine have some frustrations to vent,” which should be understood and tolerated, state television cited him as saying.
    In the article that was repeatedly deleted and reposted, Ai recounted how instead of taking early precautions after she warned others about the virus, the hospital chastised her for spreading rumors and causing panic – part of the suppression of early information that exacerbated the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
    “Had I known how things would turn out, I wouldn’t care if I got criticised.    I would’ve told the whole world,” Ai, who has lost patients and colleagues to the novel coronavirus, said in the interview with Chinese magazine People, giving a grim account of deaths and the strain on medical staff.
    Neither Ai nor a hospital representative could immediately be reached for comment.
‘DECISIVE BATTLE’
    Xi, who was conspicuously absent from state media coverage in the outbreak’s early days, has become the face of the virus fight.    After his Wuhan visit, state news outlet Xinhua posted a video, “The People’s Leader commanding the decisive battle.”
    There is little sign that Xi has been politically weakened by the outbreak.    Indeed, the worsening global pandemic makes China’s response look effective, strengthening Beijing’s official narrative.
    After Xi visited a Wuhan hospital and stood in front of a red banner that said, “Resolutely winning the people’s war,” Fang Fang, a Wuhan novelist who has gained a following by posting diary entries about life in a city under lockdown, wrote: “Remember, there is no win, only an end.”
    Fang’s postings are often scrubbed from social media, but her blog is intact on Caixin, an independent media outlet, where each entry gets tens of thousands of reads.
    The death from coronavirus last month of Li Wenliang, a doctor from the same Wuhan hospital and one of the eight given a police warning for circulating Ai’s message about the disease, triggered a rare outpouring of outrage against authorities.    The government ended up honoring Li among more than 500 “model healthcare workers.”
    “A healthy society should have more than one voice,” Li said in a Caixin interview before his death from the virus, in what became a rallying cry for free speech among Chinese netizens.
    Last week, a rare view of public anger involving a top central official went viral: a video clip showed residents of a Wuhan apartment complex accusing employees of staging the delivery of groceries to impress a high-level inspection tour, jeering, “It’s fake!
    Last Friday, Wuhan party secretary Wang Zhonglin’s launch of a “gratitude education” campaign asking residents to be thankful to Xi and the party triggered backlash.
    “Anyone with a conscience would not demand the people of Wuhan, still reeling from shock, to be grateful,” commentator Chu Zhaoxin said in a WeChat article that went viral.
    The official newspaper article announcing Wang’s campaign was later removed.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe and Gerry Doyle)

3/13/2020 Hong Kong records fourth coronavirus-related death – hospital spokeswoman
FILE PHOTO: Passengers wear protective face masks at the airport, following the
outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – An 80-year old man became the fourth patient in Hong Kong to die due to the coronavirus, a Nethersole Eastern Hospital spokeswoman said on Friday.
    Hong Kong has so far confirmed around 130 coronavirus cases.
(Reporting by Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

3/13/2020 China’s coronavirus epicenter reports just five cases; Beijing tomb-sweepers urged to stay back
A woman wearing a protective mask is seen past a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping on a street as
the country is hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus, in Shanghai, China March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak, reported just five new cases on Friday, the second day in a row the tally has been less than 10, while no locally transmitted infections were reported in the rest of the country.
    Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province, registered the five new cases on Thursday, the National Health Commission said, down from eight cases the previous day.    The commission routinely reports new cases the day after the data is collected.
    Excluding Wuhan, Hubei had reported no new infections for eight consecutive days.
    The province also lowered the epidemic risk ratings of several cities and regions, leaving only Wuhan classified as “high risk” as of the end of March 12, according to the Hubei Daily, a state-owned newspaper.
    The commission said on Thursday China’s coronavirus epidemic had passed its peak, even as alarm over the virus intensified elsewhere with global markets suffering record falls and governments unveiling measures to try to slow the spread of a disease that has infected more than 127,000 people worldwide.
    The financial hub of Shanghai reported two new cases, while Beijing saw one, all imported by people traveling to China from affected areas abroad, the health authority said.
    Those cases brought the total number of new infections in mainland China to eight on Thursday, down from 15 the previous day, and the lowest since the healthy authority started publishing nationwide figures in January.
    To date, the total accumulated number of cases in mainland China is 80,813.
    The coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 people in mainland China.
    It had also stalled the world’s second-largest economy as, beginning in January, authorities ordered work stoppages, travel restrictions and home quarantines.
    As the measures start to pay off, local governments have been ordered to revive their economies, especially those in areas that have not had to deal with extensive outbreaks.
    Hubei province has started to loosen the strict controls that kept up to 60 million people under a virtual lockdown for weeks.
    Wuhan has seen some restrictions relaxed this week and the nearby city of Huanggang, which also had numerous coronavirus cases, on Friday begun relaxing its lockdown, saying that residents could start traveling within the city.
    Outside Hubei, about 60% of small- and medium-sized firms and 95% of large ones have gone back to work, vice industry minister Xin Guobin said on Friday.
    The death toll in mainland China reached 3,176 as of the end of Thursday, up by seven from the previous day.
    In Hubei, there were six new deaths, with Wuhan accounting for all of them.
    As the Qingming tomb-sweeping festival approaches, when millions of Chinese families traditionally pay respects to ancestors, clean their graves, offer flowers and burn incense, authorities in Beijing have urged the public to stay away.
    “We will arrange free services at cemeteries, the staff will offer free tomb cleaning and free flowers,” said Li Quanxi, an official at Beijing’s civil affairs bureau.
    “We want to encourage people to transform social traditions amid the coronavirus outbreak.”
    The festival is on April 4.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Huizhong Wu, Cheng Leng, Lusha Zhang, Se Young Lee, Muyu Xu, Roxanne Liu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Nick Macfie)

3/13/2020 India shuts cinemas in Mumbai, bars in Bengaluru after coronavirus death by Sachin Ravikumar and Rajendra Jadhav
Municipal workers prepare to disinfect a mosque, amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
fears, in Srinagar March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
    MUMBAI/BENGALURU, India (Reuters) – Two Indian states ordered the closure of public buildings, cinemas and bars in several major cities on Friday, with Mumbai and Bengaluru subject to differing restrictions, after the country reported its first death from the coronavirus.
    With just 81 confirmed cases of the virus and a single death, India, a country of 1.3 billion people, has so far fared better than elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America.
    But experts say India’s already overstretched medical system would struggle to deal with a major rise in serious cases.
    A 76-year-old man from Karnataka state became the first person to die from the virus in India, authorities said late on Thursday.
    On Friday the state, home to the software hub of Bengaluru, and neighboring Maharashtra, which includes India’s financial capital Mumbai, both announced curbs that will impact tens of millions of people.
    A spokeswoman for Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yedyurappa said malls, cinemas, bars and nightclubs would be shut across the state for one week beginning on Saturday.
    Sporting events and other large public gatherings would also be included in the shutdown, she added, without elaborating.
    Gyms, cinemas, theaters and swimming pools would be closed from Friday in five major cities of Maharashtra, including Mumbai, the state’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a statement.
    Earlier in the day Thackeray told reporters malls would also be shut, but he later clarified that people should avoid crowded places such as malls, but that they would remain open.
    “We won’t close hotels, restaurants and malls…but people should avoid crowded places,” Thackeray said.
    Several other states in India have already announced more limited restrictions, including the closure of some schools.
    Separately, the Indian government put price controls on masks and sanitizers to discourage hoarding.
(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar in Bengaluru and Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

3/14/2020 China’s imported coronavirus cases rise as local infections drop again by Shivani Singh and Winni Zhou
A closed entrance of a residential community is seen following an outbreak of
coronavirus (COVID-19), at downtown Shanghai, China March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus cases imported into mainland China from overseas surpassed the number of locally transmitted new infections for the first time on Friday, according to data released by the National Health Commission.
    Mainland China had 11 new confirmed cases on Friday, up from eight cases a day earlier, but only four of those – all in the virus epicentre of Hubei province – were locally transmitted, according to the data released on Saturday.
    The other seven – including four in the financial hub of Shanghai, one in the capital Beijing and two in the northwestern province of Gansu – were all detected in travellers coming into China from overseas, specifically Italy, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
    Later on Saturday, Shanghai’s city government confirmed a further two imported cases in travellers from France and Spain.
    The numbers underscore how China, where the outbreak began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.
    A total of 95 cases have entered mainland China from overseas by the end of Friday, the commission said.
    Hubei has now seen new infections fall for nine straight days.    All four new cases on Friday were in the provincial capital Wuhan.
    The death toll in mainland China from the coronavirus had reached 3,189 by the end of Friday, up by 13 from the previous day. All the latest deaths were in Hubei and 10 were in Wuhan.
    The virus has infected 80,824 people in mainland China, the commission said.    Globally, more than 138,000 have been infected and over 5,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
    As cases rise overseas, the steel hub of Tangshan in northern China’s Hebei province warned people entering the city against trying to conceal their travel history.
    People who do so will have to bear all treatment costs if they are later found to have contracted coronavirus, the Tangshan city government said.
    Meanwhile, China’s finance ministry said at a briefing on Saturday that the virus had affected first-quarter fiscal revenues but the Chinese economy remained resilient.    No details were given.
SHANGHAI REOPENING
    Despite the uptick in imported cases in Shanghai, the city is gearing up to re-open all its public parks by March 20, Fang Yan, an official from Shanghai’s Landscaping and City Appearance Administrative Bureau, told a press conference on Saturday.
    A total of 195 city parks have reopened so far after “the war against coronavirus situatuion showed positive changes,” Fang said.    Thousands of public venues had earlier been shut across China in a bid to halt the virus spread.
    The city’s flagship Shanghai Museum and well-known landmark the Oriental Pearl Tower have both reopened, said culture and tourism official Zhang Qi.
    But Shanghai is following Beijing in suspending public funerals, instead offering grave-cleaning and flower services at cemeteries as the annual Qingming tomb-sweeping festival on April 4 approaches.
XI’S CONDOLENCES
    Of the new Shanghai cases imported from Italy, three were Chinese people who worked in Italy and flew to Shanghai via Moscow, according to the city’s municipal health commission, while the fourth was an Italian who flew in via Paris.
    Italy is the worst affected country in Europe, reporting a total 17,660 cases by Friday.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella over the phone to offer his “sincere condolences” to the Italian people over the crisis, CCTV reported on Saturday.     Xi also held phone calls with the presidents of two other severely hit countries, Iran and South Korea, again expressing condolences, the state broadcaster said.
(Reporting by Tom Daly, Muyu Xu and Shivani Singh in Beijing and Winni Zhou in Shanghai; editing by Michael Perry and Richard Pullin)

3/14/2020 South Korea reports 107 new coronavirus cases, total 8,086: KCDC by Heekyong Yang
A woman wearing a mask to prevent contracting the coronavirus walks down the stairs
in Seoul, South Korea, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported more recoveries from the coronavirus than new infections on Saturday for the second day in a row, as a downward trend in daily cases raised hopes that Asia’s biggest epidemic outside China may be slowing.
    The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) recorded 107 new coronavirus cases on Saturday compared with 110 a day earlier, taking the national tally to 8,086.
    In contrast, 204 patients were released from hospitals where they had been isolated for treatment.    The death toll rose by one to 73.
    For the second day in a row the daily number of recovered people exceeded that of new confirmed cases since South Korea’s first patient was confirmed on January 20.
    With the latest figures, South Korea has continued to see a steady drop in the number of new cases, raising hopes that the outbreak may be slowing in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
    Officials, however, urged to stay vigilant as the emergence of clusters of infection in the capital Seoul and metropolitan areas continues.
    “It’s the weekend, and we understand that you feel frustrated, but please stay at home and avoid contacting with other people as much as possible,” a health ministry official told a briefing.
    Of the latest 107 cases, 62 were from the hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu where a fringe Christian church at the centre of the epidemic is located, while 15 and 13 were in Gyeonggi and Seoul, respectively.    Daegu and Gyeongbuk province have seen a drop in new case numbers.
    South Korea, which has the second highest number of infections in Asia after China, has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers like detectives, using cell phone and satellite technology.
    The KCDC has distributed guidelines for publishing travel logs of coronavirus patients to local government, factoring in the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s suggestions to ensure both public health protection and privacy, said Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director at the KCDC, at a briefing.
    The guidelines advise not to include private information such as detailed residence addresses and workplaces.
    The new coronavirus has infected more than 138,000 people worldwide and left more than 5,000 dead.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/14/2020 Thailand reports seven new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 82
A man sprays disinfectant inside a currency exchange office as prevention after
the coronavirus outbreak in Bangkok, Thailand March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand reported seven new coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian country to 82, health officials said.
    One person has died so far.
(Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/14/2020 Coronavirus cases in Japan at 1,423 as of Saturday morning: NHK
A woman, wearing a protective face mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
is pictured in Kyoto, Japan, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Japan has risen to 1,423 as of mid-morning on Saturday, with western Nagasaki prefecture reporting its first case, public broadcaster NHK said.
    The total of 1,423 infections includes 697 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and 14 returnees on charter flights from China, according to NHK data.
    Japan has now recorded 28 deaths from the virus, including seven from the cruise ship, NHK said.
(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; editing by Richard Pullin)

3/14/2020 Afghanistan government postpones release of Taliban prisoners by OAN Newsroom
FILE- In this Dec. 14, 2019, file photo, jailed Taliban are seen after an interview with The
Associated Press inside the Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, file)
    The Afghan government has postponed the release of captured Taliban fighters.    The release of inmates was supposed to begin on Saturday, but a government spokesperson has said more time is needed to review the list of prisoners.
    The delayed release came after the U.S. and Taliban signed a peace accord last month, which exchanged promises of U.S. troop withdrawals for a ceasefire, as well as security guarantees by the Taliban.
    Before the delay, President Ashraf Ghani issued a “goodwill” decree, which promised to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners by increments of 100 prisoners per day.
    “The implementation of the decree depends on the actions of the Taliban and their visible commitment to violence reduction…and direct negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” said presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi.
Afghan Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi speaks during a press conference
in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    Earlier this week, U.S. Central Command Chief General Frank McKenzie stated “the Taliban need to keep their part of the bargain” in regard to the agreement.

3/14/2020 Hong Kong ‘Umbrella’ movement leader walks free from prison by OAN Newsroom
Occupy Central leaders, from right, Tanya Chan, Chan Kin Man, Benny Tai, Chu Yiu Ming and Lee Wing Tat
shout slogans before entering a court in Hong Kong, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    Prominent Hong Kong democracy activist Chan Kin-man was reportedly released from prison on Saturday.    The 61-year-old served 11 months in jail for leading a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong back in 2014.
    Last year, Chan was found guilty of “conspiracy to commit public nuisance.”    This came after he staged peaceful sit-ins and blocked major roads in the city in protest of what he considered an “unjust government.”
    Chan told reporters he believes sacrifice is necessary to achieve democracy.
    “Life in prison was difficult, but I have no regret at all, as this is a necessary price to pay for fighting for democracy,” he said.    “I think after the last few months, Hong Kong people understand more why we had to use civil disobedience to fight for freedom.”
    Chan added he intends to visit young protesters in jail to advise them on how to deal with the charges they’re facing.

3/14/2020 U.S. sanctions ‘severely hamper’ Iran coronavirus fight, Rouhani say
FILE PHOTO: Members of the medical team wear protective face masks, following the coronavirus outbreak, as they spray disinfectant
liquid to sanitise streets in Tehran, Iran March 05, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s fight against the coronavirus was being “severely hampered.” by U.S. sanctions, as state television reported that the death toll from the illness rose on Saturday to 611, up nearly 100 from a day earlier.
    State media said Rouhani wrote to a number of world leaders, without naming them.
    “In (a) letter to counterparts @HassanRouhani informs how efforts to fight #COVID19 pandemic in Iran have been severely hampered by US sanctions, urging them to cease observing them,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.
    “It is IMMORAL to let a bully kill innocents,” Zarif said.
    Iran, the worst-affected country in the Middle East, said on Thursday it had asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $5 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
    The escalating outbreak has damaged Iranian businesses and is bound to hit its non-oil exports after many neighbouring countries and trade partners shut their borders.
    A Health Ministry official, cited by TV on Saturday, put the total number of infections in the country at 12,729.
    Tehran governor general Anoushirvan Mohseni-Bandpey denied that officials were planning a lockdown in the capital, state TV reported, after people posted messages on social media saying that residents would not be allowed to leave their homes from Sunday.
    “Tehran’s governor-general rejected any rumour about a lockdown in Tehran as a ‘big lie’,” state television said in a news flash.
    Working hours in government offices would not be changed in the next few days and large supermarkets would extend their business hours, Mohseni-Bandpey was quoted as saying by the TV.
    Health Minister Saeed Namaki earlier said that officials had approved plans to set up screening stations outside a number of cities.
    Officials have expressed concern about the possibility of infections spreading during Nowruz, the Iranian new year starting on March 20, which is usually a period when families travel to vacation spots around the country.
    On Friday, state media said security forces would empty the streets of cities across Iran within a day in a drive to fight the spread of the virus, after officials repeatedly complained that many Iranians have ignored calls to stay home and avoid travel.
    Iran’s economy was already battered by U.S. sanctions that curb oil and gas exports crucial for government revenues.    A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and a sustained closure of its borders are expected to lead to a contraction this year, analysts have said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on vital Iranian sectors including oil after withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers.
    Trump has said he hopes the sanctions will limit Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and influence across the Middle East.    Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and its missiles are for deterrence and defensive purposes.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, James Drummond and Frances Kerry)

3/14/2020 Indonesia transport minister confirmed to have coronavirus as cases climb by Tabita Diela and Stanley Widianto
A worker wearing protective suit sprays disinfectant in Sea World, amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has been hospitalized in Jakarta after he contracted coronavirus, a government official said on Saturday, the most high-profile case so far to be confirmed in the Southeast Asian country.
    Earlier on Saturday, Jakarta’s governor said the city will close all schools for at least two weeks to curb the spread of coronavirus, as the first cases were also reported in other parts of the archipelago.
    Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, reported on Saturday 27 more coronavirus cases, bringing the total confirmed infections to 96 and deaths to five.
    Sumadi’s family had given approval for the announcement after the minister had been on “the front line and a very important part of containing the impact of COVID-19,” Pratikno, who is state secretary in charge of administrative support for the office of president, told a news conference.
    The condition of Sumadi, 63, who had attended a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, was showing an improvement, said Albertus Budi Sulistya, deputy head of the Gatot Soebroto Hospital.
    “He was initially being treated for other illnesses in a private hospital until he had difficulty breathing, then some medical equipment had to be brought in,” said Sulistya.
    The health ministry had conducted some tracing of people Sumadi had recently met and “would immediately begin testing as required,” said Pratikno, who uses one name.
    The transport minister had sat in a room with number of ministers and the army head during the cabinet meeting earlier this week, which was also attended by President Joko Widodo.
CASES ACROSS ARCHIPELAGO
    While most confirmed coronavirus cases have been clustered in Jakarta, cases were also reported on Saturday in cities in western and central Java, Manado on Sulawesi island and Pontianak on Borneo island.
    “We must massively, in an integrated way and without panic, search and find and isolate positive cases,” health ministry official Achmad Yurianto told a news briefing.
    Doni Monardo, who leads Indonesia’s task force on coronavirus, said testing will be increased and struggling medical staff will be assisted by medical students and volunteers.
    As he announced school closures, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said cases had been detected in many parts of the city of 10 million people.
    “What must be done right now is to reduce interactions between residents,” Baswedan said, urging people to stay at home and not travel unless necessary.
    Indonesia confirmed its first cases of the virus only last week while some countries in the region had reported scores of cases far earlier, raising concerns among medical experts about infections either not being reported or going undetected.
    The central government has faced criticism for withholding information regarding the spread of the virus.
(Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and Maikel Jefriando; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/15/2020 China tightens airport checks as imported coronavirus cases tick up by Brenda Goh and Judy Hua
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks are seen outside a hospital following an outbreak
of coronavirus (COVID-19), in downtown Shanghai, China March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China tightened checks on international travellers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row.
    China, where the epidemic began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.    Over a hundred countries have reported infections.
    Mainland China reported 20 new cases of infections on March 14, up from 11 cases a day earlier, data from by the National Health Commission (NHC) showed on Sunday.
    Of those, 16 were imported, it said.
    Beijing has redirected all international flights that were scheduled to land at its new Daxing International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport, and as of Sunday has cordoned off a special area to process these passengers, the state-backed Beijing News reported.
    Travellers who are transiting through Beijing to other destinations will be given special assistance, it said.
    Beijing’s moves follow that of Shanghai, also a key hub for international flights to China, which stepped up airport screening last week, resulting in some passengers saying they had to wait as long as seven hours.
    Of the 16 latest imported cases, 5 were found in the capital Beijing and three in Shanghai.    The provinces of Zhejiang, Gansu and Guangdong respectively reported four, three and one cases.
    Three of the cases in Beijing involved travellers from Spain while one came from Italy and the other from Thailand.
    The Shanghai case involved a Chinese native who lived in the Italian city of Milan.
    The Gansu government said one of its cases was linked to a charter flight from Iran while the others were travellers from Saudi Arabia.     Zhejiang province did not say where its four imported cases were from.
    Underlying growing concerns over these imported cases, the southern province of Guangxi has said it will provide a cash incentive of 3,000-10,000 yuan ($428-$1,428) to people who provided clues on anyone who had travelled in from abroad but not abided by quarantine rules.
    Mainland China’s only locally transmitted new infections on Saturday were in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, which recorded four cases.    It was the tenth consecutive day that the Hubei province recorded zero new infections outside Wuhan.
PUSH TO RESTART
    China is making efforts to restart work cross its factories and businesses, which had been halted amid virus-related curbs, as the numbers of new infections fall further.
    Some cities with no infections in recent days, such as Shanghai and Hangzhou, have started opening tourist attractions, restaurants and gyms.
    The western region of Xinjiang also plans to reopen schools in batches starting from Monday, state media reported.
    Limitations, however, remain in place.
    Beijing, for instance, has allowed restaurants to start reopening but requires them to prevent diners from eating meals while directly facing each other and tables must be spaced a metre apart, the Xinhua news agency said.
    Saturday’s figures bring the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,844.    The death toll had reached 3,199 as of the end of Saturday, up 10 from the previous day. All ten deaths occurred in Wuhan, the NHC said.
    China came in for criticism at home and globally over its early response to the outbreak, but its draconian efforts at control, including the lock-down of Wuhan and Hubei province, have been effective at curbing the spread.
    The government has in recent days been trying to burnish its credentials as a responsible power by sharing expertise and equipment with countries seeing a surge in cases, but still faces some calls for accountability at home.
    An influential former Chinese property executive who called President Xi Jinping a “clown” over a speech he made last month about the government’s efforts to battle the coronavirus has gone missing, three of his friends told Reuters.
    His disappearance comes amid tighter censorship over how local media and online users discuss the epidemic.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Judy Hua; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Alistair Bell and Himani Sarkar)

3/15/2020 India’s coronavirus cases at 107 as Modi plans regional response
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing a protective mask waits inside a bus to be transported to an airport's arrival area following
an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi, India, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Sunday reported that the number of coronavirus infections had risen to 107, an increase of 23 from the day before, with a western state home to the country’s financial capital the worst hit.
    Data from India’s federal health ministry showed that there were now 31 confirmed coronavirus cases in Maharashtra state, where local authorities have closed down schools, colleges and malls in most cities, including in the financial hub of Mumbai.
    “The number could go up as we are waiting for test reports of people who were in close contact with patients who have tested positive,” a state health official said, declining to be named since he isn’t authorities to speak to media.
    India, a country of 1.3 billion people, has so far fared better than elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America, with only two deaths because of the virus.
    But experts say India’s already overstretched medical system would struggle to deal with a major rise in serious cases.
    India has already suspended most visas to the country and shut many land borders with neighboring countries in a wide-reaching attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to talk with other South Asian leaders via video-conferencing later on Sunday to coordinate a regional response to the crisis.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Rajendra Jadav in MUMBAI, additional reporting by Jose Devasia in Kochi; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/15/2020 Former Chinese property executive who criticized Xi over virus handling is missing, friends say
FILE PHOTO: A screen shows a CCTV state media broadcast of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Wuhan at a shopping centre in
Beijing as the country is hit by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – An influential former Chinese property executive who called President Xi Jinping a “clown” over a speech he made last month about the government’s efforts to battle the coronavirus has gone missing, three of his friends told Reuters.
    Ren Zhiqiang, a member of China’s ruling Communist Party and a former top executive of state-controlled property developer Huayuan Real Estate Group, has not been contactable since March 12, they said.
    “Many of our friends are looking for him,” his close friend and businesswoman Wang Ying said in a statement to Reuters, describing them as being “extremely anxious
    “Ren Zhiqiang is a public figure and his disappearance is widely know.    The institutions responsible for this need to give a reasonable and legal explanation for this as soon as possible,” she said.
    Calls made by Reuters to Ren’s mobile phone went unanswered.
    The Beijing police did not immediately respond to requests by phone and fax for comment on Sunday. China’s State Council Information Office did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
    An essay Ren shared with people he knew in recent weeks took aim at a speech Xi made on Feb. 23, which state media reported was teleconferenced to 170,000 party officials nationwide.    Copies of his essay were later posted online by others.
    In the essay, which does not mention Xi by name, Ren said after studying the speech he “saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor,” according to a version posted by China Digital Times, a U.S.-based website.
    He also said it revealed a “crisis of governance” within the party, and that a lack of free press and speech had prevented the outbreak from being tackled sooner, causing the situation to worsen.
    Ren’s disappearance comes as censorship over how local media and online users discuss the epidemic has tightened in recent weeks.
    The coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, has infected more than 80,000 people in the country, killing 3,199.
    Ren, who gained the nickname “Cannon Ren” for previous critiques posted on social media, was put on probation from the party for a year in 2016 as part of a punishment for publicly criticizing government policy.
    That year, the government ordered platforms such as the Twitter-like Weibo to shut down Ren’s social media accounts, which at the time had more than 30 million online followers, saying he had been “spreading illegal information.”
    Beijing has framed the battle against coronavirus as a “People’s War” led by Xi.
    While the draconian measures to fight the virus, including the lockdown of the city of Wuhan, have proven effective at containing it even as the disease spreads rapidly in other countries, China has faced criticism for suppressing information in the outbreak’s early days.
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Tony Munroe and Michael Perry)

3/15/2020 China tightens airport checks as imported coronavirus cases tick up by Brenda Goh and Judy Hua
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks are seen outside a hospital following an outbreak of
coronavirus (COVID-19), in downtown Shanghai, China March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China tightened checks on international travellers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row.
    China, where the epidemic began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.    Over a hundred countries have reported infections.
    Mainland China reported 20 new cases of infections on March 14, up from 11 cases a day earlier, data from by the National Health Commission (NHC) showed on Sunday.
    Of those, 16 were imported, it said.
    Beijing has redirected all international flights that were scheduled to land at its new Daxing International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport, and as of Sunday has cordoned off a special area to process these passengers, the state-backed Beijing News reported.
    Travellers who are transiting through Beijing to other destinations will be given special assistance, it said.
    Beijing’s moves follow that of Shanghai, also a key hub for international flights to China, which stepped up airport screening last week, resulting in some passengers saying they had to wait as long as seven hours.
    Of the 16 latest imported cases, 5 were found in the capital Beijing and three in Shanghai.    The provinces of Zhejiang, Gansu and Guangdong respectively reported four, three and one cases.
    Three of the cases in Beijing involved travellers from Spain while one came from Italy and the other from Thailand.
    The Shanghai case involved a Chinese native who lived in the Italian city of Milan.
    The Gansu government said one of its cases was linked to a charter flight from Iran while the others were travellers from Saudi Arabia. Zhejiang province did not say where its four imported cases were from.
    Underlying growing concerns over these imported cases, the southern province of Guangxi has said it will provide a cash incentive of 3,000-10,000 yuan ($428-$1,428) to people who provided clues on anyone who had travelled in from abroad but not abided by quarantine rules.
    Mainland China’s only locally transmitted new infections on Saturday were in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, which recorded four cases.    It was the tenth consecutive day that the Hubei province recorded zero new infections outside Wuhan.
PUSH TO RESTART
    China is making efforts to restart work cross its factories and businesses, which had been halted amid virus-related curbs, as the numbers of new infections fall further.
    Some cities with no infections in recent days, such as Shanghai and Hangzhou, have started opening tourist attractions, restaurants and gyms.
    The western region of Xinjiang also plans to reopen schools in batches starting from Monday, state media reported. Limitations, however, remain in place.
    Beijing, for instance, has allowed restaurants to start reopening but requires them to prevent diners from eating meals while directly facing each other and tables must be spaced a metre apart, the Xinhua news agency said.
    Saturday’s figures bring the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,844.    The death toll had reached 3,199 as of the end of Saturday, up 10 from the previous day. All ten deaths occurred in Wuhan, the NHC said.
    China came in for criticism at home and globally over its early response to the outbreak, but its draconian efforts at control, including the lock-down of Wuhan and Hubei province, have been effective at curbing the spread.
    The government has in recent days been trying to burnish its credentials as a responsible power by sharing expertise and equipment with countries seeing a surge in cases, but still faces some calls for accountability at home.
    An influential former Chinese property executive who called President Xi Jinping a “clown” over a speech he made last month about the government’s efforts to battle the coronavirus has gone missing, three of his friends told Reuters.
    His disappearance comes amid tighter censorship over how local media and online users discuss the epidemic.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Judy Hua; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Alistair Bell and Himani Sarkar)

3/15/2020 Malaysia reports 190 new coronavirus cases, most linked to mosque event
A customer wearing a protective mask, shops at a supermarket, following the outbreak of
coronavirus, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia reported 190 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, most linked to a religious event at a mosque that was attended by more than 10,000 people from several countries.
    The new cases bring the total number of infections in the country to 428, the health ministry said in a statement.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

3/15/2020 Thailand reports 32 new coronavirus cases in biggest single-day rise
FILE PHOTO: A face mask is hanged on a desk divider, set up as a measure against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), at Dajia Elementary school in Taipei, Taiwan March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand reported 32 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday in the largest daily jump in infections since the outbreak began, bringing its total tally to 114, health officials said.
    The new patients include 17 people infected at pubs and boxing stadiums, persons who were in contact with foreigners, and those who returned from overseas, Sukhum Kanchanapimai, the health ministry’s permanent secretary, told a new conference.
    There are 51 others waiting for test results, Sukhum said.
    The health ministry will on Monday propose to a virus center chaired by the prime minister to reduce people entering Thailand, to close entertainment places with high risk, and to cancel people gathering activities, Sukhum said.
    The ministry will also disclose places, where patient have been found, he added.
    On March 11, Thailand said it would temporarily suspend issuing visas on arrival to visitors from 19 countries and territories, including China, to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
    One person has died of the virus in Thailand.    Thirty seven people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
(Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/15/2020 South Korea designates hard-hit regions as disaster zones
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers head to a hospital facility to treat coronavirus patients amid the rise in confirmed
cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Sunday reported 76 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths, a fall in new cases to double-digits for the first time in over three weeks, as President Moon Jae-in declared the hardest hit provinces “special disaster zones.”
    It is the first time South Korea has declared a region a disaster zone from an infectious disease and under the status the government can subsidize up to 50 percent of restoration expenses and exempt residents from taxes and utility payments.
    South Korea, which has the highest number of cases in Asia after China, now has a total to 8,162 confirmed infections and 75 deaths, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said (KCDC).
    South Korea has been experiencing a downward trend in new cases and the latest numbers are significantly lower than the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb. 29 and down from the 107 recorded on Saturday.
    Citing extended economic fallout from the coronavirus, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Sunday: “We will brace for all possibilities.     We will minimize the impact on the economy of the people.”
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared Daegu and North Gyeongsang province as “special disaster zones,” the presidential Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok said.
    Forty-one of the new coronavirus cases were from the city of Daegu, where a secretive church at the center of the outbreak is located.    The church has linked to over 61% of cases, KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing on Sunday.
    A total of 120 patients were released from hospitals and for the third day in a row the daily number of those recovered exceeded that of new confirmed cases since South Korea’s first case was confirmed on January 20.
    The drop in new cases come after most of the mass infection cases linked to the church members were identified, said Kwon.
    “What’s more important now is the remaining clusters of infection that is quietly making headway in the community.”
    He pointed to a call center in Seoul, medical centers and nursing homes across as the new clusters.
    Starting Sunday, South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to stricter border checks, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran suffering a major outbreak.
    Apart from measuring temperature at the airport, visitors from those countries now need to download an app the South Korean government rolled out to report whether they have any symptoms related to the virus everyday.
    South Korea has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers like detectives, using cell phone and satellite technology.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/15/2020 Japan coronavirus infections rise to 1,484 – NHK
People, wearing protective masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walk on an almost
empty street in the Dotonbori amusement district of Osaka, Japan, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus infections in Japan rose to 1,484 on Sunday, increasing by a faster pace than the previous day, public broadcaster NHK reported.
    The total number of infections includes 697 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and 14 returnees on charter flights from China, according to NHK data.
    Deaths in the country related to the virus stand at 29, up one from the previous day.    The total number of deaths include 7 from the cruise ship.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

3/15/2020 Australia to impose 14-day self-isolation on international travelers by Kate Lamb
FILE PHOTO: A Qantas Boeing 737-800 plane takes off at Kingsford Smith International
Airport in Sydney, Australia, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will impose 14-day self-isolation on international travelers arriving from midnight Sunday and ban cruise ships from foreign ports for 30 days, mirroring restrictions in nearby New Zealand aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the new measures after a meeting with a newly formed national cabinet, dubbed the coronavirus ‘war cabinet.’
    The strict measures were designed to slow the spread of the global pandemic across Australia and help the country “flatten the peak” of the virus, Morrison told a news conference.
    “To help stay ahead of this curve, we will impose a universal precautionary self-isolation requirement on all international arrivals to Australia and that is effective from midnight tonight,” he said.
    “Further the Australian government will also ban cruise ships from foreign ports from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.”
    The new border restrictions come as Australia recorded more than 250 cases of coronavirus and three deaths.
    As of mid-March, COVID-19, the deadly respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, has infected 156,00 people globally and killed more than 5,800.
    Australia has already imposed bans on travelers from Italy, South Korea, Iran and China, countries with high infection rates.
    The bans mean foreign nationals who have been in any of the four nations will not be allowed into Australia for 14 days from the time they left those countries.
    Australian citizens and permanent residents traveling from those countries will still be able to enter Australia but must self-isolate for a fortnight after returning home.
    Qantas Airways said it would give passengers on all Qantas and Jetstar flights the option to cancel and receive travel credits, while Virgin Australia said it was assessing how it could best support its customers.
DISTANCING
    Australia has advised against non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, but this is yet to apply to schools and universities.
    Morrison on Sunday urged people to practice “social distancing,” such as keeping a meter (three feet) apart and not to shake hands, in order to reduce transmissions.
    He said the rate of community transmission had started to increase and that social distancing would help limit demand on the healthcare systems, which would mean better treatment for elderly and those in remote and vulnerable communities.
    “Slowing the spread will free up beds,” he said.
    “That’s what happens when you get this right and we’ve seen other countries going down this path.”
    Neighboring New Zealand on Saturday said it would require incoming travelers, including its own citizens, to self-isolate for two weeks and banned cruise ships.
    The Australian government is yet to restrict the operation of schools, but earlier on Sunday the Health Minister Greg Hunt did not rule out such a measure in the coming months.
    The new phase of restrictions come as the Australian government launches a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign focused on good hygiene, and the formation of a Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit to address the economic fallout.
(Reporting by Kate Lamb and John Mair; Editing by Alistair Bell, Michael Perry and Himani Sarkar)

3/15/2020 Vietnam’s coronavirus cases rise to 57 – health ministry
FILE PHOTO: A health worker sprays disinfectants to protect against the coronavirus on a beach
in Hoi An, Vietnam March 10, 2020. Picture taken March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Koustav Samanta
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has confirmed four more cases of coronavirus, all among foreign nationals, its health ministry said on Sunday, bringing its total number of cases to 57.
    The latest detected patients include a Lithuanian, a German and two British nationals, the health ministry said in a statement.
    There have been no deaths in the country, it said, and 16 of the cases confirmed so far have fully recovered.
    Vietnam on Sunday said all passengers coming from or through China, South Korea, the UK and Schengen countries would be compulsorily quarantined and tested for coronavirus.
(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by Jan Harvey)

3/15/2020 China state media accuses U.S. politicians of spreading ‘political virus’
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Chinese flags are seen before Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomes Chinese Minister of National
Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Some United States politicians are using coronavirus as a weapon to smear China, the Xinhua official news agency said on Sunday, as a war of words escalated between the two countries over China’s handling of the epidemic.
    The editorial accused Robert O’Brien, the U.S. national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of spreading a “political virus” and using it to put China down.
    O’Brien said last week that China had reacted slowly to the coronavirus, probably costing the world two months when it could have been preparing, in remarks that angered China.
    Pompeo has said the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak had been hindered by what he called imperfect data from China.
    However Xinhua said China’s actions including strict quarantine of millions of people had earned the world “precious time” to prepare for the epidemic, which has been recognized by the international community.
    It added that the U.S. efforts to deal with its own virus cases had been widely criticized.
    It accused the United States of having double standards when it came to evaluating the lockdown in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus that emerged in December last year, compared with its view of the recent lockdown in Italy.
    Ties between Washington and Beijing are already strained over issues including trade, intellectual property rights and press freedom but they have been further tested by the virus outbreak.
    Xinhua also attacked the U.S. politicians for calling the virus the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus.”
    Beijing has disputed the widely held belief that COVID-19 originated in China, and comments by a foreign ministry spokesman that it could have been brought to the country by the U.S. military have further fanned tensions between the two.
    On Friday the U.S. State Department summoned the Chinese ambassador to the United States to protest against those remarks.
    The virus has infected more than 156,000 people globally and killed more than 5,800.    It has also pummeled financial markets, halted industry, brought flights to a standstill and led to the closure of schools in many countries.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton, Editing by William Maclean)

3/16/2020 South Korea designates regions hit hardest by coronavirus as disaster zones by Sangmi Cha
An employee from a disinfection service company sanitizes inside a shack at a shanty area, following the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Seoul, South Korea, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Sunday reported 76 new coronavirus cases and three deaths, marking the first time in over three weeks that new cases have dropped to double-digits, as President Moon Jae-in declared the hardest hit provinces “special disaster zones.”
    It is the first time South Korea has declared a region a disaster zone from an infectious disease and under the status the government can subsidize up to 50% of restoration expenses and exempt residents from taxes and utility payments.
    South Korea, which has the highest number of cases in Asia after China, now has a total to 8,162 confirmed infections and 75 deaths, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said (KCDC).
    South Korea has been experiencing a downward trend in new cases and the latest numbers are significantly lower than the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb. 29 and down from the 107 recorded on Saturday.
    Citing an extended economic fallout, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said: “We will brace for all possibilities. We will minimize the impact on the economy of the people.”
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared the southeastern city of Daegu and parts of North Gyeongsang province as “special disaster zones,” the presidential Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok said.
    Forty-one of the new coronavirus cases were from Daegu, where a secretive church at the center of the outbreak is located.    The church has been linked to over 61% of cases, KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing on Sunday.
    Among the special disaster zones is Cheongdo county, home to around 43,000 people, where another cluster of coronavirus cases is located, and where South Korea’s first victim of the virus died.
SPECIAL ENTRY PROCEDURE
    A total of 120 patients were released from hospitals and for the third day in a row the daily number of those recovered exceeded that of new confirmed cases since South Korea’s first case was confirmed on Jan. 20.
    “The number of infected patients have been decreasing the past week, and a daily infection has dropped from the previous week’s 500 to 100,” health minister Park Neung-hoo told reporters on Sunday.
    According to KCDC’s Kwon, the drop in new cases comes after most of the mass infection cases linked to the church members were identified.    “What’s more important now is the remaining clusters of infection that is quietly making headway.”
    He pointed to a call center in Seoul, medical centers and nursing homes across as the new clusters.
    Starting Sunday, South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to – ‘special entry procedure’ – stricter border checks.    It has imposed similar rules on travelers coming from China, Italy and Iran – countries that are suffering a major outbreak.
    Apart from measuring temperature at the airport, visitors from those countries now need to download an app the South Korean government rolled out to report whether they have any symptoms related to the virus every day.
    South Korea is now planning to expand the procedure to all of its citizens and foreigners entering the country.
    “Given the development of the global pandemic, we don’t see it will be as meaningful to apply the special entry procedure on a particular country anymore,” said Park.
    South Korea has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers like detectives, using cell phone and satellite technology.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Michael Perry and Himani Sarkar)

3/16/2020 China sees fewer coronavirus cases, wary of international travellers by Ryan Woo and Huizhong Wu
People wearing face masks look at their cellphones at Beijing Capital International Airport, as the country is hit
by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported a drop in new coronavirus infections on Sunday, but major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai continued to wrestle with cases of infected travellers arriving from abroad.
    China had 16 new infections on Sunday, the National Health Commission said on Monday, down from 20 the previous day, taking the mainland’s tally to 80,860.
    Twelve of the new figures were imported infections, exceeding for a third day the number of domestic transmissions.
    Beijing accounted for four infections, the southern province of Guangdong for four, while the commercial hub of Shanghai had two, with one each in southwestern Yunnan and northwestern Gansu.    That took the tally of imported infections to 123.
    China has tightened checks on international travellers, with the capital Beijing ordering 14 days in its quarantine facilities for anyone arriving from aboard, starting Monday.
    It has suspended departures by ships on international cruises from mainland ports as well as routes to South Korea and Japan, according to remarks at a news conference on Monday by the State Council, or cabinet.
    Beijing has redirected all international flights that were scheduled to land at its new Daxing airport in the south to the older international airport in the northeast.
    Shanghai has designated hotels as quarantine sites for inbound international travellers, but it has not yet made quarantine their compulsory for all travellers on arrival.
    Mainland China’s only locally transmitted new infections on Sunday were in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak and capital of the central province of Hubei, with four cases.
    It was the province’s 11th consecutive day with no new infections outside Wuhan.
    China’s death toll in the outbreak stood at 3,213 by Sunday, up 14 from the previous day. In Hubei, there were 14 new deaths, 13 in Wuhan.
    As the rise in new cases subsides, China has stepped up donations of supplies to other countries.     Last week, Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba pledged to donate two million protective masks for distribution across Europe.
    “The first shipment of masks and coronavirus test kits to the United States is taking off from Shanghai,” Ma said on Twitter on Monday.
    Supplies donated to Laos and South Korea by China’s central province of Hunan included 100 infrared sensors, the official Xinhua news agency said.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Huizhong Wu and Se Young Lee; Additional reporting by Noah Sin and Winni Zhou; Writing by Engen Tham; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez)

3/16/2020 Crowded, poor South Asia sees steady rise in coronavirus cases by Asif Shahzad and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
A worker disinfects the interiors of a passenger train parked at a railway yard as a preventive measure
against coronavirus, on the outskirts of Kolkata, India, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    ISLAMABAD/KABUL (Reuters) – Health authorities across South Asia reported rising tallies of coronavirus cases on Monday, raising the prospect of rapidly spreading outbreaks overwhelming poor medical facilities in a region that is home to a quarter of the world’s people.
    South Asia has been relatively lightly hit by the virus compared with neighbors to the east, like China and South Korea, and to the west like Iran and parts of Europe.
    But measures that have reined in epidemics in China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, and South Korea are unlikely to work in poor, crowded parts of South Asia, health officials say.
    “As compared to developed countries like the United States and China it will be difficult to (enforce) social distancing, especially in slum areas,” said Giridhara R Babu, an epidemiologist at the Indian Institute of Public Health in the city of Bengaluru.
    “The living environment itself is crowded and may not be practical to ask them to maintain minimum distance from each other.”
    Pakistan recorded a sharp rise in coronavirus cases on Monday, up 40 to 94, according to a Reuters tally of statistics from central and provincial governments.
    The majority of new cases were in the southern province of Sindh in patients who had recently traveled from Iran – which has one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
    Afghanistan saw its tally rise to 21 with the majority of cases in the western province of Herat, which borders Iran and where thousands of Afghans cross back into their home country every day, some after being deported and others to escape a worsening Iranian economy.     Afghanistan’s health infrastructure has been devastated by decades of war and a lack of funds and it would be hard pressed to mount any sort of concerted action against a coronavirus epidemic.
    Matin Noorzai, a wholesaler in the one of the main markets in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said he had seen unprecedented demand and soaring food prices in recent days as worried shoppers stocked up.
    “If the situation continues like this, I am sure in the coming week there will be no food left in the market,” he said.
    Sri Lanka, meanwhile, reported an almost-doubling of cases to 18 from 10.    India’s tally rose to 110, while the total number of cases in the Maldives and Bangladesh rose to 13 and 5, respectively.
    On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for regional action to tackle the virus, and he offered $10 million from India to get a regional emergency fund going.
    Speaking to fellow South Asian leaders via video conference, Modi said India would also offer rapid response teams and other expertise to deal with the crisis.
    Around the world, the coronavirus has infected nearly 170,000 people, killing more than 6,500 of them, according to a Reuters tally of official data.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, Pakistan, Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Storay Karimi in Herat, Afghanistan, Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/16/2020 Thailand plans to close schools, bars and theaters to curb coronavirus, spokeswoman says
Passengers wear protective masks due to the coronavirus outbreak, in a train in Bangkok, Thailand March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand plans to close down schools, bars, theaters and other entertainment centers to curb the spread of coronavirus as well as to postpone next month’s Thai New Year holiday to limit travel, a government spokeswoman said on Monday.
    The government will ask the cabinet on Tuesday to consider postponing the traditional Songkran New Year holiday, which falls on April 13 to 15, to limit travel inside and outside of the country, deputy government spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek said on Twitter.
    The government will also ask the cabinet to consider closing of universities, schools, international schools, boxing arenas, cock fighting arenas, bars and theater nationwide to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, she said.
    Thailand reported 32 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, bringing its total tally to 114.    One person has died of the virus in Thailand. Thirty-seven people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/16/2020 China medical expert says impact of weather on coronavirus infection rates not confirmed
FILE PHOTO: A man wears a face mask during outside an office complex in Beijing as the country
is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, China, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The impact of weather on coronavirus infection rates has not been confirmed, said Cao Wei, Deputy Director and Associate Chief Physician of Department of Infectious Diseases, Peking Union Medical College Hospital at a press conference on Monday.
    Mainland China reported an overall drop in new coronavirus infections on Sunday, but major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai continued to wrestle with cases involving infected travelers arriving from abroad.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, writing by Emily Chow; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/16/2020 Bat guano collectors in Thailand undeterred by possible link to coronavirus by Juarawee Kittisilpa
Bags filled with bat guano are seen outside of a bat cave at Wat Khao Chong Phran
in Ratchaburi, Thailand March 14, 2020. Picture taken March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Juarawee Kittisilpa
    RATCHABURI, Thailand (Reuters) – Thai villagers scouring a dark cave for bat guano, sought after by farmers as a nutrient-rich crop fertilizer, are undaunted by scientists’ suggestion that it could be behind a coronavirus that has infected more than 150,000 people worldwide.
    The source of the virus remains a matter of debate after it emerged in China late last year, but some scientists believe it could have originated in bats before passing to humans, perhaps being transferred through another animal.
    But that link is not a concern for Jaew Yaemjam, a collector of bat droppings in Thailand’s western province of Ratchaburi, even though the southeast Asian nation has recorded 114 virus infections and one death.
    “No, I’m not worried because the virus didn’t originate from here,” said Jaew, 65, who is one of several villagers making the nightly trek into a smelly cave near a Buddhist temple, Wat Khao Chong Phran, to fill their sacks with the droppings.
    They start work after dark, when millions of chittering bats stream out of the cave to hunt for food.    Some of those who have been collecting for decades, earning less than $1 for each bucketload, say they have never had any health issues.
    “Bat guano could be carrying various diseases,” said Pikul Temket, a provincial health official.    “However, we’ve been clearing it out every week, so our cave is considered to be quite clean.”
    Guano collection began generations ago, when the abbot then in charge of the temple asked villagers to help clean the cave.
    At $6 a bucket, the guano, rich in chemicals such as nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, brings in the bulk of the temple’s earnings from farmers keen to boost crops and improve the taste of fruit.
    In the past, it also went into gunpowder and explosives.
    “I’ve been collecting bat guano for 40 years already, and never got sick,” Jaew said.    “I just use a piece of cloth to cover my face, nothing much, really.”
(Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/16/2020 Armenia declares one-month state of emergency for coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks in front of the government headquarters at the Republic
square in Yerevan, Armenia, May 3, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia on Monday declared a state of emergency until April 14 to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, and postponed a referendum on changes to the Constitutional Court until after the emergency.
    Armenia, a country of 3 million people, had reported 52 coronavirus cases as of the end of Monday, the highest number among countries in the South Caucasus region.
    All educational institutions will remain shut until the end of the emergency, and the borders with neighboring Georgia and Iran will be closed, the government said.
    Foreigners from countries with a high incidence of coronavirus will be barred from entering, while Armenian citizens will be able to leave only by air.    The transportation of goods will continue.
    Public events and mass gatherings with over 20 people are also banned.
    The referendum, which had been planned for April 5, is due to decide on the suspension of seven judges who were appointed before a peaceful revolution against corruption and cronyism brought Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power two years ago.
    Armenia’s neighbor Georgia said it would ban all foreigners from entering for two weeks from March 18 in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
    Georgia has confirmed 33 cases, the highest number in the South Caucasus region.    Two patients have recovered while 637 people are in quarantine.    Many restaurants, cafes and bars in Tbilisi, the capital, closed their doors on Monday on government advice.
    Winter resorts in Georgia, a country of 3.7 million that is a popular tourist destination, will shut down from Tuesday.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Leslie Adler)

3/16/2020 Beijing tells Pompeo it is futile to smear China over virus
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks to the media at
the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi has told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by telephone that attempts to smear China’s efforts to control the coronavirus “will not succeed,” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday.
    On the call, Yang told Pompeo that China opposed and condemned U.S. politicians’ efforts to denigrate China’s efforts, and said actions that harmed China’s interests would be retaliated against, according to CCTV.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/17/2020 China says Trump’s ‘Chinese virus’ tweet smears China
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a news briefing on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while accompanied by
members of the task force at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet calling the coronavirus a “Chinese virus” smears China and said Beijing strongly opposes Trump’s usage of the words.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during a daily briefing that the U.S. should first take care of its own matters.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)
[YOU ARE WHAT YOU ARE CHINA, GET OVER IT THE VIRUS CAME OUT OF CHINA.    SO MAN UP AND SHOW US YOU CAN BE HUMAN AND NOT AN ANIMAL NATURE AND CAN ADMIT YOUR MISTAKES AS WE ALL KNOW NOW THAT YOU KNEW ABOUT THE VIRUS IN NOVEMBER AND IN JANUARY IT WAS OUT OF CONTROL AND YOU MADE ANYONE WHO STATED THAT MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARED AND YOU COULD HAVE STOPPED IT AT THAT POINT TO KEEP IT FROM LEAVING YOUR COUNTRY BUT INSTEAD YOU LET THE ENTIRE WORLD SUFFER FOR YOUR SHAME AND THIS WILL BE WHAT YOU ARE KNOWN BY FROM THIS DAY FORWARD NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY TO INFLUENCE THE WORLD OPINION AND WE ALL KNOW IT IS THE "CHINESE AND WUHAN VIRUS".].

3/17/2020 Goldman slashes China growth forecast; imported coronavirus cases rise
People wear protective face masks on a bus following an outbreak of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in downtown Shanghai, China March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Goldman Sachs said on Tuesday that China’s economy will likely shrink 9% in the first quarter, underscoring how the coronavirus has disrupted normal business activities, even as China reported a rise in new cases of the disease, most of them imported.
    Goldman cut its estimate for China’s first-quarter gross domestic product growth to a 9% contraction, from a previous forecast of 2.5% growth, citing “strikingly weak” economic data in January and February.    It also lowered its full-year GDP forecast to 3% growth from an earlier estimate of 5.5%.
    The sharp cut in the bank’s forecasts come as imported cases of coronavirus in China outnumbered cases of local transmission for a fourth straight day.
    The rising risk of imported cases has prompted some parts of the country to tighten monitoring of foreign travelers, and the Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday advised its citizens to avoid travel to high-risk countries.
    Mainland China had 21 new confirmed cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said, up from 16 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 20 involved infected travelers from abroad.
    Raising further concerns about spread of the disease, a man recently returned from Spain has tested positive for the virus – despite showing no symptoms – and has been put under observation and into quarantine, according to a statement on the website of the city of Mianyang, Sichuan.
    An additional 25 passengers who had shared a flight with the man and two of his family members have also been subject to quarantine, the statement said.
    In contrast to the growing number of imported cases, mainland China had only one case of locally transmitted infection on Monday, in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province where the flu-like disease appeared in humans late last year.
    The capital Beijing accounted for nine of the imported new cases even as it imposed tough restrictions to screen out and isolate infections coming from abroad.
    Beijing Capital International Airport has cordoned off a special zone for all international flights, with all disembarking passengers required to submit to health checks.
    Transit passengers were sent to their connecting flights, while non-transit passengers were shuttled to a nearby processing venue from which they were dispatched to designated places for compulsory 14-day quarantine.
    Beijing also closed its new Daxing airport to international flights and redirected them to the older Capital International Airport in the northeast of the city, in order to contain any new infections in one facility.
    On Tuesday, Shanghai extended existing quarantine measures to travelers who have recently visited the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria.
    The city of Qingdao in eastern Shandong province said it would require travelers from abroad to register 72 hours before their arrival, state media reported.
    In the central city of Wuhan officials said they would begin requiring overseas arrivals to undergo 14-day quarantine at a central location at the people’s own cost, emulating Beijing.
    Other cities in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, are doing the same, as is Anhui province.
    Wuhan, a transport and industrial hub of 11 million people, is the epicenter of China’s outbreak and the origin of the pandemic that has now infected more than 100,000 people beyond China’s borders.
    Officials in the city initially tried to cover up the outbreak when it began late last year, but Beijing has lately sought to emphasize the positive role China has played in controlling the global spread of the disease.
    An editorial in the official China Daily said the rest of the world should learn from China and follow the principles of early detection, early quarantine and early treatment.
    Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday that attempts by U.S. politicians to denigrate China’s efforts to curb the coronavirus would not succeed, and could lead to retaliation.
    The tally of confirmed U.S. cases has multiplied rapidly in recent days, exceeding 4,660.    At least 87 people in the United States have died of the disease.
    Around the world, there have been more than 7,160 deaths linked to the coronavirus across 163 countries and territories, according to a Reuters tally based on official statements.    China now accounts for less than half of those deaths.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY
    With the numbers of new infections dwindling in China, Xinhua news agency reported that a first batch of medical workers who had traveled to Hubei province to assist with the crisis had departed on Tuesday morning.
    The economic outlook was also brightening, with state planning officials saying China’s economy would return to normal in the second quarter as factories reopened, businesses resumed trading and consumers started spending again.
    “Over 90% of large-scale industrial companies in regions outside of Hubei have resumed production, and resumption rates for places including Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai are close to 100%,” Meng Wei, spokeswoman of the state planner told a news briefing on Tuesday.
    The number of railway loadings had returned to normal levels, and civil aviation, ports and water transportation were all operating normally, she said.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Se Young Lee, David Stanway and Andrew Galbraith; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Stephen Coates and Tom Hogue)

3/17/2020 Asia prepares for coronavirus boomerang wave as residents return home by Donny Kwok and Ryan Woo
A woman wears a protective face mask as she sits at a pub, amid the outbreak
of coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – Governments in Asia are preparing measures to head off a new wave of coronavirus cases as people flee an explosion of the disease in Europe, North America and the Middle East.
    As the world mobilizes to battle the virus, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have been relatively successful in curbing the spread so far.
    But a surge in imported cases in recent days has raised alarm that those efforts could rapidly unravel.
    “In many countries the number of confirmed cases can be described as explosive,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told a press briefing on Tuesday.
    “If we don’t adopt some strict measures…I’m afraid all precaution efforts done in the past two months would be wasted.”
    The latest tally from mainland China, the original epicenter of the coronavirus, showed 21 new confirmed cases on Monday, of which 20 involved infected travelers arriving from abroad, mostly Chinese nationals.    Hong Kong said most of the recent confirmed cases in the past two weeks were imported.
    In Taiwan, 24 new cases up to Tuesday were all imported, while South Korea had 44 new infections involving infected travelers as of Sunday.
    Singapore confirmed 17 new infections on Monday, its biggest daily jump in cases, with 11 of those imported.
    The rush to flee virus hotspots in Europe and the United States has pushed up the price of flights.    A ticket from London to Hong Kong was going for up to HK$50,000 on Monday night as people tried to get to the city before it imposed tougher restrictions.
    “It is safer home than in Britain as the policy to contain the outbreak under Boris Johnson is doubtful,” said Ling, a Cambridge University student after landing in Hong Kong wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves.
    The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Britain rose to 1,543, up from 1,372 the day before, the health ministry said on Monday.    The British death toll rose to 55.
    Four of Hong Kong’s 157 confirmed coronavirus patients have died, while more than 3,200 people have died from the disease in mainland China, the highest number of fatalities.
TOUGHER RESTRICTIONS
    Measures in China, Hong Kong and Singapore, include city-wide lockdowns, border tightening, contact tracing efforts and strict social distancing.
    The virus has already taken a heavy economic toll, especially in mainland China and global financial hub Hong Kong, so any rise in new cases could be devastating.
    Hong Kong on Tuesday toughened measures on travelers, requiring 14 days of quarantine for those entering the city as of midnight on Thursday, and joined Singapore in advising against all non-essential travel.
    China said all inbound, non-transit travelers to Beijing need to be isolated for 14 days at designated quarantine venues, mostly hotels in the city.
    Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub, on Tuesday banned the entry of all non-residents, a move likely to have a significant impact on the already struggling casino industry.
    How seriously authorities in Asia take the virus battle has been underscored by punishments meted out or threatened to those who violate quarantine rules or give false information about their whereabouts or travel history.
    Taiwan said those who do not follow home isolation or quarantine rules could be fined between T$100,000 and T$1 million (US$ 3,300- US$33,000), and has advised people not to travel abroad at all.
    “We held firm to block the first wave of infection, but a new wave is coming, so everyone should cooperate with disease prevention efforts,” Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference on Monday.
BOOMERANG EFFECT
    While the imported infections in mainland China are still modest in number – 143 cases so far – authorities are concerned that virus carriers could trigger a second wave.
    The first imported case was reported in late February in the northwestern Ningxia region involving a traveler flying in from Iran.
    More cases quickly arrived from Iran, a hotspot with nearly 15,000 infections so far, followed by the first infected travelers from Italy in the first week of March.
    Soon, the infected were spotted on flights from countries including Spain, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
    The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand entered the list this week.
(Additional reporting by Tian Lun Yew in BEIJING, Ben Blanchard in TAIPEI, Tyrone Siu in HONG KONG, Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL, Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/17/2020 Two bombs explode outside Thai government office in Yala, wounding 18
Security personnel inspect the site of a car bomb after if exploded in front of the government's Southern
Border Provinces Administrative Centre in Yala, Thailand March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Two bombs exploded in front of a government office in Thailand’s insurgency-hit southern Yala province on Tuesday, wounding 18 people, a security official said.
    The explosions took place in front of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC), a Thai government body that oversees the administration of three mostly Malay-Muslim majority provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala where an insurgency since 2004 has killed some 7,000 people.
    SBPAC was hosting a government meeting on the region’s response to the outbreak of the coronavirus prior to the explosions.
    “The first bomb was a grenade throne to the area outside the SBPAC office fence to draw people out,” Colonel Pramote Prom-in, a military regional security spokesman told Reuters.
    “Then a car bomb about 10 meters from the first explosion went off.    This was hidden in a pick-up truck where the perpetrators parked near the fence.    Eighteen are wounded and no one died,” he said.
    The car bomb exploded ten minutes after the first explosion and among the wounded were five reporters, five police officers, two soldiers and other bystanders, Pramote said.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.    Such claims are rare following attacks in the region.
    The population of the provinces, which belonged to an independent Malay Muslim sultanate before Thailand annexed them in 1909, is 80 percent Muslim, while the rest of the country is overwhelmingly Buddhist.    Conflict has flared on and off for decades as insurgent groups fought a guerrilla war to demand independence for the area.
    A peace dialogue between the Thai government and the main insurgent group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) has resumed this year, after the group pull out of the process in 2014.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/17/2020 India closes Taj Mahal, Pakistan cases spike after quarantine errors by Rajendra Jadhav and Syed Raza Hassan

A combination picture shows the historic Victoria Memorial monument June 21, 2019 and after the government
tightened up measures for coronavirus prevention, in Kolkata, India March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    MUMBAI/KARACHI (Reuters) – India closed the Taj Mahal, its principal tourist site, and the financial hub of Mumbai ordered offices providing non-essential services to keep half their staff at home in ramped up measures to curb the coronavirus in South Asia.
    Mumbai, a densely populated metropolis of 18 million people, also authorised hospital and airport authorities to stamp wrists of those ordered to self-isolate with indelible ink reading “Home Quarantined” and displaying the date the quarantine ends.
    The moves, announced late on Monday, come just days after the city shut down schools, cinemas, malls and gyms, and also banned mass gatherings.
    India’s western state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, has been the hardest hit with 39 confirmed coronavirus cases, or roughly a quarter of the 126 cases in the country.
    A patient in the state died after contracting the virus on Tuesday, Praveen Pardeshi, who heads Mumbai’s civic body, told Reuters: the third death in India.
    Along with the Taj Mahal, dozens of other monuments and museums including the Ajanta and Ellora caves and religious sites such as Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple were closed.
    India expanded its travel restrictions on Monday, banning passengers from countries of the European Union and European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
PAKISTAN SPIKE
    Pakistan reported the number of confirmed cases had more than doubled for a second consecutive day, reaching 187.
    Officials said the jump was largely due to errors in testing and quarantine of travellers who recently returned from Iran through a border crossing in Balochistan province.
    “If the arrangements were better we could have saved these people from the virus,” Saeed Ghani, a minister in the provincial Sindh government where many of the cases were detected, told a television channel on Monday night.
    Pakistan postponed its flagship Pakistan Super League cricket tournament on Tuesday at the semi-final stage.
    Authorities in India and the wider South Asian region have struggled to get travellers to self-isolate or stay quarantined in medical facilities that many view as poor and unhygienic.
    At least 38 Afghans, who recently returned from Iran and were in isolation, escaped from a facility in western Afghanistan on Monday after breaking windows and attacking hospital staff.     At least one of them was confirmed to have the coronavirus.    The country currently has 22 confirmed cases.
    Separately, in Navi Mumbai, a suburb of India’s financial hub, local media reported that 11 people, who had been isolated after returning from Dubai, also fled the hospital, forcing police to launch a manhunt.
    Although South Asia has been relatively lightly hit by the coronavirus spread, authorities fear that measures used in China and South Korea would be hard to enforce in poor, crowded places that often lack adequate healthcare facilities.
    With the overnight spike in Pakistan, the overall number of confirmed cases in South Asia is now approaching the 400 mark.
    Sri Lanka, which is heavily reliant on tourism for foreign exchange, saw its currency hit a record low against the dollar on Tuesday.
    Pakistan’s stock market continued to slide, a day after recording one of its biggest ever one-day declines.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Storay Karimi in Herat, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Writing by Euan Rocha and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Andrew Cawthorne.)

3/17/2020 Hong Kong to quarantine all visitors to preserve success of coronavirus efforts by Donny Kwok and Clare Jim
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing a protective face mask checks in at the airport, following the
outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong will quarantine for 14 days all people entering the city starting midnight on Thursday to prevent an “explosion” of coronavirus cases around the world compromising one of the world’s most successful outbreak limitation campaigns.
    Speaking at her weekly press briefing on Tuesday, the Chinese-ruled city’s leader Carrie Lam also advised residents to avoid all non-essential travel.
    Hong Kong detected its first cases as early as January, but thanks to severe social distancing measures and a strong community response has managed to avoid the scale of contagion seen in other countries and territories.
    It now faced the risk that visitors carrying the virus could spread it in Hong Kong, undoing the city’s efforts so far, which have involved significant economic and social sacrifices.
    Schools, which have been shut since January, were unlikely to resume on April 20 as initially planned, Lam said.
    “In many countries the number of confirmed cases can be described as explosive,” Lam said.
    “If we don’t adopt some strict measures … I’m afraid all precaution efforts done in the past two months would be wasted. It will affect the public health of Hong Kong.”
    Four of the 157 confirmed coronavirus patients in Hong Kong have died.    Fifty of the latest 57 cases were people with recent travel history, Lam said.
    Hong Kong had previously designated three public housing blocs for quarantine, but those will be reserved for the high-risk cases.
    The lower-risk cases will be asked to stay under home quarantine or be placed under surveillance, which can include electronic wristbands with movement trackers, irregular landline phone calls and other means.
    The outbreak in Hong Kong has brought back memories of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and triggered a strong response from the community.
    Hand sanitizers are freely available in shopping malls and office buildings, where people’s temperatures are also checked electronically.
    Door handles, elevator buttons and other surfaces regularly exposed to crowds are disinfected several times a day. Most residents wear masks and avoid large social interactions.    For more than a month streets and other public areas have been largely deserted as many residents worked from home.    Many companies are yet to recall all staff to their offices.
    Those measures have taken a heavy toll on an economy already facing its worst recession in a decade, with retailers and the tourism sector warning they are struggling to survive.
(Reporting by Donny Kwok; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/17/2020 Vietnam to halt issue of all visas in coronavirus battle
People wear protective masks to protect themselves against coronavirus while
driving along Long Bien bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI(Reuters) – Vietnam will suspend the issue of new visas for all foreign nationals to curb the spread of coronavirus in the Southeast Asian nation, state media said on Tuesday.
    Weeks after declaring the recovery of all 16 of its virus sufferers, Vietnam has confirmed 61 infections, but no deaths, after authorities announced a surge in infections from overseas.
    “The government sees the visa suspension policy as an effective measure to constrain the rapid spread of the virus, given many countries are now at high risk of infection,” the state-run Nhan Dan newspaper said.
    “It’s temporary.    The restriction will be in place for 15 to 30 days,” it added, without saying when the ban would take effect.
    Hanoi has denied entry to visitors from Europe’s Schengen visa-free area and Britain from Sunday, and ordered mandatory quarantine and testing for all arrivals from virus-hit areas.
    Schools stayed shut nationwide on Tuesday.    Authorities have ordered the closure of cinemas, clubs and bars, massage parlors, karaoke lounges and online game centers in urban areas until the end of March.
    The government has advised Vietnamese to call off large gatherings and ordered them to wear masks in public places.
(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by James Pearson and Clarence Fernandez)

3/17/2020 Thailand reports 30 new coronavirus cases, total of 177, official says
People wear protective face masks due to the coronavirus outbreak, as they line up at
counters in a super market in Bangkok, Thailand March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand reported 30 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, raising the total to 177, Sukhum Kanchanaphimai, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Health told a news conference.
    Eleven of the new cases are connected to a crowded boxing match that saw a large number of coronavirus cases, while other cases are those that worked closely with foreigners, Sukhum said.
    Most of the cases, 70% to 80%, in Thailand are recorded in Bangkok, he said.
    Thailand has recorded one coronavirus fatality and 41 patients have recovered and returned home.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/17/2020 China lifts travel, work restrictions as outbreak gradually fades by OAN Newsroom
In this Tuesday, March 10, 2020, photo released by Xinhua News Agency, people recovered from
coronavirus prepare to leave the rehabilitation center after a 14-day quarantine for
medical observation in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via AP)
    China has lifted restrictions on domestic travel and economic activity after the coronavirus outbreak gradually let up in the country.    The ease will allow workers to return to factories and offices in Hubei, while citizens can resume limited travel across China.
    Officials have said the number of new virus cases has been decreasing, while the vast majority of those affected have recovered.
    Hubei, which is the province where Wuhan is located, was pinned as the epicenter of the outbreak.    The region has been on lockdown since late January.    Residents have expressed relief and joy as things are now getting back to normal.
    “My best friend, my boyfriend and I all joined the volunteer team providing service to medical workers,” explained Zhang Yuxin, resident of Hubei.    “Separately, we might be the shimmering lights, but together we can shine and be the backbone supporting Wuhan and even China.”
    Chinese officials have said they expect a major economic recovery after a two month lull as industrial production is rapidly getting back on track.

[KEEP ON ADDING SANCTIONS ON IRAN UNTIL IT BURIES THE MULLAHS AND THE IRANIAN PEOPLE GET THEIR COUNTRY BACK.].
3/17/2020 U.S. sanctions Iran, seeks release of Americans amid coronavirus outbreak by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for a news conference on the current state of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) at the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran on Tuesday, keeping up its economic pressure campaign even as it offered to help Tehran cope with the coronavirus pandemic and called on the Islamic Republic to release detained Americans.
    Iran is considering freeing some U.S. citizens, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a news conference where he made clear Washington will maintain its maximum-pressure campaign to choke off Tehran’s ability to export its oil.
    The campaign, instituted after President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with six major powers, aims to force Iran to limit its nuclear, missile and regional activities.
    Pompeo on Tuesday said the State Department is blacklisting nine entities based in South Africa, Hong Kong and China, as well as three Iranian individuals, for engaging in “significant transactions” to trade in Iranian petrochemicals.
    While he did not name them, Pompeo said the step included blacklisting Iran’s armed forces social security investment company and its director for investing in sanctioned entities.
    Separately, the Commerce Department said it will add six people – including five Iranian nuclear scientists – and 18 corporations to the U.S. “Entity List” for aiding Iran’s nuclear program, Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear and missile programs, and Russian military modernization efforts.
    Without naming them, the Commerce Department said the move covers one company in Iran, two entities in China, nine in Pakistan, and five in the United Arab Emirates and will constrict the export of certain items to them.
    The Entity List names foreign parties that are barred from receiving some or all items subject to U.S. export regulations unless the exporter secures a license, according to the department.
    On Monday, sources familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said the United States was unlikely to ease sanctions on Iran despite an appeal from China that it do so because of the pandemic.
    Pompeo urged Iran to free U.S. citizens it has detained as a humanitarian gesture because of coronavirus.    Iran has reported 16,169 coronavirus cases and 988 deaths in one of the worst national outbreaks outside of China, where the pandemic originated.
    “We are aware that they are thinking about whether to release them or not,” Pompeo told reporters.    “We are urging them … to release every American that is being wrongfully held there as a humanitarian gesture, given the risk that is posed.”
    It is not clear exactly how many Americans Iran may hold, but they include father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi; Michael White, a Navy veteran; and possibly Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing since 2007.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

3/18/2020 Iran president says Iran responded, will respond to assassination of Soleimani
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting
in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday Iran has responded, and will respond, to America’s assassination of Major-General Qassem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards commander killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq in January.
    Rouhani was speaking following a Cabinet meeting that was broadcast on state television.
    Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was instrumental in expanding Iran’s military influence in the Middle East as the operative who handles clandestine operations outside Iran.    The 62-year-old general was regarded as the second-most powerful figure in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    “The Americans assassinated our great commander.    We have responded to that terrorist act and will respond to it,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)
[IRAN'S LEADER DOES NOT CARE ABOUT HIS PEOPLE DYING BY THE THOUSANDS ONLY TO ATTEMPT TO KILL AMERICANS.].

3/18/2020 Pakistan urges calm as coronavirus cases surge, Sri Lanka stops flights by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam and Waruna Karunatilake
A worker checks a man's temperature following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at a railway station in Peshawar, Pakistan March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz
    ISLAMABAD/COLOMBO (Reuters) – Pakistan’s prime minister has urged calm after its tally of coronavirus cases rose to 245 while Sri Lanka sealed itself off and shut its stock market on Wednesday, fuelling fears that South Asian countries are struggling to stem the pandemic.
    The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Indian subcontinent rose overnight to 482 as authorities across the region imposed travel restrictions to block the fast-spreading disease that has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 8,000 people.
    [For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser]
    There are fears that inadequate health facilities will be overwhelmed in many parts of the poor, crowded region.
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a late Tuesday address to the nation, urged citizens to remain calm and not rush to get tested.
    “Even the U.S. doesn’t have the resources to test everyone who comes,” he said.    “Only those with intense symptoms should go to hospital.”
    “There is no need to worry.    We will fight this as a nation.    And God-willing, we will win this war,” Khan said.
    His comments came amid a growing dispute in Pakistan between federal and provincial authorities with the latter struggling to secure sufficient coronavirus testing kits and blaming the federal government for failing to properly test and quarantine hundreds of Pakistanis who recently returned home across a land border with Iran.
    Late on Tuesday, Pakistan said it would require all arriving air passengers to show they had tested negative for the disease.    Land borders have already been shut.
    Pakistan’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 75 bps to 12.50% on Tuesday, the first cut in four years, as the coronavirus roiled markets across the region.
    Sri Lanka, which has recorded 43 coronavirus cases, said it would ban all incoming flights for two weeks from Wednesday to combat the spread of the virus.
    Officials also implemented price controls on lentils and sardines to ensure that no price gouging.
    Sri Lanka also said its stock market would remain shut for the rest of the week as it attempts to minimise interactions and curb the disease.
    In India, where 147 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, authorities on Tuesday cancelled nearly two dozen long distance train services in a bid to curb the disease and also because of a fall in passenger numbers.
(This story has been refiled to correct garbled paragraphs)
(Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/18/2020 Indian guru’s tips to ward off coronavirus anger health professionals by Alexandra Ulmer
FILE PHOTO: File picture of a hoarding with an image of Baba Ramdev seen inside a
Patanjali store in Ahmedabad, India, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian healthcare professionals are questioning claims by popular yoga guru and entrepreneur Baba Ramdev who said he has found an ayurvedic remedy that would help ward off coronavirus.     In a promotional video made public this week, Ramdev, in his trademark saffron robes and clutching a sample of the medicinal plant produced by Patanjali, the company he co-founded, says: “We’ve done scientific research and found Ashwagandha … doesn’t allow blending of corona protein with human protein.”
    He did not provide evidence for the research, which he said had been sent to an unspecified international journal.
    There are currently no vaccines or drugs approved to treat or prevent COVID-19, only investigational COVID-19 vaccines and treatments under development.
    “These kinds of messages give a false sense of security.    People who are not well educated, they are the ones who will get misled,” said Dr. Giridhar Babu, a professor of epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India, urging the government to ban such advertisements.
    Even potentially harmless tweets about immunity risk confusing people, Babu added.
    Multiple calls and emails seeking comment from Patanjali and Ramdev went unanswered.
    In a series of tweets, Ramdev also urged Indians to take up yoga to boost immunity, using the hashtag #YogaForCorona.
    Ayurveda is an ancient system that includes herbal medicines, exercise and dietary guidelines practiced by millions in India.
    Patanjali, one of India’s most well-known ayurvedic brands, and several other such firms have been touting their products to fight coronavirus in the densely-populated country of 1.3 billion people.
    The virus has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide and over 140 in India, where three people have died.    The ayurvedic companies’ tweets have infuriated healthcare professionals who fear they will hurt the battle to stem the virus.
    Local media has reported that Ramdev, a household name in India, has also called on people to use hand sanitizer and keep distance from others – recommendations broadly in line with those of global health experts.
    Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 created the Ministry of Ayush to promote and regulate ayurvedic remedies and yoga.
    Manoj Nesari, an adviser at the ministry, said the companies’ remedies do help boost immunity, but added he was not aware of claims they could help fight coronavirus.
    “Coronavirus is a new virus so obviously there’s no evidence (on cures).    Once we get complaints we will examine them. Right now I cannot comment,” said Nesari.
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/18/2020 China expels American journalists as spat with U.S. escalates by Tony Munroe, Humeyra Pamuk and Helen Coster
Journalist attend the daily press briefing of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – China is withdrawing the press credentials of American journalists at three U.S. newspapers, intensifying a bitter fight between the world’s top two economies that has widened to include the coronavirus outbreak and media freedoms.
    Beijing announced on Wednesday what it said was retaliation against U.S. restrictions on Chinese journalists that includes revoking the accreditations of American correspondents with the New York Times , News Corp’s Wall Street Journal and Washington Post whose credentials expire by the end of 2020.
    The move is a sharp escalation of a dispute that saw Washington last month force Chinese state media firms to register as foreign embassies.
    Beijing then expelled three Wall Street Journal correspondents – two Americans and an Australian – following an opinion column by the newspaper that called China the “real sick man of Asia.”
    Washington then slashed the number of journalists permitted to work in the United States at four major Chinese state-owned media outlets to 100, from 160 previously.    It cited a “deepening crackdown” on independent reporting inside China.
    Beijing said the expelled journalists would not be permitted to work in mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau. It said they must hand back their press cards within 10 days.
    The expulsion is expected to affect at least 13 journalists, according to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which said it “deplores” China’s decision.
    China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment on how many journalists are affected.
    Beijing also said the China branches of the three papers plus the Voice of America broadcaster and Time magazine must “declare in written form information about their staff, finance, operation and real estate in China.”
WAR OF WORDS
    The latest development follows a war of words between Washington and Beijing over the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which causes a highly contagious, sometimes fatal, respiratory illness COVID-19.
    The virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has so far killed 7,400 people globally, bringing normal life in many parts of the world to a standstill.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at a State Department news conference that Beijing’s move on Wednesday would deprive the world and the Chinese people of information in “incredibly challenging” times brought about by the coronavirus.
    “I regret China’s decision today to further foreclose the world’s ability to conduct the free press operations that frankly would be really good for the Chinese people,” he said.    “This is unfortunate… I hope they’ll reconsider.”
    Media executives denounced the move.
    “We unequivocally condemn any action by China to expel U.S. reporters,” Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said in a statement.    “The Chinese government’s decision is particularly regrettable because it comes in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis, when clear and reliable information about the international response to COVID-19 is essential.”
    Dean Baquet, executive editor at The New York Times, also condemned the decision.
    “It is a grave mistake for China to move backwards and cut itself off from several of the world’s top news organizations,” he said.
    Matt Murray, editor in chief at The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, said: “We oppose government interference with a free press anywhere in the world. Our commitment to reporting fully and deeply on China is unchanged.”
    Time Editor in Chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal said: “We oppose any effort by the Chinese government or any other government to expel reporters or intimidate those whose job is to provide accurate information, especially during this crucial period for the world.”
    A representative of Voice of America was not immediately reachable.
‘ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS’
    A striking aspect of Beijing’s move was its decision to bar the journalists from working in Hong Kong and Macau, two semi-autonomous territories of China with their own media accreditation rules.    In the past, foreign journalists kicked out of China were allowed to work in Hong Kong.
    That raised questions about Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” agreement that still prevails between the territory and the mainland.
    “There’s no precedent for China dictating who can and can’t report from Hong Kong openly,” said Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia program coordinator.    “It very seriously erodes Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom of the press.”
    The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong said it was alarmed at the decision to expel the journalists and even more concerned that they would be banned from working as journalists in Hong Kong.
    It said Hong Kong must provide assurances that foreign journalists working in Hong Kong and those applying to work in the city will continue to be issued employment visas without interference from the Chinese government.
    Beijing said on Wednesday that its actions “are entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the United States.”
    Pompeo said he did not think Beijing’s latest move was a balanced response.    “This isn’t apples to apples,” he said, charging that the Chinese journalists who had faced restrictions were part of “propaganda outlets.”
    China has repeatedly denounced the Wall Street Journal’s “sick man” column as racist and, after the newspaper declined to apologize, revoked the visas of the three reporters in Beijing.    Another reporter with the paper had to leave last year after China declined to renew his visa.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe in Beijing, Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Helen Coster in New York, and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Neil Fullick)

3/18/2020 Indonesia rations purchases of staples, eyes fuel price cuts by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Maikel Jefriando
A worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police have ordered retailers to ration purchases of staple foods to contain panic buying amid a spike in coronavirus cases in the Southeast Asian country, while the president weighed up a cut in fuel prices to reflect tumbling oil prices.
    Indonesians have been stocking up on basic necessities, as well as medical supplies, since President Joko Widodo announced the first confirmed cases of the disease in the world’s fourth most populous country on March 2.
    Shops have seen long queues of customers stocking up on items such as dried noodles, despite authorities telling the public there was no need for panic buying.
    The police’s criminal investigation division has sent a letter to all stakeholders ordering the rationing of purchase of rice for personal use at a maximum of 10 kg, sugar at 2 kg, cooking oil at 4 litres and instant noodles at two cartons, according to a copy of the letter reviewed by Reuters.
    Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said rationing applied only in areas affected by the virus outbreak.    Indonesia has reported 172 cases and at least five deaths as of Tuesday, with most clustered around Jakarta.
    “If there is any increase of staple food prices, we will check where the bottlenecks are and we will take action against hoarding,” Yuwono said via text message.
    Prices of garlic, sugar and onions have jumped recently due to disruptions in imports from China and a late sugarcane harvest, though authorities said new supplies were being imported.
    Police officers and state food procurement agency Bulog on Wednesday inspected supplies of staples in markets around Jakarta, including at wholesale markets, Bulog said in a statement.
    Bulog has 1.5 million tonnes of rice in its warehouses, enough to meet rising demand due to the spread of the virus, as well as for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan beginning in late April, the firm said.
    Meanwhile, President Widodo asked his cabinet ministers in a video conference to assess whether weaker global oil prices could allow room for cuts in domestic subsidised and non-subsidised fuel prices to support the economy.
    The Indonesian government has pledged $8 billion of stimulus to encourage economic growth, including tax breaks for some workers in manufacturing, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts global economy.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Maikel Jefriando; Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Gayatri suroyo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Ed Davies and Michael Perry)

3/18/2020 Malaysia travel ban, virus pushes Singapore closer to first recession in two decades by Aradhana Aravindan and Fathin Ungku
FILE PHOTO: A view of new cars parked at Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal in Singapore March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore is edging towards its first full-year recession in nearly two decades as neighboring Malaysia’s travel ban cuts off a key source of labor and the coronavirus pandemic hits the economy, firming the case for the central bank to loosen policy.
    The Southeast Asian nation has been widely praised for its response to the outbreak, but spiking cases elsewhere are adding pressure on the small and open economy.    It has already signalled a chance of a recession this year and cut its growth forecasts.
    “Financial conditions have tightened considerably in recent weeks, and the lockdown being imposed by countries to contain the COVID-19 outbreak means a recession in Singapore cannot be avoided,” said ANZ economist Khoon Goh.
    Most economists have cemented their expectations for the Monetary Authority of Singapore to ease policy at its review scheduled for April, with some now even raising the possibility of the central bank stepping in early.
    The MAS is likely to change the Singapore dollar’s pace of appreciation to a neutral “zero slope,” all nine economists in a Reuters survey said.
    It may re-centre down the mid-point of the policy band in which the currency is allowed to trade, five said, a more drastic action taken a decade ago during the global financial crisis.
    MAS manages policy through exchange rate settings, rather than through the conventional interest rates, letting the Singapore dollar rise or fall against the currencies of its main trading partners within an undisclosed policy band.
    Starting Wednesday, Malaysia is stopping citizens from traveling overseas and visitors from entering the country until March 31 to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
    That move is expected to hit Singapore businesses, which employ some 300,000 Malaysians who commute from across the Straits of Johor.
    “It represents quite a big blow to services and SMEs (small and medium enterprises), which rely on labor force from across the causeway,” said Prakash Sakpal, an economist with ING.
    While Erman Tan, the head of a chemicals plant, says four of his Malaysian staff are staying back in Singapore for the duration of the ban, he is still bracing for a slowdown in production as he expects disruption in raw material supply from the neighboring country.
    Singapore is also set to unveil a second economic package to help businesses and workers, adding to the stimulus announced in the budget last month, which an economist said would be “more effective” than monetary action in the near term.
    “Fiscal policy is going to provide direct assistance to small businesses,” said Steve Cochrane at Moody’s Analytics.
    Some small businesses in Singapore are looking for extra support from the government to help them keep staff and lower costs, such as a cut in foreign workers levies.
    “Now is the time when every dollar means a lot,” said John Kong, chief executive of local building materials supplier M Metal.
    Singapore on Tuesday reported 23 new cases of coronavirus, its biggest daily jump, taking its tally to 266 infections.    The spread of the virus on the island, however, has so far been relatively mild compared with exponential increases seen elsewhere.
(Additional reporting by Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Editing by Sam Holmes)

3/18/2020 ‘Greater than a tsunami’: Malaysia warns of coronavirus spread if curbs ignored by Ebrahim Harris and Daveena Kaur
People line up to pay at a supermarket amid fears of a disruption in supplies after the Malaysia's
government announces a restricted movement order imposed on March 18 due to the spread of the
coronavirus disease, in Subang Jaya, Malaysia, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia warned of a fresh wave of coronavirus infections if people did not follow two-week movement restrictions that started on Wednesday after cases in the country spiked to the highest in Southeast Asia.
    It has so far reported two coronavirus deaths, including a man who attended a mass Muslim gathering linked to nearly two-thirds of the country’s 673 infections.    Thousands of the attendees still remain to be tested, raising the risk of an even greater spread of the virus.
    “We have a slim chance to break the chain of COVID-19 infections,” Noor Hisham Abdullah, director general of Health Malaysia, said in a Facebook post.
    “Failure is not an option here.    If not, we may face a third wave of this virus, which would be greater than a tsunami, if we maintain a “so what” attitude.”
    Malaysia and the Philippines, which has quarantined about half its 107 million population, have imposed the toughest restrictions on movements of people in Southeast Asia, causing early confusion and chaos, although capital markets in both countries will stay open.
    Hours before the movement curbs kicked in at midnight in Malaysia, thousands of people queued up at bus stations to go back to their hometowns.    Hordes of Malaysians who commute daily to Singapore for work crossed the border to spend the next two weeks there.
    “Mass gatherings at bus terminals and then folks going all over the country from the active COVID-19 area.    Are we not potentially spreading it nationwide?”    Malaysian physician Christopher Lee asked on Twitter.
    Roads in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, normally some of the most congested in Southeast Asia on weekdays, were largely clear on Wednesday.    Some cafes and restaurants opened, but customers were allowed only takeaway food.
    Big supermarket chains put in measures including special shopping slots and cashier lanes for the elderly and disabled and limited the purchases of staples such as rice, flour, cooking oil, hand sanitizers and disinfectants.
    “People coming and rushing is still going to see the disease spread,” said Ahmad Fauzi, 60, who had been up early to shop to avoid the crowds.    “They should be more calm.”
    The government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took office only this month, has said there is enough stock of essentials for the country of 32 million people.
BIG GATHERINGS
    The gathering of Islamic missionaries at a mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was attended by 16,000 people, 1,500 of them foreigners, late last month. So far 428 coronavirus infections in Malaysia have been linked to the mosque outbreak.
    Authorities are also asking participants of a Hindu celebration in the northern state of Penang to get tested if they show any symptoms.    The event was held on March 8 and attended by around 10,000 people.
    So far there is no confirmed or suspected case of infection among them, said M. Ramachandran, a local Hindu community leader, adding that all weddings and prayers at temples had been put on hold until March 31.
    Malaysia has shut its borders for travellers, restricted internal movement, closed schools and universities and ordered non-essential businesses to stay out.
    Neighbouring Thailand has announced the closure of schools, bars, movie theatres, cockfighting arenas and other entertainment centres.
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(Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff, Liz Lee and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Michael Perry and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/18/2020 Thailand reports 35 new coronavirus infections for total of 212
A movie theater is seen closed after the Thai government ordered the closure of cinemas and other entertainment
facilities as part of a raft of measures intended to control the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bangkok, Thailand March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand reported 35 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking its total infections to 212, a disease control official said.
    The southeast Asian nation has recorded one death since the outbreak began, with 42 patients having recovered and gone home, while 169 are still in hospital.
    Wednesday’s cases fall into two groups, one linked to earlier cases and the other mostly with overseas connections, Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, the director-general of the disease control department, told a news conference.
    One group of 29 cases includes four from an entertainment venue and 13 from a crowded boxing match, both in the capital, Bangkok, while 12 came into contact with recorded patients, Suwannachai said.
    A second group of six new cases includes one arrival from neighboring Cambodia, he added.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/18/2020 South Korea to boost dollar supply to ease economic pressures by Hyonhee Shin and Cynthia Kim
FILE PHOTO: South Korean soldiers in protective gear make their way while they disinfect buildings downtown, following the
rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Wednesday it would inject more dollars into its banking system to ensure businesses have enough funding, amid concerns about the deepening global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
    The finance ministry and the Bank of Korea announced moves that are expected to beef up dollar supply in the market by $5 billion to $10 billion, as the coronavirus causes chaos in global financial markets and a scramble for U.S. dollars.
    Authorities will raise a cap on foreign currency forward positions for local banks to 50% of their equity capital from the current 40% starting on Thursday.    For foreign banks, the ceiling will be relaxed to 250% from 200%.
    South Korean policymakers have unveiled a string of measures in recent days, including an emergency interest rate cut and an extra 11.7 trillion won ($9.43 billion) budget, in a bid to reduce pressure on Asia’s fourth-largest economy and keep its financial system operating normally.
    The health crisis has soured business and consumer confidence and disrupted manufacturing, with Samsung Electronics <005930.KS> and Hyundai Motor <005380.KS> temporarily closing plants after a worker tested positive.
    And, though the number of new virus cases is declining domestically, they continue to soar internationally, raising fears of a global recession.
    “We’re in a very grave situation on both aspects of disease prevention and the economy,” President Moon Jae-in told a meeting with economic policymakers.
    “The economy is more worrisome, and the people’s livelihood….    The problem is it is difficult to overcome the crisis on our own.”
DOWNWARD TREND
    The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC)reported 93 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.    It was the fourth day in a row that there were fewer than 100 new infections, although it was up slightly from 84 the day before.
    South Korea now has 8,413 confirmed cases, the KCDC said. The death toll rose by three to 84.
    But authorities remain on high alert amid concerns about small clusters of infections reported over the past few weeks.
    A new outbreak emerged in a nursing home in the hardest-hit city of Daegu this week, with 74 patients having tested positive, while another 55 cases were traced to a Protestant church in Seongnam, south of Seoul, the KCDC said.
    Several health ministry officials, including vice minister Kim Gang-lip who hosted daily briefings on the outbreak, were put in precautionary self-quarantine on Wednesday as a hospital chief was confirmed to have contracted the virus after having a meeting with them.
    Authorities have launched extensive checks on tens of thousands of “high-risk” facilities, including nursing homes, hospitals, call centers, computer cafes and karaoke bars in a bid to control the epidemic.
    South Korea will also impose tighter border checks for all arrivals from overseas starting Thursday, following recent spikes in infected travelers.
    The U.S. Embassy in South Korea said on Wednesday it will suspend routine visa services due to virus precautions, in line with a heightened travel advisory from Washington.
    Seoul was not advising restaurants and other businesses to shut down for now, but might take stronger action if there are higher risks of broader transmission, KCDC chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said.
    “We still need to implement our current policy of social distancing, personal hygiene rules and early testing in a more thorough and practical manner,” she told a briefing.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Cynthia Kim; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Lincoln Feast and Kim Coghill)

3/18/2020 Imported coronavirus cases in China outpace local infections for fifth day
Police officers salute as a medical worker from outside Wuhan arrives at the Wuhan Railway Station before leaving the
epicentre of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hubei province, China March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Imported coronavirus cases in China outnumbered cases of location transmission for the fifth straight day as infected travelers passed through major Chinese transportation hubs in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
    Mainland China had 13 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the country’s National Health Commission said, down from 21 cases a day earlier. Of the new cases, 12 involved infected travelers arriving from abroad.
    In contrast to the current wave of imported cases, mainland China had only one case of locally transmitted infection on Tuesday, in Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province where the flu-like disease surfaced in humans late last year.
    The capital Beijing accounted for three of the imported new cases, down from nine a day earlier.    Shanghai had three new cases, unchanged from the day before.
    Imported cases in southern Guangdong province rose to five from three, due to people arriving from Thailand, Britain and the Netherlands.    One infection emerged in Sichuan in southwest China.
    The overall number of imported cases of the virus in mainland China reached 155 as of Tuesday, up 12 from a day earlier.
    That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,894, the health authority said in a statement on Wednesday.
    Though imported cases are on the rise, local transmissions remain a risk, with some patients showing few symptoms and traveling around undetected for days.
    Earlier this month, a 30-year old policeman from central China’s Henan province flew back to Beijing after a week-long trip to Italy before returning by train to the provincial capital of Zhengzhou.
    He wasn’t diagnosed until March 11, after he had returned to work for several days.    At least 11 cities in China have tracked down locals who were exposed to him during his journey.
    The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 3,237 as of the end of Tuesday, up by 11 from the previous day.
    In Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak in China, there were 11 new deaths, with Wuhan accounting for 10 of the fatalities.
WUHAN
    While the rest of Hubei had zero new infection for almost two weeks, Wuhan reported new infections through outpatient diagnosis for the fifth day, in a worrying sign of continued local transmissions despite draconian social distancing and quarantine measures for nearly two months.
    “The new infected patients and their family members have gone out and about in their local community during this period of staying at home, which does not exclude the possibility of community infection,” the Wuhan coronavirus task force said in a text message sent to some Wuhan residents late on Tuesday.
    The Wuhan Health Authorities said the new case on Tuesday was a manager at a vegetable market, and was suspected of having contracted the virus through exposure to the market.
    “What we are most worried about is that there is an undetected source of the coronavirus, which will be a loophole leading to the resurgence of the pneumonia,” a Wuhan-based doctor was cited by the People’s Daily as saying.
    Wuhan remains the only city in Hubei still designated as “high-risk” and subject to strict travel bans, as authorities are keen to get other parts of the province back to work.
    Hubei has now classified 71 of its 75 districts to be “low-risk.”    The city of Ezhou, one of four still classified as “medium-risk,” said on Wednesday that it would let non-residents leave the city to return to work in other regions, as long as they were not traveling to Beijing.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yawen Chen, Huizhong Wu, Se Young Lee and David Stanway; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and MIchael Perry)

3/19/2020 Pompeo says U.S. citizen detained in Iran since 2018 released on medical furlough
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the current state of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. citizen Michael White who has been detained in Iran since 2018 has been released on Thursday on medical furlough, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. navy veteran was currently under the custody of the Swiss government.
    “His release on humanitarian grounds was conditioned upon him staying in Iran.    Michael is now in the custody of the Swiss embassy and will undergo medical testing and evaluation,” Pompeo said in a statement.
    On Tuesday, Pompeo in a press conference said Tehran was considering freeing some U.S. citizens and urged them to do so as a humanitarian gesture because of coronavirus.    Iran has reported 16,169 coronavirus cases and 988 deaths in one of the worst national outbreaks outside of China, where the pandemic originated.
    It is not clear exactly how many Americans Iran may hold, but they include father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi and possibly Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing since 2007.
    The United States said it has offered humanitarian help to Iran as it dealt with the coronavirus, but said it would maintain its maximum-pressure campaign to choke off Tehran’s ability to export its oil.    It has blacklisted new companies earlier this week on companies for engaging in “significant transactions” to trade in Iranian petrochemicals.
    The pressure campaign on Tehran, instituted after President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with six major powers, aims to force Iran to limit its nuclear, missile and regional activities.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Diane Craft)

3/19/2020 Vietnam health ministry reports rise in coronavirus cases to 85
A health worker sprays disinfectants in a train as a measure against the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi, Vietnam March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam’s health ministry reported an additional nine coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the total number in the Southeast Asian country to 85.
    Weeks after Vietnam declared that all 16 of its coronavirus cases had recovered, the number of infected patients is on the rise following the reintroduction of the virus from overseas.
    Vietnam’s health ministry has not reported any coronavirus deaths in the country.
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/19/2020 India to halt international flights; Modi urges citizens to stay home as virus spreads by Zeba Siddiqui and Waruna Karunatilake
Commuters are stopped by security force personnel after the government imposed restriction on movement as a precaution
against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Srinagar March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
    NEW DELHI/COLOMBO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to citizens to stay home and avoid panic buying, even as India outlined plans to halt all international flights and rushed to stem the spread of coronavirus cases in the country.
    In a late night address to the nation on Thursday, Modi said people should leave “their homes only if essential” and he asked the nation to self-observe an all-day curfew on Sunday.
    Modi’s plea came shortly after India said it plans to halt any incoming international flights from landing in the country as of 2001 GMT on March 22.
    Modi also urged Indians to stop panic buying and assured them there would be no shortage of essential goods.
    His appeal came as retailers said they were struggling to keep up with demand as consumers rush to stockpile supplies.
    “We are seeing unprecedented order volumes in all cities in India,” said Hari Menon, chief executive of online grocery retailer BigBasket.
    Densely populated South Asia has so far been relatively unscathed compared to many other parts of the world.
    But new COVID-19 cases in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are all accelerating, with the total across the region nearing 700.    Six people have died.
    Authorities worry that these countries could be especially at risk should the virus begin to spread locally, due to poor health facilities and infrastructure.
    The spread of the virus continued to rattle markets across the region.    The Indian and Sri Lankan currencies both fell to a record lows against the dollar on Thursday, while Pakistan’s main stock index hit its lowest level in five years.
    “The pandemic has severely affected the economy,” said Modi, adding that he has set up a task force to assess the impact.
ELECTION SHELVED
    Sri Lanka said on Thursday it would delay parliamentary elections that had been scheduled for April 25.
    Earlier this week, the island nation also sealed its borders and imposed a curfew in some areas.    There have been 59 confirmed cases in Sri Lanka.
    In a bid to stem a sharp slide in the Sri Lankan rupee, the nation’s central bank on Thursday ordered all banks to suspend funding imports of motor vehicles and non-essential goods.
    Meanwhile, confirmed cases in Afghanistan remained static at 22 on Thursday, despite what experts say is a brewing crisis in the war-torn nation, especially in Herat province, which borders Iran – one of the worst affected countries.
    Thousands have been crossing daily across the porous border in that region, with little testing being done on those entering the country, according to an official source.
    The number of confirmed cases in Pakistan surged on Thursday to 410.    The increase is being driven by pilgrims returning from Iran.    Some officials fear with thousands of pilgrims yet to be tested, cases could soar further in coming days. MASK EXPORTS BANNED
    India late on Thursday also banned the exports of surgical masks, ventilators and textiles used for masks and overalls, while several areas introduced curbs on gatherings as coronavirus cases rose to 173.     Late on Wednesday, the state of Rajasthan invoked colonial-era laws that prevent the unlawful assembly of four or more people – powers more often used to quell riots.
    Similar restrictions were introduced in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi.    India’s financial hub of Mumbai expanded a partial shutdown of offices to government buildings on Thursday, with at least half the staff ordered to work from home.
    In Indian-ruled Kashmir, claimed in whole but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan, dozens of people told Reuters they had been prevented from leaving their neighborhoods by police.
    Since emerging late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the flu-like disease has infected more than 218,000 people and killed nearly 9,000.
    Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in South Asia:
Pakistan – 410
India – 173
Sri Lanka – 59
Afghanistan – 22
Bangladesh – 17
Maldives – 13
Nepal – 1
Bhutan – 1
———————-
TOTAL – 696
(Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar, Alasdair Pal, Rupam Jain Neha Dasgupta and Aditi Shah in New Delhi, Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru, Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, and Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul; Writing by Euan Rocha and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Nick Macfie and Giles Elgood)

3/19/2020 Thailand to tighten entry rules for all nationalities in virus fight
A woman wears a protective face mask due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
as she shops in central Bangkok, Thailand March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand will introduce new measures requiring all travelers to the country to present medical certificates and health insurance before gaining entry in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Thursday.
    Thailand reported 60 new coronavirus cases, the biggest daily jump in the number of cases so far to take its total infections to 272, a health official said on Thursday.
    Travelers to Thailand have to now show authorities a health certificate, issued no more than 72 hours before traveling, confirming that they have been tested and are free from the virus.    They must also present an insurance policy showing minimum coverage for coronavirus of not less than $100,000.
    This measure was previously a requirement for countries the Thai government classified as “disease infected zones” which include China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Italy and Iran.
    “We are blocking infection from coming into the country that is why people need medical certificate and health insurance to enter Thailand,” Prime Minister Prayuth said.
    “This will now include all countries to minimize infection so we can control it,” he said.
    The new measure will take effect on March 22 for arrivals who are flying into Thailand.
    Travelers without the required documents will not be issued a boarding pass and will be denied boarding a plane to Thailand, a Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said in a notification on Thursday.
    Arrivals will also be subject to “isolation, quarantine, under observation or any other measures for the prevention and control of communicable diseases” as prescribed by the health authorities, the notification said.
    Thailand will also close land border crossings with the timing to be determined by local authorities in various areas, deputy prime minister and health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.
    “Our measures are very strict so foreigners will find it difficult to enter and there will be closure to all land borders at the discretion of the interior minister and provincial governors,” Anutin said.
    It is unclear when the new measure will take effect and how it will be enforced at various border points.
    The introduction of the new measure comes as dozens of civil society organizations in Thailand demand the government close the border and restrict people’s movement to limit infection.
    Thailand has recorded a large jump in the number of infections this week which the health authority has divided into new imported cases and those with connection to earlier cases.
    The rise in the number of infections has led the government to close down schools, universities, and entertainment venues around the country which started to take effect on Wednesday.
    Thailand has recorded one death since the outbreak, with 42 patients having recovered and gone home and 229 still being treated in hospital.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Chayut Setboonsarng and Panu Wongcha-um; editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/19/2020 ‘Is that it?’: Chinese report into death of doctor who raised coronavirus alarm underwhelms by Brenda Goh
FILE PHOTO: People wearing masks attend a vigil for late Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who died of
coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan, in Hong Kong, China February 7, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A Chinese report into the coronavirus death of a young doctor reprimanded by police for “spreading rumors” when he tried to raise the alarm about the disease drew quick criticism online after it merely suggested that the reprimand be withdrawn.
    The investigative team also denounced the “anti-establishment” labels of “hero” and “awakener” that some had given to Dr Li Wenliang, who became one of the crisis’s most visible figures in the early days of the outbreak when he tried to sound the alarm in the central city of Wuhan.
    News of his death at 34 in early February triggered an outpouring of outrage and sadness in China.
    The report, issued by China’s top anti-corruption agency, the National Supervisory Commission, said a team sent to Wuhan looked into how he found out about the virus, how he had been summoned to a police station and how he was treated when ill.
    Their key recommendation, according to the report published by state broadcaster CCTV, was to say that Wuhan authorities needed to find the police who had reprimanded Li and hold them responsible for not following correct procedures.
    It said the reprimand by police should be withdrawn.
    “Is that it?” said one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, where news of the report was the top read topic, with over 160 million views on Thursday evening.
    “It’s like they might as well have not said anything,” said another.
    Li’s treatment by police prompted public calls for the Wuhan government to apologize, especially as the city’s authorities were accused of covering up the outbreak in its early days.
    Since then, the virus has spread globally to 172 nations, infecting nearly 220,000, killing more than 8,900 people and crippling the global economy.
    The investigative team said that Li had not disrupted public order with his actions, describing him as a professional who had fought bravely and made sacrifices.    His family had received workplace injury and funeral subsidies, it said.
    The investigating team, in a question and answer session published by state news agency Xinhua, said some hostile forces, for the purpose of attacking the ruling Communist Party and Chinese government, gave Li the “anti-establishment” labels of “hero” and “awakener.”
    “This is completely untrue,” it said.    “Li was a Communist Party member, not a so-called ‘person who was against the system’.    Those who have ulterior motives to fan flames, confuse and poison people’s minds, to agitate society’s emotions are doomed to fail.”
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional Reporting by Huizhong Wu in Beijing; Editing by Tony Munroe and Nick Macfie)

3/19/2020 U.S. Treasury slaps news sanctions on Iran over gross mishandling of COVID-19 outbreak by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, cabinet members wearing face masks
and gloves attend their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)
    The U.S. Treasury has slapped new sanctions on Iran’s ayatollah regime over its poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak.    On Thursday, the department imposed fresh restrictions on five Iranian companies involved in energy exports and nuclear research.
    According to the Treasury, Iran’s government has been spending its money on terror and illegal nuclear activities instead of battling the pandemic.
    Some reports have claimed the illness is taking one life every 10 minutes in Iran.    The State Department has said the ayatollah regime is directly responsible for these deaths.
    Senior Iranians lied about the Wuhan virus outbreak for weeks.    The Iranian leadership is trying to avoid responsibility for their grossly incompetent and deadly governments.    Sadly, the Iranian people have been suffering these kinds of lies for 41 years.” – Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State
    The Treasury has called for Iran’s trading partners to sever their ties with the ayatollah regime, in hopes of forcing a positive change in that country.
FILE— In this Sunday, March 8, 2020 file photo, men wearing protective gear carry the body of Fatemeh Rahbar,
a lawmaker-elect from Tehran constituency, who died on Saturday after being infected with the new
coronavirus, at Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, just outside Tehran, Iran. (Mehdi Khanlari/Fars News Agency via AP, File)
    Earlier in the day, Iranian officials reported that nearly 150 people had been killed by the virus within the last 24 hours. This brought the nation’s death toll to roughly 1,300.
    Iran has already released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave in an apparent attempt to fight the virus.    Reports confirmed about nine out of 10 of the 18,000 coronavirus cases in the Middle East have come from Iran.

[GET OVER IT CHINA THE WHOLE WORLD KNOWS WERE THE VIRUS CAME FROM].
3/20/2020 U.S.-China tensions escalate over coronavirus by OAN Newsroom
The New York Times Beijing based correspondent Steven Lee Myers, left, chats with other foreign
journalists after attending a daily briefing by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang,
at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
    The global coronavirus pandemic has sparked a blame game between the U.S. and China over the origin of the virus, which is threatening the relationship between the world’s largest economies.
    “Should the United States choose to go further down the wrong path and make more mistakes, China will surely be forced to take further countermeasure,” stated Geng Shuang, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.    “The U.S. once said that all options are on the table, and today I can tell the U.S. side that China also has all the options on the table.”
    On Wednesday, China barred American journalists from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post in response to U.S. restrictions on Chinese journalists.
    “The relevant countermeasures adopted by the Chinese side are entirely necessary and reciprocal ones that China is forced to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experienced in the United States,” Shuang continued.    “China did not start and should not bear the responsibility for the current situation.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang listens a question from a reporter during a daily briefing at the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs office in Beijing, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. At least 13 American journalists stand to be expelled from China in retaliation
for a new limit imposed by the Trump administration on visas for Chinese state-owned media operating in the U.S. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
    Tensions continued to escalate after President Trump referred to it as the “Chinese virus” to which he received immense backlash by the mainstream media as well as Beijing.
    “I have to call it where it came from,” said the president.    “It did come from China, so I think it`s a very accurate term.”
    President Trump has only doubled down on his remarks, while condemning recent allegations by Chinese officials who have tried to pin the blame on U.S. soldiers.
    “But as you know, China tried to say, at one point — maybe they stopped now — that it was caused by American soldiers,” he explained.    “That can’t happen, it’s not going to happen, not as long as I’m president.”
    His comments came after as a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry publicly attempted to link start of the virus on the U.S. Army for bringing it to Wuhan late last year. The Chinese official’s statements were made without evidence.
    Meanwhile, the back-and-forth accusations are now leaving many concerned amid an already unstable relationship and a recent trade deal.

[KHAMENEI I DOUBT YOU ARE SACRIFICING ANYTHING YOU ARE PROBABLY HIDING IN A CLOSED SECURED ROOM WHILE THE IRANIAN PEOPLE ARE DYING AND YOU ARE BROKE SINCE OIL IS AT $20 A BARREL.].
3/20/2020 Khamenei lauds Iranians’ ‘dazzling’ sacrifices to fight virus by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech on the occasion of the
Iranian New Year Nowruz, in Tehran, Iran March 20, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a speech on state television for the Persian New Year, praised Iranians for their “dazzling” sacrifices in fighting the coronavirus outbreak in the worst-hit country in the Middle East.
    Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, said it had been a tumultuous year for Iranians who have endured U.S. sanctions, floods, and the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,400 people in Iran and infected nearly 20,000.
    “These acts of sacrifice were made by medical groups, physicians, nurses, assistants, managers and the staff working in hospitals,” said Khamenei, who looked healthy despite rumors that he had been infected with the new coronavirus.
    Officials close to Khamenei, contacted by Reuters on Wednesday, denied the rumors.
    Nowruz, or “new day” in Persian, is an ancient celebration and the most important date in the calendar, when families gather and exchange gifts.    But the coronavirus has overshadowed the celebrations.
    “Last year was a tumultuous year for the Iranian nation,” Khamenei said.    “It was a year that began with the floods and that ended with the coronavirus… but we will overcome all hardships with unity.”
    He named the new year: “The year of boosting production.”
    In a separate message, President Hassan Rouhani said Iranians praised doctors and nurses for their courage in fighting the disease.
    Millions of Iranians are now confined within their own walls for the New Year celebrations.    But police said many defied warnings by health officials to stay home and avoid crowds by heading to the Caspian coast, a favorite destination during the Nowruz holidays.
    The United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacted to the U.S. warning by saying on Twitter: “(The) U.S. administration gleefully takes pride in killing Iranians citizens on #Nowruz… The White House takes its ‘maximum pressure’ to a new level of inhumanity with its utter contempt for human life.”
    “Iran to U.S.: Your policy will live in infamy.    But Iran won’t break,” Zarif said.
A UNIQUE SPEECH
    Unlike in his usual fiery speeches, the anti-U.S. hardliner Khamenei refrained from attacking Iran’s longtime foe in his remarks.
    “Iran benefited from America’s sanctions.    It made us self-sufficient in all areas,” Khamenei said.
    Friction between Tehran and Washington has increased since 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six nations and re-imposed sanctions on the country, crippling its economy.
    Iran on Thursday granted a medical furlough to imprisoned U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who has been in prison since his arrest in 2018.    His release is conditioned on him staying in Iran, U.S. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said.
    White was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison on charges of insulting Khamenei and posting anti-establishment remarks on social media under a pseudonym.
    It is not clear exactly how many Americans Iran may hold, but Washington has warned Tehran that it would hold the clerical rulers directly responsible for any American deaths since the outbreak has infected the Islamic Republic.
    But growing discontent over economic hardship, combined with the coronavirus outbreak’s impact, could force Iran to choose diplomacy over confrontation with the United States.
    “Yes.    It was a very unique speech by the leader.    His language was different, his tone was different and it was not hostile towards America,” said an official in Tehran, who asked not to be named.
    When asked whether Tehran and Washington might try to ease the tension, he said: “Americans know what they should do.    First sanctions or at least some sanctions must be lifted.    Then we will see.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean and Pritha Sarkar)

3/20/2020 China’s new imported coronavirus cases at record; no domestic transfers for second day
FILE PHOTO: March 17, 2020 picture of staff in protective suits accompanying a passenger outside a
centralized facility for screening and registration near the Beijing Capital International Airport
in Beijing as the country tries to contain imported cases of the coronavirus. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s imported coronavirus cases have risen to a record 228, data showed on Friday, as infected travellers spread to ever more provinces, adding pressure on authorities to toughen entry rules and health protocols.
    For a second day in a row, China found no domestically transmitted cases of the virus that emerged in its central province of Hubei late last year, according to new daily figures registered on Thursday.
    Fears of a second wave of infections are growing just as China brings its epidemic under control, with the spread of the virus in Europe and North America spurring a rush homewards by Chinese expatriates, many of them students.
    “The number of imported cases in China has further increased, and so the pressure to be on guard has also increased,” Wang Bin, an official of the National Health Commission, told a news conference in Beijing on Friday.
    Mainland China had 39 new imported infections on Thursday, the commission said.    Fourteen of these were in the southern province of Guangdong, eight in the commercial hub of Shanghai and six in the capital, Beijing, it said in a statement.
    The main entrypoints for infected travellers have been key transport hubs such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, including the city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.
    A smattering of imported cases were also reported in the city of Tianjin and the provinces of Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Shandong and Gansu in the north, as well as in the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian, Sichuan, and the region of Guangxi further south, taking China’s total imported infections to 228.
    The commission did not say where the cases were believed to have originated, but provincial authorities said some of the travellers had been in Britain, Spain and the United States.
    “Everyone is being very vigilant about those coming back from abroad.    We must absolutely not let our guard down,” Cao, a Beijing resident who gave only his surname, told Reuters.
    “We cannot relax this vigilance so much that we see a rebound.”
    In Gansu, five officials were punished for picking up travellers returning from overseas without permission, including two who have tested positive, the official Xinhua news agency said.
    As concern grows over infected arrivals from overseas, the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea held a video conference on Friday to discuss cooperation to rein in the pandemic.
NO SYMPTOMS
    The new imported case in Tianjin, a city of 11 million, was a 23-year-old woman studying in London who came home via Zurich, Tokyo and Beijing, Xinhua said.
    The northeastern city of Shenyang said its first imported case was a traveller arriving from London via Seoul, who displayed no fever or respiratory tract symptoms at the airport on March 16.
    Many outbreaks overseas were caused by travellers from China who were pre-symptomatic and so had not been screened or isolated, the Yale School of Public Health said in a study.
    China has long recommended self-isolation by returning travellers, but authorities in some regions now enforce 14 days in quarantine in a medical facility for people returning from any of 24 badly-hit nations, to limit the risk of spread by those not yet showing symptoms.
    For a second day, there were no new cases in the outbreak epicentre of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, the National Health Commission said.
    Mainland China’s tally of infections stands at 80,967, with the death toll at 3,248 by Thursday, an increase of three from the previous day.
    Globally, 245,000 people have been infected and more than 10,000 have died.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Gao Liangping, Brenda Goh, David Stanway, Thomas Suen, Zhang Yan, and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez)

3/20/2020 U.S. to Iran: Coronavirus won’t save you from sanctions by Arshad Mohammed, Daphne Psaledakis and Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Members of firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
as they disinfect the streets, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in
Tehran, Iran March 18, 2020. Picture taken March 18, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.
    Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by coronavirus, with its death toll climbing to 1,284 and one person dying from it every 10 minutes and 50 becoming infected every hour, the health ministry said.
    The United States, which argues that its “maximum pressure” campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear, missile and regional activities does not stop the flow of humanitarian goods, imposed new sanctions this week.
    The Trump administration blacklisted five companies based in the United Arab Emirates, three in mainland China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa for trade in Iran’s petrochemicals.
    “Washington’s increased pressure against Iran is a crime against humanity,” an Iranian official told Reuters.    “All the world should help each other to overcome this disease.”
    Some analysts suggested the Trump administration should do more to speed the flow of humanitarian goods into Iran, though they saw little evidence to suggest this was in the offing.
    “Our policy of maximum pressure on the regime continues,” Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iranian Affairs, told reporters.    “U.S. sanctions are not preventing aid from getting to Iran.”
    On Monday, China called on the United States to give Iran sanctions relief for humanitarian reasons but U.S. officials, foreign diplomats and analysts saw no signs of this.
    “While Iran is an epicenter of this virus outbreak and facing true economic catastrophe … there will be no relief on sanctions,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for a New American Security think tank.
    Hook said Washington sent a diplomatic note to Tehran offering help with coronavirus “and it was quickly rejected.”
    He also blamed Iran’s leadership for its coronavirus woes, saying that Iran “spends billions on terrorism and foreign wars” and that if it spent one tenth of this “on a better health care system, the Iranian people would have been much better off.”
    In what might be a gesture to Washington, Tehran released U.S. citizen Michael White from its custody though he must stay in Iran.
    Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution think tank said Iran allowing White or other detained U.S. citizens to fly home might appeal to President Donald Trump.
    “I still don’t believe this administration wants to provide a lot of leeway to the Iranian authorities but that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t be looking for every opportunity to” get medical supplies into Iran, she said.
    The outbreak in Iran was likely to spread as Iranians travel for the Nowruz new year’s celebration, she added, saying this could hurt U.S. security partners across the region.
    “Iran is Italy, only on steroids,” Maloney said, alluding to the outbreak in Italy, whose coronavirus death toll on Thursday overtook that of China, where the virus emerged.
    Mark Dubowitz, an Iran hawk with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies policy group, said Washington could send medical goods to Iran via private groups but should not ease sanctions.
    “At the very time Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq are killing Americans and Brits and others, this would be exactly the wrong time to be providing any kind of economic relief to the regime,” he said, referring to last week’s attack on a military camp in Iraq that killed one British and two U.S. personnel.
    “We should be sending medical supplies directly to Iranians through non-governmental organizations and bypass the regime.”
    Iranians appeared to have mixed feelings about whether Washington was making its outbreak worse.
    “America’s sanctions are preventing Iran from getting necessary medicine and equipment to fight against this virus.    They have to lift it,” said dentist Arash Hosseini, 52, in Tehran.
    But Twitter user @fnikjoo, suggested sanctions relief would just provide “Money to support more terrorists in the region and beyond.”
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Writing By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

3/20/2020 South Korean union leaders rally as talks stall over military cost-sharing burden by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this July 6, 2016, file photo, South Korea and U.S. marines participate in a joint military exercise
between South Korea and the United States in Pohang, South Korea. (Kim Joon-bum/Yonhap via AP, File)
    Union leaders rallied on Friday amid a seventh round of military co-funding talks between the U.S. and South Korea.
    The head of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions has criticized the negotiations, claiming the U.S. has taken advantage of South Korea’s defense needs and is essentially holding workers hostage.
    This came after bilateral military talks ended in Los Angeles this week without a deal.    Approximately 9,000 South Korean workers face an unpaid furlough slated for March 31st, when funds from a previous deal will run out.
    “Once unpaid leave for 9,000 people begins, not only will it threaten the survival of our South Korean workers, but it will also put the USFK’s mission in a vacuum,” stated Korean Employees Union Chairman Choi Ung-Sik.    “A vacuum in the USFK’s duty is a threat to South Korea’s security.”
    President Trump has asked their government to pay as much as $4 billion, while 28,000 U.S. troops remain stationed throughout the country.
    Under a previous agreement, Seoul contributed about $900 million.

3/20/2020 China apologizes to whistleblower doctor who warned of coronavirus in early 2020 by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Feb. 7, 2020, file photo, people wearing masks attend a vigil for Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who was
reprimanded for warning about the outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
    The Chinese government has issued a “solemn apology” to the family of a doctor who sounded the alarm on the coronavirus at the beginning of the year.    On Friday, reports stated the government exonerated and apologized to the family of Dr. Li Wenliang, who passed away from the virus about six weeks ago.
    The 34-year-old had been accused of spreading rumors when he warned of the emerging virus.    He was also threatened with arrest by police in Wuhan.
    By the time he died, the virus had already killed hundreds
.
    News of his death sparked worldwide anger against the communist government and its control over information.    President Trump recently rebuked the country for withholding information about the virus, which he said “could have been stopped in its tracks.”
    He went on to say his travel ban on China prevented tens of thousands of new cases of coronavirus in the U.S.

3/21/2020 Iran president expects coronavirus restrictions to ease within three weeks
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a televised speech on the occasion of the
Iranian New Year Nowruz, praising doctors and nurses for their courage in fighting against the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tehran, Iran March 20, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak in the country, including travel restrictions, will apply for only two to three weeks as he expects the crisis to ease by then.
    Iran “has to do everything necessary to return economic production to normal,” he said in comments broadcast on state TV.    He also accused “counter-revolutionaries” of plotting to shut down economic production.
    Iran is one of the countries most affected by the pandemic outside of China, with more than 1,400 deaths so far, and nearly 20,0000 confirmed infections.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Jane Wardell and Frances Kerry)

3/21/2020 China’s imported coronavirus cases jump as students, expats flock home by Engen Tham and Yilei Sun
A traveller wearing protective clothing and a full-face mask goes up an escalator after leaving Beijing Railway Station as the
country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), China, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported a record rise in imported coronavirus cases on Friday as expatriates returned home from the United States and Europe, sparking fears of a second wave of infections just as the country recovers from the initial outbreak.
    All 41 of the new confirmed cases in China were imported from overseas, the country’s National Health Commission said on Saturday, bringing the total number of such cases to 269. There were no locally transmitted cases, for the third consecutive day.
    Beijing and Shanghai were the main entry points for the returnees, many of whom are students studying abroad, according to official reports.    They have come back after many campuses in the United States and Europe shut down to stem rapidly rising infection rates there.
    Also returning in a flight to safety were China-based expats, as businesses begin to reopen.
    While there is no reported transmission of the virus from people arriving from abroad to local communities, authorities across China are tightening public health measures as imported cases rose for a third day nationwide.
    The influx of infections from overseas remains modest, but they present a potential threat to Chinese authorities keen to restart factories and get consumers to spend again.
    Analysts have slashed forecasts for China’s first-quarter gross domestic product to levels not seen since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, with all sectors of the economy hammered by the coronavirus outbreak this year.
    Beijing and Shanghai have set up stringent testing and screen protocols for all international arrivals by air.    Infected people have also entered China through the major transport hub of Shenzhen, including people making their way back to the mainland from Hong Kong by land.
    The southern provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and the eastern provinces of Shandong and Zhejiang, as well as Shaanxi and Sichuan have all reported cases.
    Guangdong’s health commission said on Saturday travelers who enter Guangdong province from abroad will be subject to a 14-day quarantine on arrival either in personal residences or at a centralized quarantine center at the expense of the traveler.
RECOVERY
    The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 81,008 at the end of Friday, the health authority said.    The death toll was 3,255, up by seven, a much slower rate than at the height of the crisis.
    The lack of locally transmitted cases for the third day running underscored a recovery that has prompted officials to relax restrictions, even in the virus epicenter of Wuhan, which was responsible for all seven new deaths.
    City officials said last week that residents could walk around their compounds, loosening restrictions that had kept them to their personal living areas.
    On Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency said commercial outlets in residential communities and villages without existing cases of virus can resume business, citing the municipal bureau of commerce.
    The eastern city of Hangzhou, where internet giant Alibaba has its headquarters, said on Saturday that it will allow cinemas, libraries and museums to open, and will stop measuring people’s temperatures at hotels, subway stations and office buildings.
    The first phase of a clinical trial of a vaccine has kicked off, state-backed Science and Technology Daily reported on Saturday.
    The first batch of 36 volunteers, comprising Wuhan residents aged between 18 and 60, will undergo a 14-day quarantine at a centralized location.
(Reporting by Engen Tham in Shanghai and Yilei Sun in Beijing; Additional reporting by Min Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Leslie Adler and Jane Wardell)

3/21/2020 Central Asia tightens restrictions as coronavirus spreads
A worker wearing a protective face mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) carries meat at
a local food market, also known as bazaar, in Almaty, Kazakhstan March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Authorities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have announced fresh restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus as the number of cases in Central Asia snowballed.
    In Kazakhstan, where 53 cases have been confirmed, authorities said on Saturday they were closing all parks in Almaty, the country’s biggest city, which was this week put on lockdown along with capital city Nur-Sultan.
    Over the last two days, police and National Guard servicemen have also locked down several residential buildings in Almaty where infected people lived.
    In Uzbekistan, with 33 confirmed cases, the government said late on Friday it was shutting down all entertainment venues and tea houses and banning large-scale wedding parties and other family ceremonies.
    In Turkmenistan, which has so far reported no coronavirus cases, locals traveling to and from the capital, Ashgabat, said that officials at checkpoints installed around the city informed them that non-essential travel was banned.
    The Turkmen government, which earlier suspended all international flights, has made no official announcements on the scope and duration of the new restrictions.
    The government of Kyrgyzstan, where the number of coronavirus cases doubled overnight to 12, said on Saturday it was considering declaring a state of emergency from Sunday and has already locked down the provincial districts where the infection had been diagnosed.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent, Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek and Marat Gurt in Ashgabat; editing by Jane Wardell and Alexander Smith)

3/21/2020 Thailand to close malls as coronavirus cases jump
Royal Thai Army soldiers sanitize in the city due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak in Bangkok, Thailand March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand announced it will close malls in the capital Bangkok as the country reported its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections on Saturday.
    Malls, except for supermarkets, will be closed for 22 days beginning March 22 to April 12 in a bid to curb the outbreak of the coronavirus, Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang said in a statement.
    “For malls, only the areas that sell food and goods that are used in daily life, will be open,” Aswin said in a Facebook live broadcast.
    Long queues and crowds of shoppers were seen at a grocery store in downtown Bangkok with their carts full of dried goods, food and medicine.
    The governor asked the public not to panic and hoard goods.
    “Please don’t be alarmed, I guarantee that you will be able to buy food and goods sufficiently,” he said.
    Restaurants will be open for takeout orders and pharmacies will also remain open.    The measures come as Thailand reported 89 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, bringing its tally to 411, with the majority of cases in Bangkok.    The new cases were linked to earlier infections from a boxing match, an entertainment complex and a religious gathering in neighboring Malaysia, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a Public Health Ministry spokesman, said.
    Boxing stadiums, beauty salons and arcades were also included in the closure announcement.
    Those found violating the order face up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 100,000 baht.
    Bangkok will also extend the closure of schools and bars for another 22 days.
    Budget airlines also began suspending service.
    Thai AirAsia is temporarily suspending its international flights from March 22 to April 25.
    Thai Lion Air on Friday said it would suspend international and domestic flights from March 25 to April 30.
    Of the patients infected, 366 are currently being treated, while 44 have recovered.
    Thailand has reported one death in the outbreak.
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panu Wongcha-um; editing by Jane Wardell)

3/21/2020 South Korea says detected North Korea missile fire ‘inapproriate’ amid coronavirus by Joyce Lee
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides artillery fire competition in this image released
by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 20, 2020. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired two projectiles that appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles on Saturday, South Korea’s military said, calling the action “highly inappropriate” given the global coronavirus pandemic.
    The suspected missiles were fired around 6:45-50 a.m. KST into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula from around Sonchon, North Pyongan province, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.    Sonchon is above Pyongyang, near the northwest corner of the Korean peninsula.
    “Such military action by North Korea is highly inappropriate at a time when COVID-19 is causing difficulties worldwide,” the JCS said, calling for an “immediate stop.”
    The missile launch came just hours after North Korea confirmed it would go ahead with a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, its rubber-stamp legislature, in Pyongyang.
    As an event that gathers almost 700 of the country’s top officials in one spot, analysts said it was a show of strength amid the virus outbreak.
    “If it goes ahead, it would be the ultimate show of (North Korea’s) confidence in managing the coronavirus situation,” Rachel Minyoung Lee, of the North Korea monitoring website NK News, said on Twitter this week.
    North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of the coronavirus, though a top U.S. military official said last week he is “fairly certain” there were infections in North Korea.     It has imposed strict border controls, but is viewed by aid organizations as especially vulnerable to an outbreak as its health system lacks resources and because of international sanctions.     “Not only does Pyongyang wish to avoid signs of weakness during the coronavirus crisis, it wants its people to believe that North Korea stands in a position of relative strength,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
    “Kim can improve military capabilities … at little cost because international aid is unlikely to be canceled after these tests, China and Russia refuse to tighten sanctions, and the U.S. and South Korea are focused on defense cost-sharing negotiations and COVID-19.”
    Saturday’s missile launch followed two incidents earlier this month, when North Korea launched short-range missiles and multiple projectiles according to South Korea’s military, drawing U.S. and Chinese appeals for Pyongyang to return to talks on ending its nuclear and missile programs.
    State media KCNA also said on Saturday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided an artillery fire competition between combined units of the North Korean army on Friday, issuing photos of him watching with high-ranking military officers, all unmasked.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Tom Brown, Leslie Adler, Daniel Wallis and Jane Wardell)

3/21/2020 Australia’s Bondi Beach closed after crowds defy coronavirus rules by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Beachgoers enjoy a sunny day at Bondi Beach despite growing concerns about the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian officials closed Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach on Saturday after thousands of people flocked there in recent days, defying social distancing orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, amid an unusually warm autumn spell.
    Health Minister Greg Hunt said the crowds on the country’s most famous strip of sand were “unacceptable” as he reported the number of infections across Australia had risen sharply. Hunt confirmed 874 cases, but Australian media later reported the tally exceeded 1,000 when updates from several states were taken into account.    The death toll was seven, unchanged from a day earlier.    New South Wales state police minister David Elliott announced Bondi’s closure, warning “this is going to become the new norm” if people did not comply with regulations that prohibit more than 500 people gathering at a non-essential event.
    “This is not something we are doing because we are the fun police,” Elliott said in a televised news conference.    “This is about saving lives.”
    “We will be closing down the type of iconic activities that unfortunately we’ve come … to love and adore about our lifestyle.”    Elliott said lifeguards who patrol the state’s many beaches will conduct head counts and, if there are more than 500 people at any one location, the beach will be closed and people ordered to move on.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced stricter rules on socializing on Friday, requiring indoor venues such as bars and restaurants to maintain a density of no more than one person per four square meters (43 sq f) of floor space.    The overall limits of 100 people gathered indoors and 500 outdoors remained in force.
    In Victoria, the state government responded to public pressure and revoked an exemption given to Crown Resort Ltd’s Melbourne casino from those tougher rules.
    “We are practicing what we were told to do,” a Crown representative told Reuters by telephone.
    Crown and Sydney rival Star Entertainment Group Ltd are licensed to operate a total of more than gaming 4,000 machines.    Both introduced social distancing measures last week, including switching off every second electronic gaming machine and table, but their shares have tumbled on concerns about their future revenue.
    The Australian response to the coronavirus pandemic, while unprecedented, has been less severe than in parts of Europe and North America where higher rates of infection have led to more sweeping public lock downs.
    Schools in Australia remain open, with Morrison citing medical advice despite some criticism of that tactic.
    However, Victoria state partially broke that national agreement on Saturday when it ordered public schools in the state to close for two days next week to trial the viability of online education for pupils.
. (Reporting by Lidia Kelly; editing by Jane Wardell)

3/21/2020 Panic buying, lockdowns may drive world food inflation: FAO, analysts
FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at an empty shelf with a sign announcing the rationing of toilet paper to one pack per person at a Rewe grocery
store in Potsdam, Germany, March 20, 2020, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Lockdowns and panic food buying due to the coronavirus pandemic could ignite world food inflation even though there are ample supplies of staple grains and oilseeds in key exporting nations, a senior economist at FAO and agricultural analysts said.
    The world’s richest nations poured unprecedented aid into the global economy as coronavirus cases ballooned across Europe and the United States, with the number of deaths in Italy outstripping those in mainland China, where the virus originated.
    With over 270,000 infections and more than 11,000 deaths, the epidemic has stunned the world and drawn comparisons with periods such as World War Two and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
    “All you need is panic buying from big importers such as millers or governments to create a crisis,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, chief economist at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
    “It is not a supply issue, but it is a behavioral change over food security,” he told Reuters by phone from Rome, the FAO headquarters.    “What if bulk buyers think they can’t get wheat or rice shipments in May or June?    That is what could lead to a global food supply crisis.”
    Graphic: Stocks of global crop staples – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/9160/9141/GlobalStocksofFoodStaples.png
    Consumers across the world from Singapore to the United States have queued at super markets in recent weeks to stock up on items ranging from rice and hand sanitizers to toilet paper.
    The global benchmark Chicago wheat futures rose more than 6% this week, the biggest weekly gain in nine months, while rice prices in Thailand, the world’s 2nd largest exporter of the grain, have climbed to the highest since August 2013.
    France’s grain industry is scrambling to find enough trucks and staff to keep factories and ports running as the panic buying of pasta and flour coincides with a surge in wheat exports.
    Restrictions imposed by some European Union countries at their borders with other member states in response to the pandemic are also disrupting food supplies, representatives of the industry and farmers said.
    However, global wheat stocks at the end of the crop marketing year in June are projected to rise to 287.14 million tonnes, up from 277.57 million tonnes a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates.
Graphic: Stocks of crop and food staples – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/9161/9142/StackCropStapleStocks.png
    World rice stocks are projected at 182.3 million tonnes as compared with 175.3 million tonnes a year ago.
FOOD IN THE RIGHT PLACE
    Logistics are likely to be a major global issue, analysts said.     “There is about 140 million tonnes of corn that goes in ethanol in the United States and some of that can used for food as it won’t be needed for fuel, given the drop in oil prices,” said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at brokerage IKON Commodities     “The concern is having food at the right time in the right place.”     Asian buyers were inactive this week with uncertainty looming in the market.     “We are not sure about the demand.    What it is going to look like in June or July?” said one Singapore-based purchasing manager at a flour milling company that has operations across Southeast Asia.    “Restaurant business is down, and as a result demand is a bit soft right now.”
    Asian wheat importers, including the region’s top importer Indonesia, have been taking a bulk of the cargoes from the Black Sea region amid a global oversupply.
    Oil exporting nations in the Middle East, which are also net grain importers, are likely to feel more financial pain with crude losing more than 60% of its value this year.
    “Net oil exporters’ capacity to buy grains has dropped given the fall in oil prices and depreciation in currencies,” said FAO’s Abbassian.
    “There will be less capacity to take policy actions to boost economies.”
(Reporting by Naveen Thukral; Additiobal reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat in BANGKOK Editing by Gavin Maguire and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/21/2020 South Korea advises 15-day facilities suspension as experts prepare for ‘long battle’ against coronavirus by Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing masks are seen behind South Korean soldiers doing quarantine works, following the rise in
confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Saturday advised its public to close facilities and forgo socializing for 15 days, keeping to its policy of voluntary social distancing but warning of consequences if the rules are not followed to slow the coronavirus outbreak.
    The country reported 147 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, jumping from the previous day’s 87, and experts noted the need to prepare for a “long battle” as concerns of imported cases and new outbreaks around small clusters persisted.
    Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a televised address the government strongly recommended religious, sports and entertainment facilities suspend operations, and people avoid socializing and travel for the next 15 days.
    If facilities do not conform to rules while operating, the government will order gatherings to disperse.
    “In the event of failure to comply with the administrative order, we will actively take all possible measures as stipulated by law, including the shutdown of the facilities and indemnity claims,” Chung said.
    Saturday’s new cases bring the country’s total to 8,799.    The cumulative number of deaths associated with the virus also rose to 104.
    The daily tally marked the 10th day in a row that the country has posted new infections in the mid-100s or below, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).    South Korea has seen a downward trend in new cases from the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb. 29.
    Out of the 147 new cases, 109 were from South Korea’s fourth-largest city, Daegu, and the adjoining North Gyeongsang Province, where 86% of all South Korean cases have been so far.    More than 165 cases in the region were spread in and from hospitals for the elderly, KCDC data showed.
    But other regions saw increases as well, including 15 new cases in Seoul and six detected while entering the country from abroad.
    “You may feel that the current situation has improved a lot compared to the past, but… we continue to see group infection, inflows from foreign countries, mass outbreaks at various workplaces,” Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, said at a briefing.
    Yoon cited experts as saying that more arrangements in structural social distancing and medical systems are needed to “prepare for a long battle” as coronavirus spreads globally, but said South Korea has not considered extreme forms of travel restrictions that other countries have taken.
    Prime Minister Chung said earlier on Saturday up to 3.8 trillion won ($3.03 billion) in disaster management funds may be used for small businesses and disadvantaged people specifically for coronavirus-related difficulties.    South Korea will hold a general election on April 15.
($1 = 1,254.4500 won)
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Gerry Doyle)

3/21/2020 Iran’s coronavirus deaths rise to 1,556, infections exceed 20,000: health ministry
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a televised speech on the occasion of the
Iranian New Year Nowruz, praising doctors and nurses for their courage in fighting against the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Tehran, Iran March 20, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose by more than 100 to 1,556 on Saturday and the total number of people infected now exceeds 20,000, a health ministry official said.
    Iran, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic outside China, had on Friday reported a death toll of 1,433 and a total number of confirmed infections of 19,644.
    The total number of people diagnosed with the disease stood at 20,610 on Saturday, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on state TV.
    Jahanpur warned that coronavirus cases would rise steeply unless people refrain from traveling during the two-week Iranian New Year holiday, which started yesterday.
    “If people take it lightly and think that the coronavirus outbreak is over, and if urban and inter-city traffic and gatherings in resorts and natural parks increase … then in one to two weeks we will see a new peak of the disease,” he said according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
    President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak, including travel restrictions, will apply for only two to three weeks, expecting the crisis to ease by then.
    Iran “has to do everything necessary to return economic production to normal,” he said in comments broadcast on state TV.    He also accused “counter-revolutionaries” of plotting to shut down economic production.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Writing by Maher Chmatyelli; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Holmes)

3/21/2020 Poor Indians flee to villages as coronavirus measures take heavy toll by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Prashant Waydande
Migrant workers and their families board an overcrowded passenger train, after government imposed restrictions on public gatherings
in attempts to prevent spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mumbai, India, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Prashant Waydande
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Thousands of poor city migrants whose livelihoods have collapsed due to India’s coronavirus measures headed back to their villages on Saturday, raising fears that the exodus could carry the virus to the countryside.
    About one fifth of India’s 271 confirmed coronavirus cases has been reported in the western state of Maharashtra — home to Mumbai, the country’s largest city and economic powerhouse. So far, India has registered four deaths due to the virus.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged Indians to stay at home to fight the outbreak. Maharashtra state authorities ordered on Friday the closure of all shops and offices, apart from those providing essential services, until March 31.
    For Indians who drive rickshaws or run food stalls, the economic shock of such control measures has been huge, pushing them to leave for family homes where they typically do not pay rent and food is cheaper.
    “Work has stopped.    I’ll go back and work on the farm,” said Rakesh Kumar Gupta, 40, who sells mosquito nets and was heading back to his family house in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
    On Saturday, hundreds of people, many young men wearing masks and lugging backpacks, jostled in long queues to board trains at Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus station.
    India’s state-run railway operator laid on 17 special train services starting on Friday to ferry people out of the Mumbai area to eastern and northern India, spokesman Shivaji Sutar said.
    Health specialists say large-scale population shifts to rural areas could hasten the spread of coronavirus in India, a country of 1.3 billion people with weak public health care – especially in the countryside.
    India has about 120 million migrant laborers, according to labor rights group Aajiveeka.
    “This really is the beginning of community spread, assuming there haven’t been forerunners,” said Dr. Rajib Dasgupta, a professor of community health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
    The Indian Railways spokesman said they were screening passengers and had trained workers on board in case of emergencies.    But anxious travelers were cramming into overcrowded trains, according to a Reuters witness, likely increasing the chances of infection.
    Highlighting the risk, the Ministry of Railways on Saturday tweeted that a dozen people who had traveled by train in the last few days had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.
    “Passengers are advised to avoid non-essential travel for the safety of fellow citizens,” the ministry added.
    India’s Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    The virus is underlining the difficult trade-offs countries must make when trying to contain the pandemic, with many fearing that India’s poorest people will be severely hit.
    “Some people will die of the virus.    The rest of us will die of hunger,” said taxi driver Sanjay Sharma on an empty Mumbai street, adding he would travel to the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, where his family owns a small apple orchard.
(Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Euan Rocha in Mumbai and Aftab Ahmed in New Delhi; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Helen Popper)

[KHAMENEI YOU ARE THE ONE WHO IS STRANGE THE U.S. IS A CHRISTIAN NATION AND WE HELP THE NEEDY EVEN WHEN THEY ARE A THREAT IN HOPE YOUR IDEOLOGY WILL HAVE SOME KINDNESS IN RETURN IN THAT WE ARE ALL PEOPLE UNDER ONE TRUE GOD WHO MAY NOT BE KIND TO YOU IN THE FUTURE.].
3/22/2020 Khamenei says U.S. offer to help Iran fight coronavirus is strange
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech on the occasion of the
Iranian New Year Nowruz, in Tehran, Iran March 20, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The offer by the United States to help Iran fight the coronavirus pandemic is strange, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech on Sunday, describing U.S. leaders as “charlatans.”
    Despite heightened tensions between the longtime foes, Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to Iran while it struggles with the coronavirus outbreak.
    Iran is the most-affected country in the Middle East with over 1,500 coronavirus deaths and 20,610 infected people.
    “Several times Americans have offered to help Iran to contain the virus … You are accused of creating this virus.    I do not know whether it is true, but it is strange that you want to help Iran,” Khamenei said.
    “Aside from the fact that you have shortages in your fight against the virus, what if you give us a drug that will help the virus to remain in Iran permanently?
    Khamenei, an anti-U.S. hardliner, said the Islamic Republic had the capability to overcome “any kind of crisis and challenges, including the coronavirus outbreak.”
    Tensions have been running high between Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
    Frictions increased when Trump ordered a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.    Iran retaliated by hitting U.S. targets in Iraq on Jan. 8.
    Our number one enemy is America.    It is the most wicked, sinister enemy of Iran … its leaders are charlatans,” Khamenei said.
    Iranian authorities have blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering its efforts to curb the outbreak and called for the restrictions to be lifted.    Washington has refused to lift sanctions.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/22/2020 China scrambles to curb rise in imported coronavirus cases by Cheng Leng and Tony Munroe
A woman wearing a protective mask looks at blossoms in a park on a sunny day in Beijing as the country is hit
by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), China, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Sunday reported 46 new cases of coronavirus, the fourth straight day with an increase, with all but one of those imported from overseas, and further stepped up measures to intercept cases from abroad as the outbreak worsens globally.
    While China says it has drastically reduced the number of domestically transmitted cases – the one reported on Sunday was the first in four days – it is seeing a steady rise in imported cases, mostly from Chinese people returning from overseas.
    In a sign of how seriously China is taking the threat of imported cases, all international flights due to arrive in Beijing starting Monday will first land at another airport, where passengers will undergo virus screening, government agencies said on Sunday, in an expansion of existing measures.
    International flights that were scheduled to arrive in the capital will land instead at one of 12 airports.    Passengers who clear screening will then be permitted to reboard the plane, which will then fly to Beijing, the regulator said.
    Separately, Shanghai and Guangzhou both announced that all arriving international passengers will undergo an RNA test to screen for coronavirus, expanding a program that previously only applied to those coming from heavily-hit countries.
    Among the new cases from abroad reported on Sunday, a record 14 were in the financial hub of Shanghai and 13 were in Beijing, a decline from 21 the previous day.
    The new locally transmitted case was in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou and was also the first known case where the infection of a local person was linked to the arrival of someone from overseas, according to Guangdong province.
    The latest figures from China’s National Health Commission bring total reported coronavirus cases in the country to 81,054, with 3,261 deaths, including six on Saturday.    On Saturday, China reported 41 new coronavirus cases for the previous day, all of them imported.
BACK TO A KIND OF NORMAL
    China is trying to revive an economy that is widely expected to contract deeply in the current quarter, with life slowly returning to normal in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, albeit with everyone wearing masks in public.
    Still, numerous shops and restaurants remain shut – many have gone out of business – and factories and other workplaces are still not operating at full capacity.
    On Sunday, a central bank official called for stepped-up global policy coordination to manage the economic impact of the pandemic.    He said China’s recent policy measures were gaining traction, and it has capacity for further action.
    Chen Yulu, a deputy governor at the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), also said he expects significant improvement in the Chinese economy in the second quarter.
    And while the virus will continue putting upward pressure on near-term consumer prices, there is no basis for long-term inflation or deflation, he told a news briefing.
    Globally, roughly 275,000 people have been infected with the virus, and more than 11,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally, with the number of deaths in Italy recently surpassing those in China.
    “Now I think the epidemic has been controlled. But this definitely doesn’t mean that it’s over,” said a 25-year-old woman surnamed He who works in the internet sector and was visiting the vast Summer Palace complex in Beijing on Saturday.
    “I’m willing to come out today but of course I am still afraid,” she told Reuters.
    The central province of Hubei, where the outbreak first emerged late last year in its capital Wuhan, reported its fourth straight day of no new cases.
    China has used draconian measures to contain the spread of the virus, including locking down Hubei province.
(Reporting by Cheng Leng and Tony Munroe; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing; Editing by Sam Holmes)

3/22/2020 Business, transport suspended in India during 14-hour lockdown for coronavirus by Abhirup Roy
A view shows Howrah bridge during a 14-hour long curfew to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in the country, in Kolkata, India, March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of millions of Indians stayed indoors on Sunday, heeding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to citizens to self-isolate as authorities battled to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus epidemic.
    At least 341 people have so far contracted the disease and four deaths have been reported in India due to the coronavirus, according to official data on Sunday.
    While the curfew was voluntary and not an outright ban on the movement of people, Modi’s national appeal for social distancing dramatically reduced the number of people taking to India’s densely crowded streets.
    Indian Railways, which carries more than 25 million commuters every day, said it has canceled all passenger train services until March 31.
    Firefighters in western India fumigated areas around closed markets, public squares and urban slum districts.
    Experts have warned that the country’s cases are growing at rates seen during the early stages of the outbreak in other countries, which subsequently reported exponential increases in infections.
    With over 1.3 billion people, India is trying to battle a pandemic with limited resources.
    Minutes before the self-imposed curfew kicked in, Modi said the curbs would help authorities better fight the COVID-19 menace.
    “The steps we take now will help in the times to come,” he said in the tweet.
    While the curfew will be relaxed by Sunday evening, authorities have declared lockdowns in many cities and suspended several rail and road transport services as fears of community transmission of the virus grew across India.
    “The curfew period has given us a chance to scale down each and every activity across India,” said a senior aide to Modi, adding that a more rigid approach could trigger protests or unrest.
    “A breakdown of law and order will be the worst thing to happen at this point of time,” he said on conditions of anonymity.
    In India’s financial capital, Mumbai, where millions of people depend on urban rail systems, only workers involved in essential services were allowed to travel on truncated services.
    Factories, large industrial parks and banks were declaring a shutdown or finding ways to minimize public movement in offices.
    Vegetable vendors and small tea shop owners were quietly closed down by local police and truck drivers were given free masks and sanitizers at check points on inter-state highways.
    State leaders urged citizens not to rush to villages to prevent the virus spread but tensions have mounted as angry laborers protested at some bus stations against sudden closures of basic transport services.
    Private events, such as weddings, and local elections were canceled.    The federal government was accelerating the production of masks and has allowed deodorant manufacturers to produce sanitizers.
    Modi has requested citizens to stand at balconies and near windows on Sunday evening to clap and ring bells to praise emergency personnel and sanitation workers who are on the frontlines in the fight against coronavirus.
    India has canceled most entry visas for people flying in from other countries.
    Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp launched a helpline number to ensure circulation of accurate information after India’s technology ministry asked it to ramp up vigilance to prevent spread of misinformation about the virus outbreak.
    With 400 million users, India is WhatsApp messenger’s biggest market.
(Additional reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal, Aditi Shah, Devjyot Ghoshal, in New Delhi, Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar, Jatindra Das in Bhubaneshwar, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad, Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, Subrata Nagchoudhury in Kolkata, Zarir Hussain in Guwahati; Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Sam Holmes and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/22/2020 Japan confirms 14 coronavirus cases at medical center: Kyodo
FILE PHOTO: Visitors wearing a protective face masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) look at blooming cherry
blossoms next to ropes cordonning off viewing parties at the area at Ueno park in Tokyo, Japan March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Oita prefecture confirmed two new coronavirus infections at a medical center on Sunday, bringing the total at the facility to 14 and making it a suspected cluster, Kyodo newswire said.
    Two female nurses who work at the Oita Medical Center, one in her 20s and another in her 50s, were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus although they showed only mild symptoms, Kyodo said.
    The new cases follow 12 others confirmed at the medical center, including nurses and doctors.
    The southwestern prefecture is conducting virus tests for about 600 staff and patients who are or were hospitalized, the newswire said, with the view that they may be linked to a cluster.
    Japan has recorded 1,055 cases of domestically transmitted cases of coronavirus as of Sunday, up 40 from the previous day, according to public broadcaster NHK.    The number passed the 1,000 milestone on Saturday as the nation battles to avoid a health crisis ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
    The official national tally does not include the 712 cases of infections from a cruise ship moored near Tokyo last month.
    Kyodo also reported on Sunday that Osaka, in western Japan, confirmed that a man in his 70s with the coronavirus has died, while Gunma, in eastern Japan, said an elderly man with the virus has died.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Sam Holmes and Christopher Cushing)

3/22/2020 North Korea says Trump offered virus cooperation in letter to Kim
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they meet at the
demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea on Saturday welcomed what it said was a letter from U.S. President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying it was a sign of “the special and very firm personal relations” between the two leaders despite recent frictions.
    A senior Trump administration official confirmed Trump sent the letter and said it was “consistent with his efforts to engage global leaders during the ongoing pandemic.”
    The president looks forward to continued communications with Chairman Kim, the official said.
    Since Trump held a third summit with Kim last June and briefly stepped into North Korea from the demilitarized zone with South Korea, no progress has been made on the U.S. president’s bid to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
    North Korea has attempted a series of missile launches, including the launch of two apparent short-range missiles in the last day or so, as it tries to pressure the United States and its allies to lift economic sanctions.
    North Korea state media KCNA said Kim had received a letter from Trump in which the U.S. president said he was impressed by the North Korean leader’s efforts to defend his people from the coronavirus.
    Trump “expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work, saying that he was impressed by the efforts made by the Chairman to defend his people from the serious threat of the epidemic,” KCNA reported in a statement carried by Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.     It did not say when the letter was received.
    The letter said that despite good personal relations between the leaders, “if impartiality and balance are not provided and unilateral and greedy intention is not taken away, the bilateral relations will continue to aggravate.”
    The report came after North Korea’s missile test on Saturday , which prompted South Korea to urge an immediate halt of “inappropriate action” in the face of the global pandemic.
    In a separate dispatch on Sunday, KCNA said it was a test of a new tactical guided weapon, overseen by Kim Jong Un.
    The test “clearly proved the characters of different flight trajectories and falling angles, accuracy of guided shells and their power,” KCNA said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech and Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chris Reese)

3/22/2020 Indonesia turns athletes village to emergency hospital as coronavirus cases rise
FILE PHOTO: Indonesian Red Cross Society personnel walk in protective suits during an operation to
spray disinfectant at the Kemayoran Athletes Village, to prevent the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia has turned its “Athlete’s Village” built for the 2018 Asian Games into an emergency hospital with a capacity to hold more than 4,000 patients, authorities said on Sunday, as coronavirus cases and deaths in the country rose.
    Four out of 10 towers in the Athlete’s Village, located in the country’s capital city, have been converted into a medical facility that would house more than 7,000 people, including a coronavirus task force, medical staff and up to 4,208 patients.
    “The ministry of state-owned enterprises will provide supplies for the emergency hospital to handle COVID-19, be it healthcare equipment, medicine, personal protection gear and masks,” the minister of state-owned enterprises, Erick Thohir, said in a statement.
    On Saturday, Indonesia confirmed 81 new cases and 6 more deaths due to the virus, bringing the total number of cases to 450 and deaths to 38.    Indonesia has the highest coronavirus death toll in Southeast Asia.
    The governor of Jakarta declared a state of emergency in the Indonesian capital for the next two weeks over the outbreak.
    Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has faced criticism from medical workers for a slow start to testing in an archipelago that stretches wider than the continental United States.
    Depending on how the coronavirus spreads in Indonesia, authorities can convert more towers in the Athlete’s Village into medical facilities, officials said.
    “If all 10 towers are used, then 20,000 patients can be accommodated,” a ministry of public works and housing spokesman told Reuters.
    The ratio of the number of dead to the number of recorded cases in Indonesia at 8.7% is among the highest in the world – even higher than 8.3% in Italy.    Medical experts say it is a likely indicator that many cases have gone undetected.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writiing by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/22/2020 Army patrols Malaysian streets as coronavirus cases spike by Joseph Sipalan
FILE PHOTO: Police officers wearing protective masks stand guard outside National Mosque, after all
mosques in the country suspended Friday prayers during the movement control order due to the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia deployed the army on Sunday to enforce a two-week curb on travel in a country that has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, most of them linked to a mass religious gathering.
    The country has so far reported nine deaths and 1,183 infections.    Southeast Asia has recorded a total of more than 3,200 positive cases, with the other big centers being Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
    Malaysia called in the army after some people continued to defy the restrictions that came into force on Wednesday, the defense minister said in a briefing after the deployment started at noon.
    “Even though police have said 90% compliance now, 10% is not a small number,” Ismail Sabri Yaakob said.
    “Among the things that will be done jointly by the police and army include road blocks.    Likewise for patrols in urban and rural areas, maintaining security at hospitals, managing areas that are congested and may not abide by the order such as markets.”
    The four-day Islamic gathering held at a mosque near the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is connected to 60% of all the cases in the country, whose tally is only behind those of China and South Korea in Asia.
    Worshippers who attended the event are cooperating with authorities, an organizer said in a statement, after the government said on Thursday that it had yet to trace 4,000 of the 14,500 Malaysian residents who attended.
    The health ministry said on Saturday it expected the number of cases to spike next week as it tried to track down unscreened participants of the Feb. 27-March 1 congregation.
    “After hearing reports of thousands or participants yet to be screened, many had returned to their district health departments or hospitals repeatedly until their names and details were recorded,” Abdullah Cheong, a leader of the event’s organizing team, said on Saturday.
    “We are prepared and have given our full commitment to help the authorities deal with the pandemic.”
    He also said 12,500 people attended the gathering, including foreigners and 200 Rohingya refugees.    The government has put the number at 16,000.
(Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Christopher Cushing)

3/22/2020 Taiwan to suspend airline passenger transit in virus fight
FILE PHOTO: Travelers arrive at the airport as the Taiwanese government announced a ban for most
foreigners entering the island, as part of preventive measures against coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at Taoyuan International airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan further tightened travel controls on Sunday to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, suspending the transit of airline passengers through Taiwan from March 24 until April 7, as it announced 16 new cases bringing the total to 169.
    While Taiwan had in the early stages of the outbreak been successful at keeping the number of cases relatively low thanks to a good screening and contact tracing system, numbers have spiked due to an influx of infected people from abroad.
    Taiwan has already stopped all foreigners apart from residence permit holders from coming to the island and is quarantining for 14 days everyone arriving on the island.
    From midnight on Tuesday, airline passengers will no longer be allowed to transit via Taiwan, until April 7.
    The move is to “reduce the cross-border movement of people and lower the risk of disease transmission,” the government said in a statement.
    The ban will mostly affect Taiwan’s two main carriers, China Airlines and Eva Airways, which have in recent years marketed Taipei as a convenient and affordable transit airport, competing with Hong Kong and Singapore.
    Both airlines have massively cut back their flights due to the impact of the virus, but are still operating and have been busy bringing back Taiwanese from the worst affected parts of the world like Europe.
    Taiwan has strongly advised its citizens against all overseas travel.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Sam Holmes)

3/22/2020 Singapore to ban all short-term visitors in unprecedented virus crisis
FILE PHOTO: Commuters leave the Woodlands Causeway across to Singapore from Johor, hours before Malaysia
imposes a lockdown on travel due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Singapore March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore will not allow any short-term visitors to transit or enter the city-state in its latest measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus and to conserve its resources for citizens who are returning from other countries.
    The new measures announced on Sunday come a day after the city-state reported its first fatalities and it confirmed 47 new cases, taking its tally to 432.
    Some short-term visitors have continued to arrive even after Singapore imposed a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on anyone entering the country.
    Almost 80% of Singapore’s new cases over the past three days were imported.    Of the 39 imported cases reported on Saturday, six were of short-term visitors.
    “During this time we have to focus our resources on returning Singaporeans, because they are coming back in large numbers,” said Lawrence Wong, a minister who co-heads Singapore’s virus fighting task-force.
    The country will also limit the return and entry of work pass holders, including their dependents, to those who provide essential services such as healthcare and transport.
    Singapore issues different kinds of work passes for professionals to semi-skilled workers.    Holders of long-term visit passes (LTVP), given to people such as foreign spouses and parents of Singaporeans, will not be affected.
    “These are very significant moves, especially for a small and open economy like Singapore that has always been connected to the world,” Wong told reporters.    “But this is an unprecedented crisis.”
    The ban on short-term visitors effectively starts on Tuesday, and Wong said he could not say how long it would need to last as it would depend on the outbreak’s duration.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Sam Holmes)

3/22/2020 Taliban-Afghan government Skype call breathes life into peace process by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, speaks during a
debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban and the Afghan government held a “virtual” meeting on prisoner releases on Sunday, officials said, offering some hope of a breakthrough on a matter that has deadlocked the two sides and threatened a nascent peace process.
    The two sides have differed on the release of prisoners – the Afghan government wanting a phased and conditional release and the Taliban wanting all prisoners released in one go as envisaged in an agreement signed with the United States in Doha last month.
    The impasse threatened to derail a carefully negotiated peace process outlined in the agreement, including a pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan after over 18 years of fighting.
    The two sides spoke for over two hours in a Skype meeting facilitated by the United States and Qatar, officials said.
    “Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process, as stated in the U.S.-Taliban agreement,” U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted.
    “Everyone clearly understands the coronavirus threat makes prisoner releases that much more urgent,” he said, adding that “all sides conveyed their strong commitment to a reduction of violence, intra-Afghan negotiations, and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.”
    The Taliban had previously refused to speak to the Afghan government until all prisoners were released.
    “Both sides exchanged options on initial technical steps for the release of prisoners,” an Afghanistan National Security Council statement said, adding that a reduction in violence, direct talks as well as a permanent ceasefire were also discussed.
    The Afghan government and Taliban have clashed frequently in the last few days, including the storming of an Afghan military base on Friday that authorities blamed on the insurgent group.
    The Taliban’s Doha office spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, also confirmed the meeting on Twitter but stressed that the discussion was only about the release of prisoners.
(Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/22/2020 Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei spurns U.S. offer to help with COVID-19 pandemic by OAN Newsroom
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses
the nation on a televised speech, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Iran’s supreme leader has publicly spurned U.S. offers to save Iranian lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.    Ayatollah Khamenei recently called the U.S. untrustworthy and suggested the country wants to make Iranians sick by providing tainted medicine.
    Khamenei also vented conspiracy theories, suggesting COVID-19 originated outside of China.
    The leader’s remarks came after Iran’s health ministry announced an increase of 129 coronavirus related deaths on Sunday.    More than 1,000 new cases were reported within a 24-hour period.

Paramedics treat a patient infected with the new coronavirus, at a
hospital in Tehran, Iran, March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Mohammad Ghadamali)
    “Possibly, your medicine is a way to spread the virus more, you are not trustworthy,” stated Khamenei.    “It is possible that you prescribe a medicine, or bring it into the country, that would make the virus persist and prevent it from ending.”
    According to the country’s health ministry, about 68 percent of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths occurred in people aged over 60.
[Khamenei arrogance is so obvious that he would rather continue to let the Iranian people die from the virus than to accept help and the EU nations are having their own virus problem to help them.].

3/23/2020 Rouhani: U.S. should lift sanctions if it wants to help Iran amid coronavirus
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting of the Iranian government task force on the
coronavirus, in Tehran, Iran March 21, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States should lift sanctions if Washington wants to help Iran to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday, adding that Iran had no intention of accepting Washington’s offer of humanitarian assistance.
    “American leaders are lying … If they want to help Iran, all they need to do is to lift sanctions …. Then we can deal with the coronavirus outbreak,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.
    Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by coronavirus, with around 1,700 deaths, over 21,000 infected people and one person dying from the virus every 10 minutes, according to the health ministry.
    Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to its longtime foe.    But the country’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday rejected the offer.
    Tensions between the two countries have been running high since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
    Iranian authorities have blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering its efforts to curb the outbreak and Rouhani has urged Americans to call on their government to lift sanctions as Iran fights the coronavirus.
    “U.S. is NOT listening, impeding global fight against #COVID19.    The ONLY remedy: DEFY U.S. mass punishment. MORAL & PRAGMATIC imperative,” Tweeted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday.
    But the United States has sent Iran a blunt message: the spread of the virus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.
    “You have blocked Iran’s oil exports, you have stopped Iran’s banking transactions… Your help offer is the biggest lie in the history,” Rouhani said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kim Coghill and Toby Chopra)

3/23/2020 U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo arrives in Kabul to meet Afghan political rivals by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks to the media at
the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived on Monday in the Afghan capital, on a previously unannounced visit to help salvage a historic deal between Washington and the Taliban, struck in February but marred by a political feud.
    Pompeo will meet President Ashraf Ghani and longtime rival Abdullah Abdullah, who contests the result of a September presidential vote, raising the prospect of parallel governments that has paralysed selection of negotiating teams for talks.
    His visit is being watched closely for clues to whether it can resolve the weeks-long political deadlock.
    “We’ll see if…that would mean things are negotiated and they are ready for a final settlement,” said a diplomatic source in Kabul.
    Pompeo is scheduled to meet the men separately and also hold meetings with both together on Monday.
    A row over the release of prisoners and the politicians’ rivalry have hampered progress in mediation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which was not a party to the U.S.-Taliban deal, signed in Doha.
    The deal signed on Feb. 29 aimed to pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government, including a pact to withdraw foreign troops that would effectively end the United States’ longest war.
    But the Afghan government and the Taliban have not begun formal negotiation as planned, stymied in part by the bitter feud between Ghani and Abdullah, which has stalled appointment of a negotiation team to represent the Afghan government.
    Pompeo’s visit comes at a time when much global travel has been stalled by the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 300,000 and killed more than 14,000 globally.
    U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent much of his time in Kabul since the deal signing, made a plea to both sides last week to act fast on the release of prisoners, a condition the Taliban have set for the talks.
    Khalilzad said the pandemic added urgency for the release, illustrating how the outbreak is affecting one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy priorities.
    With 40 infections in Afghanistan, fears are growing that the thousands returning home from neighbouring Iran every day might fuel the outbreak in a nation with a public health network devastated by years of war.
    The Taliban and the Afghan government held a “virtual” meeting on prisoner releases on Sunday, officials said.
    In February, Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission announced incumbent Ghani as the winner of the presidential election, but Abdullah said he and his allies had won and insisted that he would form a government.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

3/23/2020 Pakistan’s first coronavirus death exposes nation’s vulnerability by Jibran Ahmad
FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand guard at a blocked road leading to Manga village after an
outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Marden, Pakistan March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Abdul Sattar
    PESHAWAR (Reuters) – When Saadat Khan, 50, returned to Pakistan on March 9 from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, he was greeted in his village with a rousing welcome and a grand feast attended by more than 2,000 people, many of whom embraced him warmly.
    On March 18, less than 10 days later, Khan died at an isolation center for coronavirus patients in the northwestern city of Mardan.    He died from COVID-19, the day his test results came back positive.
    Khan was Pakistan’s first fatality from a disease that is rapidly spreading through the country of 220 million people.    The virus has already infected over 317,000 people worldwide, and killed more than 13,000.
    The number of confirmed cases in Pakistan has soared to more than 750 from 22 last week, largely driven by a wave of pilgrims returning from Iran who Pakistani authorities said were inadequately tested and improperly isolated.    At least four people have died from the disease in Pakistan in the past week.
    Thousands of people now need to undergo the slow process of retesting, and authorities fear the number of cases could surge in coming days.
    Health experts say there is a lack of public awareness in Pakistan about the virus and that the cash-strapped government is ill-prepared to tackle its spread.    A shortage of quarantine facilities and testing labs have also hampered efforts to effectively deal with high-risk cases.
    In Sindh, Pakistan’s hardest-hit province, the situation is already grim, said Dr. Naseem Salahuddin, the head of department for infectious diseases at Indus Hospital in Karachi.    She said that the few hospitals equipped to handle COVID-19 cases in Karachi are either close to capacity or have shut their doors because they can’t handle the influx of suspected cases.
    “We’re likely to have a very big outbreak no matter what we do now,” she said.    “And we will not be equipped to handle the numbers.    There will be breakdowns at many levels.”    Better border controls and quarantine measures should have been instituted a lot earlier, she said.    “I think the cat’s now out of the bag.”
    Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s health minister, who said last week that some of Pakistan’s quarantine facilities had not been “ideal,” did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.    The provincial health minister in Khan’s home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also did not respond to a request for comment.
    Reuters interviewed three doctors involved in the case, as well as four people from Khan’s village, and reviewed medical case notes detailing his travel history.    Together, they provide a picture of Khan’s last days, and illustrate why the South Asian nation is rapidly becoming the latest hotbed of the fast-spreading disease.
FATEFUL JOURNEY
    In late February, Khan flew to Saudi Arabia to visit the holy city of Mecca for Umrah, a religious pilgrimage performed by millions of     Muslims from across the world each year.    Khan entered the country just before it shut its borders to Umrah pilgrims, in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19.
    Khan was in Saudi Arabia for two to three weeks, according to the doctors handling his case and an acquaintance from his village.
(GRAPHIC: Pakistan’s first fatality of COVID-19 may have endangered thousands – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-PAKISTAN/0100B5LF45P/Khan.jpg)
    Medical case notes, provided by one of Khan’s doctors, show that he departed from the kingdom’s Jeddah International Airport on March 8 via flight number PK736, which landed the following day at Peshawar International Airport, in northwest Pakistan.
    At least two people who knew Khan said he was already ill when he got on the plane and needed assistance on arrival in Pakistan.
    Despite Pakistan having identified its first confirmed cases of COVID-19 two weeks prior, the case notes state Khan was only asked to fill out a form and did not undergo a medical screening at the Peshawar airport.
    Khan did not mention any illness, and he would have escaped detection anyway if he had taken fever suppressors, said a Peshawar airport official who asked not to be named.
    Authorities are also scrambling to trace dozens of other passengers on flight PK736 that night, as well as airport staff who assisted Khan.
VILLAGE BANQUET
    Khan first visited a district hospital close to his village on March 16, complaining of cough, fever and breathing issues.    The doctor diagnosed him as a potential COVID-19 patient and had him tested for the virus.    The sample was sent to Islamabad for testing, according to the case notes reviewed by Reuters.
    While it is unclear if doctors could have forced Khan into quarantine, the case notes indicate he refused to be isolated.    Instead, he went home, where he lived with his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law, three daughters and four grandchildren.
    Hospital officials say Khan returned on March 17, when his symptoms intensified.    On March 18, test results confirmed he was infected with COVID-19, and he was moved to an isolation center, where he died the same day.
    It is the events before his death, though, that have worried medical officials and alarmed many residents of his village.
    On March 9, Khan was greeted with a mass gathering in his village, as is traditional in Pakistan when someone returns from Umrah.    According to local authorities, some 2,000 people were in attendance at the lunch – most of whom embraced Khan.
    Khan also ran a popular “medical clinic” in his village – though he wasn’t a qualified doctor, say local health officials.
    As is the case in many rural areas of Pakistan, people with just rudimentary medical knowledge often run such dispensaries to treat patients with ailments like fevers and colds, despite not having any qualifications.
    Khan had not resumed his practice on returning to Pakistan, but his sons ran it for him while he stayed at home in “self-quarantine,” health officials from the village told Reuters.
    However, they added, the “self-quarantine” involved his sons staying in the same room as him. The sons in turn also tended to dozens of patients at their father’s clinic during that period.
    Reuters was unable to speak with anyone in Khan’s family.
MASS PANIC
    There is mass panic in the village, local residents told Reuters via phone, adding that no one had taken the coronavirus threat seriously prior to this.
    “There are hundreds of people believed to have been infected but they are hiding and reluctant to go to hospital,” said Liaqat Ali Shah, a local social worker, adding that villagers feared being ostracized by the community and shunned by healthcare workers.
    The village, Union Council Mangah, was locked down following Khan’s death, according to an official directive from authorities.
    A complete lockdown was ordered “with immediate effect and there shall be no entry and no exit,” the order seen by Reuters read.
    The village of about 7,000 people, has been declared a mass quarantine zone, according to the provincial government, and testing has begun.
    But residents of Mangah say none of the officials surveying the area have testing kits with them.
    A medical worker on the ground said test kits were limited so they couldn’t test everyone and were only testing patients displaying symptoms.
    “There’s a virtual lockdown in the village and movement is restricted,” a school teacher in the village, told Reuters via phone.
    Despite this, at least four people showing symptoms, including two members of Khan’s family, are now missing and have gone underground, health officials told Reuters.
    All four had tested positive for COVID-19, the officials said.
(Writing by Gibran Peshimam and Euan Rocha; Editing by Philip McClellan)

3/23/2020 Japan to spend over $137 billion as virus hits economy, BOJ eyes more stimulus by Leika Kihara
Pedestrians wearing facial masks are reflected on an electric board showing stock prices outside
a brokerage at a business district in Tokyo, Japan January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge of “huge” stimulus will involve spending of at least $137 billion financed in part by deficit-covering bonds, sources say, joining global efforts to cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic.
    While the amount of debt issuance is likely be modest, it will put considerable market focus on Japan’s dire fiscal position – at a time the market rout caused by the outbreak is prodding investors to dump even safe-haven assets like government bonds in favor of cash.
    “We need to come up with big, powerful economic and fiscal measures that meets the enormous magnitude of the hit from the coronavirus outbreak,” Abe told parliament on Monday.
    “Depending on the situation, we’ll take measures that exceed in scale those taken after the Lehman crisis,” he said.
    The Bank of Japan, too, stands ready to expand stimulus for the second straight month in April if the pandemic leads to cuts in jobs and capital expenditure big enough to derail prospects of an economic recovery, sources familiar with its thinking say.
    “The key would be whether Japan’s economy can manage to bounce back, as the BOJ now projects, after a temporary slump caused by the coronavirus outbreak,” one of the sources said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
    “If further monetary steps are necessary, the BOJ is ready to act.    In doing so, it will take into account the expected impact from the government’s stimulus package,” the source said.
    The BOJ next meets for a rate review on April 27-28.
    The government is working on a package of measures to combat the widening economic fallout from the coronavirus that will involve direct fiscal spending exceeding 15 trillion yen ($137 billion), several government and ruling party lawmakers with direct knowledge of the issue said.
    It will be roughly equivalent to the amount Japan spent to deal with the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
    Including loans and other steps that does not include direct spending, the size of the package will exceed 30 trillion yen, the officials said.
    The government will lay out details of the package once parliament passes on March 27 the state budget for the fiscal year beginning in April.
    Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party will compile its draft stimulus package on March 30, which will serve as a basis for the government’s plan.
    Given the scale of the package and expected declines in tax revenues due to a slumping economy, the government is seen issuing deficit-covering bonds to fund some of the costs, the officials said.
    Thanks to government efforts to front-load bond issuance to roll over maturing debt, total bonds it needs to sell to markets this year won’t rise much, said Katsutoshi Inadome, senior bond strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
    “But additional bond issuance will definitely hamper the government’s efforts to balance the budget,” he said.
    “There are worries over how market could respond to Japan’s worsening public finances.”
    A finance ministry official said nothing has been decided on whether additional debt will be issued.
    Worldwide travel bans, event cancellations and supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak have added to strains on Japan’s economy already on the cusp of recession.    Japan has 1,102 confirmed cases of the virus, with 41 deaths.
    An estimate by Dai-ichi Life Research Institute showed the coronavirus outbreak alone could shave 3.8 trillion yen off Japan’s 540 trillion yen economy.
    The heightening chance the Tokyo Olympic Games may be postponed may spur calls among lawmakers for an even bigger spending to mitigate the hit to the economy, analysts say.
($1 = 109.8600 yen)
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto, Yoshifumi Takemoto, Izumi Nakagawa, Daniel Leussink and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

3/23/2020 South Korea reports fewest new coronavirus cases since February 29 peak by Hyonhee Shin
A couple, wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus, following the outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), walk in a shopping district in Seoul, South Korea, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported on Monday its lowest number of new coronavirus cases and the extended downward trend in daily infections since the peak on Feb. 29 has boosted hopes that Asia’s largest outbreak outside China may be abating.
    The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said there were 64 new cases on Monday, taking the national tally to 8,961.    The death toll rose by one to 110.
    The new numbers marked the 12th day in a row the country has posted new infections of around 100 or less, compared with the peak of 909 cases recorded on Feb. 29.
    But officials urged even greater vigilance as imported cases and new, small outbreaks continued to emerge, such as in nursing homes, churches and crowded workplaces.
    “We don’t give much meaning to numbers yet, but as there are some fluctuations despite a declining trend, our top priority is to prevent sporadic group infections and repatriated cases,” said Yoon Tae-ho, director-general for public health policy at the health ministry.
    Of the new cases, 13 were from overseas travellers who tested positive after the government toughened border checks and imposed a two-week mandatory quarantine for all long-term arrivals from Europe.
    South Korea began taking a 15-day intensive social distancing policy on Sunday, including restrictions on high-risk events such as religious, sports and entertainment gatherings.
    Yoon said most religious venues turned to online services and most others complied with new rules on distance between people at gatherings.
    But a church in the capital Seoul flouted the new rules, and members of its congregation scuffled with police, shoving and hurling abuse at officers who went there to check.
    Mayor Park Won-soon called the behaviour at the Sarang Jeil Church “unacceptable” and ordered its closure for two weeks after it held a service on Sunday, during which more than 2,000 people sat close to each other, some without masks.
    The church also failed to take a list of people attending the service, he said.    Calls to the church for comment were unanswered.
    “It was an act that seriously threatens the safety of not only the attendees but our entire community,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.    “We’re in a state of emergency that amounts to a war, and the administrative orders must not be taken as empty threats.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/23/2020 Hong Kong to ban all tourist arrivals, weighs halt of alcohol in bars by Felix Tam Jessie Pang
A woman stands outside an almost empty pubs area, following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at
Lan Kwai Fong, a popular nightlife destination in Central, Hong Kong, China March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong said on Monday it was stopping all tourist arrivals and transit passengers at its airport and was considering suspending the sale of alcohol in some venues, joining cities around the world in the battle to halt the coronavirus.
    Announcing tough new travel restrictions, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the government was planning to curb the sale of alcohol at more than 8,000 bars and restaurants, an extraordinary move in a city that never sleeps.
    An emotional Lam said many people took off their masks in bars and “even have intimate acts when they are tipsy,” increasing the risk of cross-infection.
    “So, we are going to suggest, as it requires legislative work, around 8,600 restaurants, bars and clubs with liquor licenses to temporarily suspend the sale of alcohol by amending the law,” Lam, who was wearing a face mask, told a news conference.
    “We are investigating any further measures we can do rather than a complete closure of restaurants as we know many Hong Kong residents do not cook at home and often dine out.”
    Alcohol will be available in supermarkets and convenience stores across the city.
    The city government announced 39 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, 30 of which had a recent travel history, bringing its total to 357.     Four people have died of the disease in Hong Kong.
    The measures come two days after the government warned a spike in the number of people returning to the region infected with coronavirus could lead to a large community outbreak.
    The ban on tourist arrivals would last for 14 days from Wednesday, with visitors from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan who had travelled elsewhere recently, also subject to the restriction.
    Late on Sunday, Hong Kong said it was investigating 41 instances of people violating quarantine, including five people who could face prosecution.    Two had removed or cut off electronic wristbands used to track people, the government said.
    Hong Kong last week began using the electronic wristbands linked to an app as part of its effort to enforce quarantine.
(Reporting by Felix Tam, Jessie Pang, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim, Donny Kwok; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Robert Birsel)

3/23/2020 China sees drop in new coronavirus cases; all of them imported
    An employee wearing a face mask sorts parcels at a logistics center of ZTO Express in Wuhan, the epicentre
of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hubei province, China March 22, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Mainland China on Monday reported a drop in its daily tally of new coronavirus cases, reversing four straight days of increases, as the capital, Beijing, ramped up measures to contain the number of infections arriving from abroad.
    China had 39 new confirmed cases on Sunday, the National Health Commission said, down from 46 a day earlier.    All the new ones involved travellers arriving from abroad, many of them Chinese students returning home.
    Beijing stepped up measures to contain imported infections, diverting all arriving international flights from Monday to other cities, including Shanghai and as far west as Xian, where passengers will undergo virus screening.
    Foreigners who miss international connections as a result of the measure would have to leave China, an immigration official said at the health commission’s daily briefing, adding that foreign visitors should “think carefully” before choosing Beijing as a transit point.
    Beijing reported 10 new imported cases, the National Health Commission said, down from 13 a day earlier.    Infections from abroad in the city hit an all-time daily high of 21 on March 18.
    Shanghai and Guangzhou have also said all arriving international passengers will be tested to screen for the coronavirus, expanding a programme that previously only applied to those coming from heavily affected countries.
    The coastal province of Zhejiang, near Shanghai, will also put all arrivals from overseas in centralised quarantine facilities for 14 days, media reported. Zhejiang on Monday lowered its emergency response level from 2 to 3, the lowest level, reflecting easing concern about the spread of the virus.
    Shanghai, which reported 10 new cases on Sunday, down from a record 14 a day earlier, lowered its emergency response level to level 2 from level 1.
    Guangdong province saw seven new imported infections, Fujian had four and Jiangsu had two.    Hebei, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Shandong and Sichuan each saw just one case, bringing the total number of imported cases in China to 314.
    Mainland China saw no new locally transmitted infections.
    The health commission did not say from where the cases were believed to have been imported.    Beijing authorities reported cases from Spain, Britain, France, the United States and Pakistan.
    In Wuhan, capital of central province of Hubei, authorities have eased tough lockdown measures as the epicentre of the outbreak in China saw no new infections for the fifth day.
    Downtown Wuhan remains the only high-risk area in the province, with other cities and counties classified as low-risk.
    Wuhan went into a virtual lockdown on Jan. 23 to contain the spread of the virus to the rest of China.
    According to authorities on Sunday, people can enter the city if they are certified healthy and have no fever.
    Hubei residents who are in Wuhan can apply to leave the city, but they have to be tested for the virus.
    There has been no indication that Wuhan residents can leave the city for non-essential reasons.
    As of Sunday, the total number of cases in mainland China stood at 81,093.    The death toll rose to 3,270, up by nine from the previous day.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Engen Tham, Jing Wang and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

3/23/2020 Philippines reports eight new coronavirus deaths, 16 more cases
FILE PHOTO: A soldier checks the body temperature of a health worker before entering a free
shuttle service following the suspension of mass transportation to contain the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ health ministry on Monday confirmed eight new deaths because of the coronavirus outbreak and 16 more infections.
    This brings country’s total deaths to 33 and confirmed cases to 396, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
(This refile corrects to fix typographical error in headline)
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/23/2020 Cambodia reports two new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 86
A group of travelers wear full protective suits and masks as a precaution after the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, at Phnom Penh International Airport in Cambodia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Cindy Liu
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia reported two new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total to 86, health authorities said.
    “We have not yet found evidence of community outbreaks, but there is a possibility,” Cambodia’s Communicable Disease Control department said in a Facebook post on Monday.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/23/2020 Thailand reports 122 new coronavirus cases, raising total to 721
People wearing protective face masks, sit on social distancing benches at a bus station after many workers
crowded the terminal station to return to their cities after many activities have been
closed due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Thailand March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Challinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand has 122 new coronavirus cases, raising the total to 721, a health ministry spokesman said on Monday at a news conference.
    The new cases include 20 patients linked to previous cases, 10 new imported cases, and 92 cases that tested positive and are awaiting investigation into how they contracted the disease, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a Public Health Ministry spokesman said.
    Thailand has recorded one death since the outbreak while 52 patients have recovered and gone home while 668 are still being treated in hospitals.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/23/2020 Secretary of State Pompeo to meet Taliban in Doha: State Department
Afghanistan's Abdullah Abdullah, President Ashraf Ghani's political rival, meets with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo in Kabul, Afghanistan March 23, 2020. Afghanistan's Chief Executive Office/Handout via REUTERS
    DOHA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet Taliban officials in Doha on Monday on his way back from a one-day trip to Afghanistan as part of efforts to salvage a historic deal signed with the insurgent group in February.
    “Secretary Pompeo is going to meet with Taliban officials in Doha including Mullah Baradar, Taliban’s chief negotiator, to press the Taliban to continue to comply with the agreement signed last month,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Sandra Maler)

3/23/2020 Trapped in paradise: Tourists stranded by virus seek visa extensions by Sultan Anshori
Foreign citizens stand outside local immigration office as they queue for extending their visa permit, amid the spread
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
    KUTA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Travelers stranded by coronavirus in some of Southeast Asia’s idyllic tourism hotspots are trying to extend visas as more countries enforce travel restrictions that in some cases make it impossible to go home.
    The total number of stranded tourists is not known, but scenes of frustration are playing out in several countries.
    On the Indonesian resort island of Bali – famed for its beaches, terraced rice fields and cultural sites – hundreds of tourists in face masks queued up outside the Ngurah Rai Immigration Office in the tourist area of Kuta seeking legal permission to extend their stay.
    “We have to stay here as we have no choice,” said Natalie Gisbert, a traveler from New Caledonia, the self-governing French territory in the South Pacific, who said her government was closing airports at home.
    American visitor Felix Isuk, who works in Singapore, said he thought it was better to stay put in Southeast Asia than to return to the United States.
    “In the U.S. there are about 30,000 cases,” Isuk said.    “i>So, I think if things or situation get worse here I’ll go back to Singapore.    So that’s the main reason why I’m staying here in Indonesia.”
    Indonesia has 579 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus that has swept the world, with 49 dead.    The island of Bali has reported six of those confirmed cases and two of those deaths.
A LITTLE BIT CRAZY
    In Thailand, the main immigration center in the capital Bangkok was crowded on Monday with hundreds of tourists and other foreign nationals trying to extend visas before they expired.
    “I’ve been here since 8.30 a.m.!” one man cried on being told officials could not process his application that afternoon.
    A long line snaked through the building, and many were told to come back another day.
    The problems are by no means confined to Bangkok.
    Rada Sereseanu and her husband, touring Southeast Asia in a camper van, had planned to drive into Myanmar but the German couple find themselves stuck in southern Thailand as the country shuts its land borders.
    “We thought the situation would get better, but it seems to be getting a little bit crazy,” Sereseanu said by telephone from near the seaside area of Hua Hin.
    Thailand has seen sharp spikes in coronavirus cases, bringing its total number of cases to 721 from 147 in the last week.
    In Vietnam, where the government has announced a ban on all foreigners entering, British ambassador Gareth Ward urged UK citizens to seek the earliest commercial flights and gave an embassy email address to contact.
    He also advised finding a hotel near an airport in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
    “You should prepare for the fact that you may not be able to leave quickly, so choose a place that you can afford for an extended period of time,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarg and Poppy McPherson in Bangkok, and James Pearson in Hanoi. Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/23/2020 India shuts down flights, big cities as coronavirus toll rises in region by Sanjeev Miglani and Aditi Shah
People board a crowded bus to return to their cities and villages before the start of the lockdown by West Bengal state
government to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kolkata, India March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Monday announced a halt to domestic flights and said the majority of the country was under complete lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus as the number of people dying of the disease ticked up across densely populated South Asia.
    India has reported 471 cases of the coronavirus but health experts have warned that a big jump could be imminent, which would overwhelm the underfunded and crumbling public health infrastructure.
    On Monday, India confirmed two more deaths, bringing the total to nine.    One was a 54-year-old man with no history of foreign travel, suggesting the start of community transmission of the virus, officials said.
    Streets were deserted in the national capital New Delhi and offices shut at the start of a lockdown to run till the end of the month.
    The government ordered commercial airlines to shut down domestic operations from midnight on Tuesday on top of a ban on international flights to try and contain the coronavirus.    About 144 million people traveled on domestic flights last year.
    Rail travel, the lifeline of India, has already been suspended after thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, swarmed train stations to go home as businesses shut down and jobs dried up.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi said many Indians were not taking the lockdown seriously.    “Please save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously,” he said on Twitter.
    The chief minister of the western state of Maharashtra, which has had the highest number of cases in India, ordered a curfew from Tuesday to force people indoors.
    “Despite multiple requests, people are not following rules.    This compelled the government to impose the curfew,” Uddhav Thackeray said.
    The country’s main stock exchange located in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, will however remain open, an official said.    On Monday night, the Indian government said 30 states and union territories, or 548 districts, were under “complete lockdown.”
    Newspapers canceled print runs in Mumbai after vendors refused to distribute them due to worries about the coronavirus, which emerged in     China late last year and has spread around the world.
    Globally, cases exceed 325,000 with deaths topping 14,000.
PAKISTAN RESTRICTIONS
    The Pakistani army said on Monday night it would help to impose nationwide restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus following a request from the government.
    Major General Babar Iftikhar said schools, malls, restaurants, cinemas, marriage halls, swimming pools and markets would be shut as of Monday with only eateries, pharmaceutical companies and medical stores allowed to remain open.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan had previously said he opposed such stringent measures because of the economic consequences for the poor.    A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Nepal ordered all land border crossings with India and China shut until March 29, saying thousands of people, most of them Nepali migrant workers, had crossed into Nepal in recent days from India, believing their homeland to be safer.
    Nepal reported its second case of the coronavirus on Monday, a citizen who had recently returned from France.
    “The closing of the border crossings is meant to ensure that no one infected with the virus crosses over to Nepal from India and China,” said Surya Thapa, an aide to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli.
    Confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Asia:
*Pakistan – 875
*India – 471
*Sri Lanka – 91
*Afghanistan – 42
*Bangladesh – 33
*Maldives – 13
*Nepal – 2
*Bhutan – 2
———————–
TOTAL – 1,529
https://www.mohfw.gov.in
https://hpb.health.gov.lk/en
http://covid.gov.pk
(Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmad, Aditya Kalra in New Delhi, Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Gibran Peshiman and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad; Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu. Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by William Maclean, Alexandra Ulmer)

3/24/2020 Hubei relaxes restrictions as China’s new coronavirus infections double
A security guard wearing a protective mask sits on a tree at a park, as the country is hit by an outbreak of
the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Hubei province where the coronavirus pandemic originated will lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic there eases, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.
    The Hubei Health Commission announced it would lift curbs on outgoing travellers starting March 25, provided they had a health clearance code.
    The provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus first appeared and which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will see its travel restrictions lifted on April 8.
    However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.
    China had 78 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said, a two-fold increase from Sunday.    Of the new cases, 74 were imported infections, up from 39 imported cases a day earlier.
    The Chinese capital Beijing was the hardest-hit, with a record 31 new imported cases, followed by southern Guangdong province with 14 and the financial hub of Shanghai with nine.    The total number of imported cases stood at 427 as of Monday.
    Only four new cases were local transmissions.    One was in Wuhan which had not reported a new infection in five days.
    Wuhan residents will soon be allowed to leave with a health tracking code, a QR code, which will have an individual’s health status linked to it.
    In other parts of the country, authorities have continued to impose tougher screening and quarantine and have diverted international flights from Beijing to other Chinese cities, but that has not stemmed the influx of Chinese nationals, many of whom are students returning home from virus-hit countries.
    Beijing’s city government tightened quarantine rules for individuals arriving from overseas, saying on Tuesday that everyone entering the city will be subject to centralised quarantine and health checks. [B9N2AR01N]
    The southern city of Shenzhen said on Tuesday it will test all arrivals and the Chinese territory of Macau will ban visitors from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    The number of local infections from overseas arrivals – the first of which was reported in the southern travel hub of Guangzhou on Saturday – remains very small.
    On Monday, Beijing saw its first case of a local person being infected by an international traveller arriving in China.    Shanghai reported a similar case, bringing the total number of such infections to three so far.
CONCERNS ABOUT NEW WAVE OF INFECTIONS
    The rise in imported cases and the lifting of restrictions in some cities to allow people to return to work and kickstart the battered Chinese economy has raised concerns of a second wave of infections.
    A private survey on Tuesday suggested that a 10-11% contraction in first-quarter gross domestic product in the world’s second largest economy “is not unreasonable.”
    The epidemic has hammered all sectors of the economy – from manufacturing to tourism.    To persuade businesses to reopen, policymakers have promised loans, aids and subsidies.
    In the impoverished province of Gansu, government officials are each required to spend at least 200 yuan ($28.25) a week to spur the recovery of the local catering industry.
    The official China Daily warned in an editorial on Tuesday that maintaining stringent restrictions on people’s movements would “now do more harm than good.”
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Huizhong Wu and Se Young Lee; Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)

3/24/2020 Thailand to declare one-month emergency on March 26: prime minister
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha wears a protective face mask due to the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak during a teleconference for a weekly cabinet meeting with his ministers at the
Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2020. Thailand Government House/Handout via REUTERS
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand will be in an emergency mode from March 26 for a month to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told a news conference on Tuesday.
    The emergency decree will mean the prime minister will have the executive power to declare further measures to contain the virus, including giving extra authority to officials and allowing the setting up of checkpoints to reduce people movements, Prayuth said.
    He said details of the measures will be announced later.
    Thailand reported three deaths and 106 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday.    The country now has 827 cases and four fatalities since the outbreak began.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-umm, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/24/2020 Indian police clear out anti-government protest citing coronavirus by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against a new citizenship law,
in Shaheen Bagh area of New Delhi, India, February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police in India’s capital broke up the longest-running protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s citizenship law on Tuesday, citing a ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus outbreak.
    Dozens of people, many of them women, have been staging a sit-in protest since early December on a street in the Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, which has become a focal point for opposition to the law seen as discriminating against Muslims.
    Hundreds of police in riot gear surrounded the protesters early on Tuesday and told them to leave, said Delhi’s joint police commissioner D. C. Srivastava.
    “It is a dangerous environment, with this coronavirus, we urged them to leave,” he told reporters.
    Some demonstrators resisted the police and at least nine people had been detained, six of them women, Srivastava said, adding there was no violence.
    Television showed police taking down tents and billboards at the protest site with bulldozers.
    Delhi is under a lockdown until the end of the month to halt the spread of the virus and public gatherings of more than five people have been banned.
    The Citizenship Amendment Act, which eases the path for non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries to gain citizenship, triggered weeks of sometimes violent protests against Modi’s government after it was passed in December.
    At least 78 people have been killed in demonstrations triggered by the law across the country, a large number of them in another part of Delhi in clashes between Hindus and Muslims.
    Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and it has deepened concern that Modi’s administration is undermining India’s secular traditions.
    Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party denies any bias against India’s 180 million Muslims.
    Even before the coronavirus epidemic, the protest at Shaheen Bagh had become a thorn in the government’s side, and there had been calls by hardline Hindu groups linked to Modi’s alliance and residents in the area to clear it out.
    India has reported 471 cases of the coronavirus but health experts have warned that a big jump is imminent, which would likely overwhelm the underfunded and crumbling public health infrastructure.
(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing)

3/24/2020 Experts warn Japanese growing complacent of coronavirus risk by Rocky Swift
FILE PHOTO: Hiroshi Nishiura, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Hokkaido University (in white shirt), speaks
during a press briefing on the coronavirus threat in Tokyo on March 19, 2020 REUTERS/Rocky Swift/File Photo/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Infectious disease experts guiding the Japanese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak sounded the alarm on Tuesday that people are not taking the threat seriously.
    Over the three-day holiday this past weekend, Tokyo’s public parks were full of people at cherry blossom-viewing parties while the K-1 kickboxing organization held matches before 6,500 fans at the Saitama Super Arena.
    Large-scale events risk a resurgence of coronavirus cases that have been held in check to date in Japan, according to Hiroshi Nishiura, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Hokkaido University.
    “If behavior returns to normal, there could be an explosion of cases like what’s happened in the United States and Europe,” Nishiura wrote in commentary published on Yahoo Japan on Tuesday.    “In particular, once major events have resumed in an endemic area, the outbreak can grow out of control.”
    Nishiura is part of a panel that last week advised that school closures and other restrictions could begin to be lifted.    Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Monday warned that the capital could still be locked down and called on event organizers and residents to exercise restraint.
    “At present, I think citizens are not facing this epidemic with a sense of crisis and the impact of their actions on one another,” Nishiura wrote.
    The outbreak has now infected more than 377,000 globally with over 16,500 deaths linked to the virus.    Japan has had 1,140 cases and 42 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK, and there is growing concern that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will have to be postponed.
    Particularly risky environments are those that are enclosed, have low ventilation, and where large groups of people are talking or shouting, said Hitoshi Oshitani, another panel expert and professor of virology at Tohoku University.
    That means cherry blossom viewing, known to the Japanese as hanami, is probably fine, but “K1 should not be done,” he said.
    If Japan can prevent an “overshoot” –an explosive rise in virus cases– it still faces the risk of reinfection from overseas, Oshitani said.    The first wave of infections originating from China were relatively small, but there is a more serious threat from explosive outbreaks in Europe and the United States.
    “We’re expecting that the second wave is much bigger,” Oshitani said.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/24/2020 ‘Stay at home’ New Zealand PM urges ahead of coronavirus lockdown by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pauses during a news conference prior to the anniversary of the
mosque attacks that took place the prior year in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Martin Hunter
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders on Tuesday to reduce contacts to a bare minimum to help fight the coronavirus, as the country prepared for a one-month lockdown.
    New Zealand’s cases of the coronavirus crossed the 100 mark this week as the government imposed self-isolation for everyone, with all non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut for a month from midnight on Wednesday.
    New Zealand has fewer infections than many other countries but Ardern’s government wants to move fast to halt the spread.    It was one of the first to force all arriving travellers into self-isolation and to ban indoor and outdoor gatherings.
    Cases in neighbouring Australia have soared to 1,886 but it has yet to announce a nationwide lockdown.
    “Simplest thing is to stay at home … that’s how we will save lives,” Ardern told a news conference at parliament.
    “The underlying principle of an alert level 4 is to reduce contact between people to the bare minimum,” she said.
    Parliament will sit on Wednesday to impose the state of emergency and lockdown, she said.
    The prime minister said the lockdown would give the country of about 5 million people a good chance of beating the virus but it would only work if everyone followed the restrictions.
    New Zealand has a total of 155 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus, with four local transmission cases.    It has had no deaths.
    Under the lockdown, people can go out for a walk or take their children out but they have to keep a distance of 2 metres from others.    They can also go to supermarkets.
    On Tuesday, office staff were preparing to work from home while students moved out of their hostels and cafes shut down.
    Domestic airports and other regional transport services were choked as people headed home before the lockdown.
    In the capital of Wellington, ferry services going from the North Island to the South Island were packed, as were supermarkets with people stocking up with food despite government assurances the country will be well supplied.
‘WON’T LOSE HOMES’
    Retail banks agreed to offer a six-month principal and interest payment holiday for mortgage holders and small business customers, the finance minister, Grant Robertson, said.
    “A six-month mortgage holiday for people whose incomes have been affected by COVID-19 will mean people won’t lose their homes as a result of the economic disruption caused by this virus,” Robertson said.
    The government and banks would also implement a NZ$6.25 billion ($3.62 billion) business finance guarantee scheme for small and medium-sized businesses, he said.
    The scheme will include a limit of NZ$500,000 per loan and will apply to firms with a turnover of between NZ$250,000 and NZ$80 million per annum.
    The government will carry 80% of the credit risk, with the other 20% to be carried by the banks, Robertson said.
    The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) had decided to reduce banks’ core funding ratios to 50% from 75%, further helping banks make credit available.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Mike Collett-White, Robert Birsel)

3/24/2020 Vietnam closes Ho Chi Minh City restaurants to curb virus outbreak
FILE PHOTO: An empty bar is seen in the tourist area of Bui Vien due to the
coronavirus outbreak in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Yen Duong
    HANOI (Reuters) – Restaurants in Vietnam’s business hub, Ho Chi Minh City, must close until March 31 to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, the city’s ruling body said on Tuesday.
    Ho Chi Minh City has recorded 39 cases of the virus, most of which were imported from Europe, and has already closed cinemas, clubs, bars, massage parlors and karaoke lounges since the virus outbreak began.
    “All restaurants with a capacity of over 30 people across the 24 districts of the city must cease operations from 18:00 March 24, until the end of March 31,” the city’s ruling body said in a statement.
    The move has been taken because some infected people spread the disease at popular restaurants and bars in the city, according to Vietnam’s health ministry.
    In mid-February, Vietnam said all 16 of its confirmed coronavirus cases had recovered, but it has since been battling with an influx of imported cases from overseas visitors and Vietnamese citizens escaping outbreaks elsewhere.
    There are now 123 cases in the Southeast Asian country, but no reported deaths, according to the health ministry. Over 50,000 people are in quarantine.
    The next 10-15 days will be decisive in Vietnam’s fight against the coronavirus, Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said on Monday.br> (Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by James Pearson, Alison Williams and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/24/2020 Iran death toll from coronavirus close to 2,000: Health Ministry
FILE PHOTO: Members of a medical team spray disinfectant to sanitize indoor place of Imam Reza's holy shrine, following the
coronavirus outbreak, in Mashhad, Iran February 27, 2020. Picture taken February 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak increased by 122 in the past 24 hours to 1,934, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Tuesday.
    The total number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by 1,762 in the past 24 hours, to 24,811, he added on state TV.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/24/2020 About half of Iran’s state workers stay at home as coronavirus death toll nears 2,000
FILE PHOTO: Iranan President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting of the Iranian government task force
on the coronavirus, in Tehran, Iran March 21, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday about half of all government employees were staying at home as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, state TV reported.
    Another measure to contain the outbreak, the temporary release of prisoners, would be extended until the end of the current Iranian month of Farvardin, around April 18, Rouhani said.
    Iran is one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic outside China.
    The death toll from the disease in Iran increased by 122 to 1,934 on Tuesday, according to Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour.    The total number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by 1,762 over the past 24 hours, to 24,811, he added on state TV.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)

3/24/2020 Hubei relaxes restrictions as China’s new coronavirus infections double
A security guard wearing a protective mask sits on a tree at a park, as the country is hit by an outbreak of
the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Hubei province where the coronavirus pandemic originated will lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic there eases, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.
    The Hubei Health Commission announced it would lift curbs on outgoing travellers starting March 25, provided they had a health clearance code.
    The provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus first appeared and which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will see its travel restrictions lifted on April 8.
    However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.
    China had 78 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said, a two-fold increase from Sunday.    Of the new cases, 74 were imported infections, up from 39 imported cases a day earlier.
    The Chinese capital Beijing was the hardest-hit, with a record 31 new imported cases, followed by southern Guangdong province with 14 and the financial hub of Shanghai with nine.    The total number of imported cases stood at 427 as of Monday.
    Only four new cases were local transmissions.    One was in Wuhan which had not reported a new infection in five days.
    Wuhan residents will soon be allowed to leave with a health tracking code, a QR code, which will have an individual’s health status linked to it.
    In other parts of the country, authorities have continued to impose tougher screening and quarantine and have diverted international flights from Beijing to other Chinese cities, but that has not stemmed the influx of Chinese nationals, many of whom are students returning home from virus-hit countries.
    Beijing’s city government tightened quarantine rules for individuals arriving from overseas, saying on Tuesday that everyone entering the city will be subject to centralised quarantine and health checks. [B9N2AR01N]
    The southern city of Shenzhen said on Tuesday it will test all arrivals and the Chinese territory of Macau will ban visitors from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    The number of local infections from overseas arrivals – the first of which was reported in the southern travel hub of Guangzhou on Saturday – remains very small.
    On Monday, Beijing saw its first case of a local person being infected by an international traveller arriving in China.    Shanghai reported a similar case, bringing the total number of such infections to three so far.
CONCERNS ABOUT NEW WAVE OF INFECTIONS
    The rise in imported cases and the lifting of restrictions in some cities to allow people to return to work and kickstart the battered Chinese economy has raised concerns of a second wave of infections.
    A private survey on Tuesday suggested that a 10-11% contraction in first-quarter gross domestic product in the world’s second largest economy “is not unreasonable
    The epidemic has hammered all sectors of the economy – from manufacturing to tourism.    To persuade businesses to reopen, policymakers have promised loans, aids and subsidies.
    In the impoverished province of Gansu, government officials are each required to spend at least 200 yuan ($28.25) a week to spur the recovery of the local catering industry.
    The official China Daily warned in an editorial on Tuesday that maintaining stringent restrictions on people’s movements would “now do more harm than good.”
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Huizhong Wu and Se Young Lee; Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)

3/24/2020 Most of India under lockdown as coronavirus appears in small towns by Sanjeev Miglani and Rajendra Jadhav
Empty roads are pictured following the lockdown by the government amid concerns about the spread of
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Kathmandu, Nepal March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Police enforced lockdowns across large parts of India on Tuesday, with curfews in some places, as health officials warned that the coronavirus was spreading out of big cities where it first appeared into the small towns that dot the landscape.
    Health researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May.
    India has already severed international flight links and domestic air services will stop at midnight in a bid to halt the spread.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to address the nation for a second time in a week on the risks to the country of 1.3 billion people from the virus that emerged in China late last year and has spread to 194 countries.
    India has found 485 cases of the coronavirus and nine people have died from the COVID-19 disease it causes but alarm is growing across the region about prospects for its spread into impoverished communities and the ability of resource-starved public health sectors to cope.
    A health official in the western state of Maharashtra said new cases were staring to appear in small towns after a first wave emerged in big cities like Mumbai.
    “This trend is worrying as rural areas have limited infrastructure to deal with the outbreak,” said the state health official who declined to be identified saying he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
    States have been imposing their own lockdowns and have been suspending train and bus services and ordering traffic off the roads.
    About three quarters of the country was under lockdown on Tuesday with most of the rest expected to follow suit by the end of the day.
    A new concern in the northern Indian state of Punjab was the risk of infection from an estimated 90,000 overseas Indians who had traveled back to their ancestral homeland, the state government’s top health official, Balbir Singh Sidhu.
    Many people from Punjab live in Britain, the United States and Canada and many travel back in the cool winter to visit.
    A team of scientists based mainly in the United States said this week India’s tally of infections could jump to 1.3 million by mid-May if the virus maintains its rate of spread.
    “Even with the best-case scenarios, probably, you are in a very painful crisis,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan who was involved in the study.
    More than 377,300 people have been infected by the coronavirus globally and 16,520 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
    Across South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population, authorities are scrambling to raise their defenses.
    Bangladesh has deployed the military to ensure social distancing and strengthen the coronavirus preventive measures, the military’s information office said.
    Bangladesh has had 33 cases and three deaths.
    The Pakistani army is also helping to impose nationwide restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus following a request from the government.
    Pakistan, with nearly 900 cases, has shut schools, malls, restaurants, cinemas, marriage halls, swimming pools and markets with only food and medical stores allowed to remain open.
    Sri Lanka, with nearly 100 cases, has also severed its transport links with the world.
DOWN ON DELHI PROTEST
    Earlier on Monday, police in the Indian capital broke up the longest-running protest against a new citizenship law, citing a ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus.
    Dozens of people, many of them women, had been staging a sit-in protest since early December on a street in the Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, turning it into a focal point for opposition to the law seen as discriminating against Muslims.
    Hundreds of police in riot gear surrounded the protesters and told them to leave, said Delhi’s joint police commissioner D. C. Srivastava.
    “It is a dangerous environment, with this coronavirus,” he told reporters.
    Some demonstrators resisted the police and at least nine people had been detained, six of them women, Srivastava said, adding there was no violence.
    Confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Asia:
*Pakistan – 875
*India – 482
*Sri Lanka – 91
*Afghanistan – 42
*Bangladesh – 33
*Maldives – 13
*Nepal – 2
*Bhutan – 2
———————–

TOTAL – 1,540
https://www.mohfw.gov.in
https://hpb.health.gov.lk/en
http://covid.gov.pk
(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in Delhi and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/24/2020 Pompeo: U.S. to cut $1B in aid to Afghanistan over political turmoil by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this June 25, 2019, file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference
at the U.S. Embassy Kabul during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. On Monday, March 23, 2020, Pompeo
arrived in Kabul on an urgent visit to try to move forward a U.S. peace deal. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
    The Trump administration recently announced a significant cut to U.S. aid going to Afghanistan.    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the U.S. is reducing aid by $1 billion after he was unable to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah to form a unified government.
    Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Monday in hopes of bringing both sides together to end a feud that has severely threatened U.S. brokered peace talks in the region.    The secretary of state confirmed the U.S. is prepared to issue another billion dollar cut in 2021 if the political rift in the country continues.
    The State Department chief also reportedly met with a Taliban spokesperson to discuss now-stalled peace negotiations between the group and the Afghan government.    Afghan officials have been skeptical of the U.S.-Taliban peace talks and claimed they have been left out of most of the process.
    Particularly, officials have expressed consternation over part of the deal requiring the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners provided the Taliban reduces violence in the region.    This is a provision the Afghan government reluctantly agreed to.
FILE- In this Dec. 14, 2019, file photo, jailed Taliban are seen after an interview with The
Associated Press inside the Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
    “The process and conditions for the Taliban’s prisoners release is very clear in the decree, but the implementation of the decree depends on the actions of the Taliban and their visible commitment to reduce violence, its continuation (violence), a ceasefire and direct negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” stated Sediq Seddiqi, presidential spokesperson for Afghanistan.
    Pompeo has reportedly said the Taliban has mostly held true to its promise to reduce violence and that the U.S. plans on continuing with its plans to pull thousands of troops out of the region.    He also said Monday that the U.S. would be willing to reinstate much of its aid if the Afghan government is able to continue negotiations.

3/24/2020 Mainland China lifts restrictions in virus epicenter, says economic activity to fully be restored soon by OAN Newsroom
Recovered patients on a bus going back home after a 14-day quarantine for medical observation
at a rehabilitation center, Wuhan, March 10, 2020. (Photo/Xinhua/Cheng Min via AP)
    Mainland China is lifting quarantines in the province of Hubei as life gradually returns back to normal.    On Tuesday, Chinese officials announced they are lifting the majority of travel and production restrictions in Hubei after a two-month lockdown.
    According to Beijing, the number of new coronavirus cases continues to decline and Hubei has had zero new infections in the past week.    Hubei and the city of Wuhan were the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
    Despite the optimism, Chinese officials have said some of the risks posed by coronavirus still remain.
    “According to the latest report of WHO, the number of confirmed cases worldwide has exceeded 300,000,” stated Mi Feng, spokesman for the Chinese Health Commission.    “The risk of transmission from sporadic infections as well as those from overseas still exists; we cannot let our guard down when it comes to combating the coronavirus.”
    China also noted that it expects to fully restore economic activity in hard-hit areas over the coming few weeks.

3/24/2020 Modi puts all of India under lockdown for 21 days to fight coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to the media inside the parliament premises on
the first day of the winter session in New Delhi, India, November 18, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday the government would impose a nationwide lockdown from midnight for 21 days to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
    “There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said in a televised address.
    India has so far reported 482 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nine deaths.
(Reporting by Delhi and Mumbai newsrooms; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/25/2020 India struggles with coronavirus shutdown; Pakistan cases hit 1,000 by Sanjeev Miglani and Nivedita Bhattacharjee
People buy vegetables at a market after India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a nationwide lockdown starting midnight
to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi, India, March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – India woke up on Wednesday to a sweeping lockdown of its 1.3 billion people, one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to fight the coronavirus, but the order didn’t stop crowds of people thronging to stock up at grocery shops and chemists.
    India’s tally of 536 cases and nine deaths seems tiny compared with those in China, Italy and Spain, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi and health experts have warned that the world’s second most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.
    Modi ordered the three-week shutdown in a speech to the nation on Tuesday evening, some four hours before it came into effect.
    As India’s various states shut their borders, long queues of trucks carrying milk, fruits and vegetables snaked down highways.
    Modi said essential services would be maintained and people are allowed out to buy groceries and medicines, but transport was off the streets in most places on Wednesday.
    “My daughter needs allergy medicines regularly.    The medicine shops are open but how do we reach there?” said Yash Goswami in the northern town of Moradabad.
    “Who wants to risk a run-in with the police?    They’re beating people up.”
    Some shopkeepers in New Delhi also complained of heavy-handed policing because they had opened.
    “There are no clear instructions, police are telling us to close,” said Ram Agarwal, a grocer in Delhi swamped by people looking to buy dry food and milk.
    Other countries in South Asia – home to a quarter of the world’s population – are also struggling as they try to put up defences against the coronavirus.
    Pakistan’s tally of cases rose to 1,000, with seven deaths, its health ministry said.
    Authorities have shut down Sindh province, home to its largest city of Karachi, even though Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was opposed to a full lockdown because the poor would suffer the most.
    Sri Lanka has sealed itself off from the outside world, suspending all flights in and out of the island nation.
‘NO WORK, NO PAY’
    In New Delhi, Modi met his cabinet at his residence, with ministers sitting apart from each other in a large room.
    “Social distancing is the need of the hour,” Home Minister Amit Shah said on Twitter with a picture of the meeting.
    Modi’s shut-down order echoes other big decisions he has been able to make partly because of his solid support from large parts of the public.
    In 2016, he banned most large denomination bank notes to fight graft, throwing a cash-reliant economy into turmoil.
    Last year, he stripped the troubled Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir of its special constitutional status, backing the decision with the detention of scores of politicians and months of communications blackout.
    The coronavirus lockdown comes after evidence indicated it was spreading out into India’s countless small towns after a first wave in Delhi, the commercial hub of Mumbai and other big cities.
    That has raised the prospect of a cash-strapped public health sector being overwhelmed.    India has just 0.5 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, compared to 4.3 in China and 3.2 in Italy.
    But the consequences of shutting down the $2.9-trillion economy will be far-reaching.
    “Asking people to stay at home is necessary but the majority of the population can’t afford to sit at home without work and pay,” said Madhura Swaminathan, head of the economic analysis unit of the Indian Statistical Institute in the technology hub of Bengaluru.
    India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, on Wednesday banned the export of a malaria drug that is being tested as a coronavirus treatment, saying it had meet domestic demand.
    But the lockdown could hit production of hydroxychloroquine because of shortages of staff to run operations, Dinesh Dua, chairman of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India, told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra, Neha Dasgupta, Nidhi Verma and Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi, Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/25/2020 Taiwan doubles down on virus criticism as China denounces ‘disgusting’ behavior
FILE PHOTO: A passenger takes photos of the flight information board as the Taiwanese government announced
a ban for most foreigners entering the island, as part of preventive measures against coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), at Taoyuan International airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan doubled down on its criticism of China’s handling of the coronavirus crisis on Wednesday, saying the Communist Party cared more about power than its own people, while Beijing described Taipei’s allegations of a cover-up as slander.
    The epidemic has deepened enmity between Taiwan and China, which regards the democratic island as its sacred territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.
    Taiwan’s government says China has intentionally hampered its efforts to get virus information direct from the World Health Organization.    China blocks Taiwan’s WHO membership as it considers the island merely one of its provinces.
    Taiwan has also been angered by stepped-up Chinese military drills near the island in recent weeks.
    On Tuesday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang accused China of covering up the crisis in its early stages and not giving the world early enough warning.
    Then on Wednesday, Cho Jung-tai, chairman of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), reiterated the cover-up accusation, adding that China had hoodwinked the WHO.
    “Since the outbreak of the epidemic at the end of last year, China has covered it up and manipulated the WHO to pretend that everything is going well,” Cho told a party meeting, according to a statement.
    “The Chinese Communist Party regime’s approach of maintaining stability and neglecting people’s lives and health has caused the spread of the epidemic and seriously damaged China’s carefully crafted image as a great power,” he added.
    China has strongly denied covering up the epidemic, and has said it ensures the island is provided with the information it needs to battle the virus.    The WHO has also praised China’s response to the epidemic.
    In a statement late Tuesday, China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office said it was “slander” for Taiwan to suggest there was a cover up and that China has sent Taiwan 101 notifications to date, including information about its sharing of virus genome sequences with the WHO.
    “The use of the epidemic to stir up cross-Taiwan Strait confrontations at a time when the outbreak in Taiwan is picking up is shameless and disgusting,” spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian said in comments carried by the official Xinhua news agency.
    Taiwan swiftly stepped up checks and closed its borders to most Chinese visitors at the start of the outbreak, but over the past week it has seen an uptick of cases as infected people return from abroad, especially from Europe and the United States.
    Taiwan now has 235 cases, although that is still far lower than the more than 80,000 cases recorded in China.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/25/2020 Japan’s capital becomes center of its coronavirus epidemic
A woman wearing a protective face mask due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID 19) walks next to Omega clock, which was
previously used as a countdown clock for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and currently displaying current time and date,
after the announcement of the games 'postponement to the summer of 2021, in Tokyo, Japan, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s capital of Tokyo is at the center of its coronavirus epidemic with more cases than any other region after a record number in a single day, data from public broadcaster NHK showed.
    Tokyo registered a record 17 new cases on Tuesday, taking its tally to 171, and overtaking the hard-hit northern island of Hokkaido island as the prefecture with the most infections, NHK reported.
    The outbreak has infected 1,214 people in Japan as of late Wednesday morning, with 43 deaths linked to the virus, NHK said.    That excludes 712 cases from a cruise ship moored near Tokyo last month.
    The International Olympic Committee and Japanese government on Tuesday agreed to put back the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to 2021 over the outbreak.
    Tokyo’s new infections came after Governor Yuriko Koike warned that a lockdown of the capital was possible if it saw an explosive rise in cases.
    Koike on Monday called on residents to exercise restraint to avoid a lockdown.    She said the next three weeks were critical for whether Tokyo would see an “overshoot” – an explosive rise – in virus cases.
    Hokkaido ended a state of emergency over its outbreak of the coronavirus, which saw 163 cases.
    The outbreak has now infected more than 420,000 across 196 countries, according to a Reuters tally, with almost 19,000 deaths linked to the virus.
(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/25/2020 Thai lockdown sparks exodus of 60,000 migrant workers: ministry official by Panarat Thepgumpanat
An official speaks through a megaphone as migrant workers from Myanmar flock to the border on the Myanmar-Thai Friendship
Bridge, to cross into Myawaddy, Myanmar, as they leave Thailand due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
March 24, 2020, in this still image from video obtained via social media. Video taken March 24, 2020 THANT ZIN AUNG via REUTERS
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – About 60,000 migrant workers living in Thailand have fled the country since authorities shut malls and many businesses at the weekend to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a Thai interior ministry official said on Wednesday.
    Thailand’s latest measures have left many without jobs and prompted a mass exodus of a large number of the country’s four or five million migrant workers, mainly from Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
    Thailand has closed its land borders, told people to stay at home, and shuttered most businesses in an effort to suppress the virus.    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is set to invoke sweeping emergency powers on Thursday.
    A Thai interior ministry official told Reuters about 60,000 migrant workers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar had returned home as of Tuesday.    Thailand has reported 934 cases of the virus, the second highest number reported in Southeast Asia.
    Vast crowds gathered at the Myanmar border, carrying suitcases and luggage on their backs amid sometimes chaotic scenes as crowds scrambled over the gate.
    “The state authorities are arranging to send the workers back to their respective states and regions by car, but some couldn’t wait and tried to pass the line,” said Ye Min from the Aid Alliance committee, a non-profit that helps migrant workers in Thailand.
    He said about 30,000 had crossed in recent days through several gates.
    Citing official records, a lawmaker in Myanmar, Thant Zin Aung, said the number that had passed through just one checkpoint was 18,000, with similar numbers passing through three others.
    Myanmar’s government spokesman Zaw Htay rejected phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.
    As he waited in line, Win Paing, a 24-year-old employee of a fish cannery, told Reuters by phone his family had asked him to come back.
    “In Thailand, people are now stocking up on food but I didn’t have much money to stock up, so I just want to go home,” he said.
    Myanmar reported its third case of the virus early Wednesday, in a 26-year-old man who flew from Britain via Bangkok.    All of its confirmed cases so far have been imported.
    The returning workers were subjected to health checks and have been ordered to quarantine themselves in villages across the country for 14 days.
    At least 11 have been sent to hospital with high fever, according to local media reports.
    Large numbers of workers have also crossed into Cambodia and Laos.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Yangon bureau. Writing by Poppy McPherson. Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/25/2020 Gunmen, bombers attack Sikh religious complex in Afghan capital by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
An Afghan policeman stands guard near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, and up to 200 people were believed to be trapped inside, a member of parliament said.
    Afghan security forces had blocked off the area and were battling the attackers, and had killed two of them, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said in a message to journalists.
    “The majority of people were rescued, unfortunately there are casualties,” he said, adding that defence forces would take some time to entirely secure the area as they were moving slowly to prevent civilian casualties.
    It was not immediately clear how many attackers there were or who they were.
    A Ministry of Health spokesman said one child had been killed and 15 people wounded but the toll could rise.
    Sikhs have been the target of attack by Islamist militants before in South Asia.    A Taliban spokesman, in a message on Twitter, denied responsibility for the attack.
    Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of parliament who represents the tiny Sikh community, said he had reports that four people had been killed and up to 200 people trapped inside the temple in the early morning attack.
    “Three suicide bombers entered a dharamsala,” he said, referring to a sanctuary area in a temple compound.
    “The gunmen started their attack at a time when the dharamsala was full of worshippers,” he said.
    The attack comes a day after the United States said it would cut its aid to the government by $1 billion over frustrations that feuding political leaders could not reach an agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taliban.
    A NATO Resolute Support defence official said the response to the attack had been led and executed by Afghan forces, but received some advice and assistance from NATO.
    Sikhs are a small religious minority in Afghanistan numbering fewer than 300 families.    They are among the persecuted minorities eligible for citizenship in India under a citizenship law Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has drawn backlash because it does not include Muslims.
    Anarkali Kaur Honaryar a member of the Sikh community and an Afghan senator, said the Sikh complex in Kabul contained places of worship and areas where families live.
    “Gunmen are spread in the whole complex, there is fear that the attackers entered the main praying place and fear of large casualties is there too,” he said.
    Human rights activists condemned the attack.    Amnesty International South Asia tweeted; “We are shocked and disheartened…the authorities have a responsibility to protect minorities and their places of worship in Afghanistan.”
    In 2018, a suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community and claimed by the Islamic State militant group killed more than a dozen people in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.
    The United States last month struck a deal with the Taliban on the withdrawal of U.S.-led international troops but the agreement does not include Islamic State militants.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi; writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel)

3/25/2020 Virus fight at risk as world’s medical glove capital struggles with lockdown by Liz Lee and Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: A worker monitors a production line at a Top Glove factory in Meru
outside Kuala Lumpur, June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Disposable rubber gloves are indispensable in the global fight against the new coronavirus, yet a month’s lockdown in stricken Malaysia where three of every five gloves are made has upended the supply chain and threatens to hamstring hospitals worldwide.
    The world’s biggest maker of medical gloves by volume, Top Glove Corp Bhd , has the capacity to make 200 million gloves a day, but a supplier shutdown has left it with only two weeks’ worth of boxes to ship them in, its founder told Reuters.
    “We can’t get our gloves to hospitals without cartons,” Executive Chairman Lim Wee Chai said in an interview. “Hospitals need our gloves.    We can’t just supply 50% of their requirement.”
    The virus, which emerged in China at the end of last year, has left Malaysia with the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia at nearly 1,800 cases, with 17 deaths.    To halt transmission, the government has ordered people to stay home from March 18 to April 14.
    Glove makers and others eligible for exemption can operate half-staffed provided they meet strict safety conditions.    Still, the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA) said it was lobbying “almost every hour” to return the industry to full strength to minimize risk to the global fight.
    “We’re shut down,” said Evonna Lim, managing director at packaging supplier Etheos Imprint Technology.    “We fall under an exempted category but still need approval.”
    Dr Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases specialist at the New York University School of Medicine, said she was using up to six times as many gloves as normal each day due to the number of patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
    “If we get to the point where there is a shortage of gloves, that’s going to be a huge problem because then we cannot draw blood safely, we cannot do many medical procedures safely.”
GLOBAL CALL
    With glove supplies dwindling, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on its website this month said https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/faqs-shortages-medical-gloves some gloves could be used beyond their designated shelf life.    On Tuesday, the United States lifted a ban on imports from Malaysian glove maker WRP Asia Pacific who it had previously accused of using forced labor.
    Britain’s Department of Health & Social Care has urged Malaysian authorities to prioritize the production and shipment of gloves that are of “utmost criticality for fighting COVID-19,” showed a letter dated March 20 to glove maker Supermax Corp and shared with Reuters.
    MARGMA is considering rationing due to the “extremely high demand,” its president Denis Low said.    “You can produce as many gloves as you can but then there’s nothing to pack them into.”
    Under normal circumstances, Top Glove can meet less than 40% of its own packaging needs.    For the remainder, it said just 23% of suppliers have gained approval to operate at half strength.
    “We are lobbying almost every hour, we are putting in a lot of letters to the ministry,” said Low.    “We are lobbying hard for the chemical suppliers and we want to ensure that the printers are also being given approval and any other supporting services, even transportation.”
    Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry on Tuesday said it had received masses of applications to operate through the lockdown, and that it was seeking cooperation from industries to give way to those producing essential goods.
AUTOMATION
    Developed economies are home to only a fifth of the world’s population yet account for nearly 70% medical glove demand due to stringent medical standards.    At 150, U.S. glove consumption per-capita is 20 times that of China, latest MARGMA data showed.
    MARGMA expects demand to jump 16% to 345 billion gloves this year, with Malaysia’s market share rising two percentage points to 65%.    Thailand usually follows at about 18% and China at 9%.
    Top Glove said orders have doubled since February and it sees sales rising by a fifth in the next six months.    Its stock, with a market value of about $3.5 billion, has risen by a third this year versus a fall of 16% in the wider market <.KLSE>.
    The company, with customers in 195 economies, registered the highest net money inflow last week among listed Malaysian firms, along with peer Hartalega Holdings Bhd , showed MIDF Research data.    Other glove makers include Kossan Rubber Industries Bhd and Careplus Group Bhd .
    “We are fortunate enough to be in essential goods,” said Lim.    “These few months and at least the next six months will be an all-time high in terms of sales volume, revenue and profit.”
    With more than 80% of its 44 factories worldwide automated, Top Glove itself is less impacted by the lockdown than its more labor-intensive domestic suppliers.    Packaging woes aside, however, ramping up production could turn under-supply into over-supply when the coronavirus outbreak finally subsides.
    “This outbreak will create awareness and make humankind healthier,” said Lim.    “People will pay more attention, they will invest more, they will buy more so demand will be more.”
(Reporting by Liz Lee and Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Ebrahim Harris and Daveena Kaur; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

3/25/2020 Thailand records 107 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 934: health official
FILE PHOTO: Passengers in protective suits due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak are seen
before they check in at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand has recorded 107 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 934, a health official said on Wednesday.
    The new cases consist of 27 patients linked to previous cases, 13 new cases including imported ones, and 67 people who tested positive and are awaiting investigation into how they contracted the disease, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a Public Health Ministry spokesman said.
    Thailand has recorded four death since the outbreak while 70 patients have recovered and gone home.    860 patients are still being treated in hospitals.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/25/2020 Gunmen in Afghanistan kill 25 at Sikh complex, Islamic State claims responsibility by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
An Afghan policeman stands guard near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Gunmen and suicide bombers raided a Sikh religious complex in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, killing 25 people before security forces killed all of the attackers, the government said.
    The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, saying it was revenge for India’s treatment of Muslims in its portion of Kashmir and threatening further attacks.
    Sikhs have been targeted by Islamist militants in South Asia before.    Their community in Afghanistan numbers fewer than 300 families.
    Several hours after the early morning attack began, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said an operation by the security forces was over and all attackers had been killed. He did not say how many.
    The ministry said 25 people in the religious compound had been killed, eight wounded and 80 rescued.
    Narender Singh Khalsa, a member of parliament who represents the Sikh community, said he received reports that up to 200 people had been trapped in the complex during the attack.
    “Three suicide bombers entered a dharamsala,” he said, referring to a sanctuary area in a temple compound.    “The gunmen started their attack at a time when the dharamsala was full of worshippers.”
    The day began normally, according to Sikh community members, with the more than 100 living in the complex beginning worship and some joining from outside around 6 a.m.
    An hour later, their prayers were interrupted when attackers killed a guard on the way into the compound and began shooting in the shrine before security forces arrived and residents fled elsewhere in compound to shelter.
    “The children were very scared, still they are crying and shouting.    They will not forget this incident, they are in bad mental states,” said Gurnam Singh, 30, a witness.
INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION
    Several members of Harander Singh’s family were killed.
    “The attackers arrived on the stairs and started killing the women.    My nephew shouted and said to me ‘Uncle, please go downstairs’, and when I tried to go downstairs, they shot my nephew in the head,” he said.
    His wife, father and young daughter were also killed.
    “My dearest daughter was wounded, and she was repeatedly calling me ‘Dad’ before she died,” he said, through tears.
    In the late 1980s, there were about 500,000 Sikhs scattered across Afghanistan, but most fled after years of civil war and the rise of the Taliban.
    A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack on Twitter.
    Rights activists, Afghan officials and countries including the United States, India and Pakistan condemned the attack.     In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attack “horrific” and urged “Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement” to help confront the militant group.
    In 2018, an Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing targeting the Sikh community killed more than a dozen people in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.
    The latest attack was carried out a day after the United States said it would cut aid to the government by $1 billion over frustrations that feuding political leaders could not reach agreement and form a team to negotiate with the Taliban.
    President Ashraf Ghani said he had directed deputy ministers to save $1 billion in security and defence spending, while maintaining the quality of security forces.
    An official with Afghanistan’s NATO mission said the response to the attack had been led and executed by Afghan forces, with some advice and assistance from NATO.
    Wednesday’s violence was the second big attack against a minority group claimed by the Islamic State this month.    More than 30 people were shot dead in a gathering attended by many members of the ethnic Hazara community on March 6.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi; additional reporting by Alaa Swilam, Zainullah Stanekzai, Sayed Hassib and Akram; Addititional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel and Timothy Heritage)

3/26/2020 Iran has no knowledge of former FBI agent’s whereabouts: Iranian official
FILE PHOTO: Christine Levinson (R), wife of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, watches as her son
Daniel Levinson displays a web print of his father's picture to journalists while attending a news conference at
Switzerland's embassy in Tehran December 22, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN)
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Tehran has no knowledge about the whereabouts of a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in March 2007, a spokesman for the Iranian mission at the United Nations said on Thursday.
    The family of the man, Robert Levinson, said earlier that he had died in Iranian custody.
    “Iran has always maintained that its officials have no knowledge of Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts, and that he is not in Iranian custody.    Those facts have not changed,” Iranian mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said in a Tweet.
    Levinson’s family said in a posting on social media and a website on Wednesday: “Today with aching hearts, we are sharing devastating news about Robert Levinson, the head of our family.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump said he had not been told that Levinson was dead.    White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said later that an investigation was still going on but “we believe that Bob Levinson may have passed away some time ago.”
    Tehran denied knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts last November, when it said a legal case involving him was under way at a revolutionary court that handles security-related cases.    Levinson went missing on Iran’s Kish island in the Gulf.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alison Williams and Angus MacSwan)

3/26/2020 China’s Shanghai orders all incoming travellers to undergo 14-day quarantine
A flight attendant wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) takes body temperature measurements
of passengers with a thermometer on a Shanghai Airlines flight in Shanghai, China March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The eastern Chinese city of Shanghai will make all incoming travellers undergo 14 days of quarantine and observation from Thursday in a bid to prevent coronavirus transmission, the local government announced.
    Shanghai had previously required travellers to go into quarantine only if they had visited 24 badly hit countries in the two weeks before their arrival in the city.
    The city reported 109 confirmed and active coronavirus cases imported from overseas by the end of Wednesday, up 18 compared to the previous day.    It said 39 were from Britain, and 27 from the United States.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and David Stanway; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/26/2020 China’s local coronavirus cases die down, imported cases rise
Cao Junjie poses for a picture with his two-month old baby inside a safety pod he created to protect his baby from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at a residential compound in Shanghai, China March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Xihao Jiang NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Mainland China reported no new locally transmitted cases of coronavirus for the sixth time in eight days as Hubei province, where the virus was first detected, opened its borders, but imported cases rose as Beijing ramped up controls to prevent a resurgence of infections.     All 67 new cases reported by the end of Wednesday were imported, and all 47 reported the previous day were imported too, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Thursday.     The total number of cases now stands at 81,285.
    The commission reported a total of 3,287 deaths at the end of Wednesday, up six from the previous day.
    Hubei province, home to some 60 million people, reported no new cases on Wednesday and opened its borders.    Public transport restarted and residents Xianning, a city in Hubei, strolled the streets wearing masks.
    In Xianning, residents carried out their daily shopping errands at local fruit and vegetable shops, while hairdressers and bike repair shops were also open.    One group of women sat outside a shuttered shop, playing with a pair of 2 year old male twins who were wearing masks.
    “The lifting of the lockdown is both good and bad,” said one of the women, who gave her name as Chen.    “A lot of people can leave, but it also raises the risk.    The situation in Hubei was so severe, and I’ve gotten used to staying at home for the last two months.    It’s safer that way.”
    The lockdown of Hubei’s capital Wuhan, where the virus first appeared late last year, will be lifted on April 8, a milestone in China’s war against the epidemic.
    The fatality rate in Wuhan stood at about 5%, said Qiu Haibo, a medical expert on a panel led by the central government, according to the official People’s Daily on Thursday.
    About 90% of all the imported cases are Chinese passport holders, Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui told a press conference on Thursday, adding that 40% of them are overseas Chinese students returning amid rising infections abroad.
    “We understand some overseas students are eager to come home…But under the current circumstances, by staying put, they can avoid being cross-infected in the hurried journey home or getting stuck mid-journey when the countries they transit in tighten border controls,” Luo said.
    Fearing a new wave of infections from imported cases, authorities have ramped up quarantine and screening measures in other major cities including Beijing, where any travellers arriving from overseas must submit to centralised quarantine.     Of the new case reported on Wednesday, Shanghai reported the most with 18, followed by Inner Mongolia region at 12 and Guangdong province at 11.     The number of new daily cases in China remain down sharply from the height of the outbreak in the country in February, allowing Beijing to push for restarting economic activity in the world’s second biggest economy.     In a briefing on Thursday, an official at China’s water resources ministry said that the country plans to invest in over 100 water treatment and delivery projects worth more than 1 trillion yuan ($140.97 billion) in the next three years to boost the economy and stabilise employment.
    Shi Chunxian said every 100 billion yuan of investment in key water projects will boost GDP growth by 0.15 percentage points and create 490,000 jobs, citing a state think tank study.
    In the latest sign of a return to normal life, Shanghai officials said on Thursday that the city’s cinemas would reopen on March 28.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee, David Stanway, Yew Lun Tian, Brenda Goh, Yawen Chen and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/26/2020 Go now: Australia tells cruise ships to leave as coronavirus cases rise by Kate Lamb and Swati Pandey
A worker cleans the waterfront area of the Sydney Opera House, in the wake of New South Wales implementing measures shutting down
non-essential businesses and moving toward harsh penalties to enforce self-isolation as the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) reached what the state's premier calls a "critical stage" in Australia, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia ordered two cruise ships to leave its waters on Thursday, after a liner that docked in Sydney Harbour last week became the primary source of infection in the country’s coronavirus outbreak.
    Although well below levels elsewhere in the world, the pace of Australia’s infections is starting to pick up speed, reaching nearly 2,800 cases and 13 deaths.
    The government of West Australia state said nobody would be permitted to disembark from the German-operated MV Artania after seven of 800 foreign passengers on board tested positive for the virus, unless there was a “life threatening emergency.”
    “This ship needs to leave immediately,” Premier Mark McGowan said.    “Our position is clear, we are not going to have a Sydney Harbour fiasco on our watch.”
    Germany’s Phoenix Reisen, owner of the Artania, was not immediately available for comment.     McGowan said a second cruise ship, the MSC Magnifica, which was refused permission to dock in Perth this week, was headed out of Australian waters.    MSC Cruises, which has said it had no ill passengers, declined to comment on its destination.     Cruise ships have become a flashpoint after 147 of the 2,700 passengers allowed to disembark from Carnival Corp’s Ruby Princess later tested positive for the virus, a blunder that underlined official tensions in handling the crisis.     State and federal authorities have clashed over who was at fault, amid conflicting public advice over matters such as virus testing and school closures.     The discrepancies echo similar tensions elsewhere. In Brazil, state governors have defied President Jair Bolsonaro’s call to ease strict curbs.    Bolsonaro, who has called the virus a “little flu,” wanted schools and businesses reopened.
    Western Australia is preparing Rottnest island, a former prison island, to quarantine some of the 800 Australians aboard a third cruise ship, the British-operated Vasco de Gama. More than 100 other passengers, from Britain and New Zealand, will be quarantined on the ship when it docks on Monday.
    Shipowner Britain’s Cruise & Maritime Voyages said it was carrying no unwell passengers or staff.
    More than 3,000 Australians are scattered on about 30 cruise ships around the world, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
    “In so many ports – I couldn’t begin to count – but literally from South America, to Europe, to the United States, and further afield,” she said.    “We want to make sure that those Australians are able to return.”
    Two British tourists found themselves stranded in South Australia last week after getting off the Celebrity Solstice cruise liner in Sydney, and traveling to the city of Adelaide where they were told to quarantine themselves, they told media.
    Steve and Tina Dixon, an asthmatic diagnosed with the virus, had to rely on a good Samaritan for food after arriving in the city where they had no friends or family, and were unable to register for a home delivery account at a local supermarket.
TOUGHER SOCIAL CURBS
    Some state leaders have also flagged that they are willing to push for tougher curbs on social activities if Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government does not move fast enough.
    Stricter measures likely in the next few days are expected to affect retail and public transport.
    Police will patrol beaches on what is set to be a sunny weekend, after crowds at Sydney’s Bondi last weekend frustrated officials and set off a round of tighter curbs.
    “Because of the lack of consistent messaging, because people had been flouting the earlier advice regarding social distancing measures, we need to move further and quickly to ensure that what we’re seeing around the world doesn’t mimic and occur on front doors,” Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone told reporters.
    With infections rising quickly, Australia has ordered curbs, such as the forced closure of pubs, restaurants and cinemas.
    Long queues snaked around welfare offices, while more than a quarter of a million Australians registered for financial help on Wednesday, the government said.
    Further job losses are expected, with some economists expecting Australian unemployment to double this year to more than 11%.
    Flight Centre on Thursday said a third of its workforce of 20,000 faced temporary or permanent redundancy, while retail tycoon Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments Ltd temporarily closed all stores in Australia.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey, Renju Jose, Colin Packham, Byron Kaye and Melanie Burton. Writing By Kate Lamb and Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Jane Wardell and Clarence Fernandez)

3/26/2020 U.S. envoy blames China for endangering world with coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Woody Johnson, is pictured after listening
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and David Attenborough during a conference about the UK-hosted COP26
UN Climate Summit, at the Science Museum in London, Britain February 4, 2020. Chris J Ratcliffe/Pool via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to London has said China had endangered the world by suppressing information about the coronavirus outbreak thus allowing it to spread far beyond the Communist republic’s borders.
    “First it tried to suppress the news,” Ambassador Woody Johnson wrote in an article for The Times newspaper published on Thursday, adding that Beijing had then selectively shared critical information while stonewalling international health authorities.
    “Had China done the right things at the right time, more of its own population, and the rest of the world, might have been spared the most serious impact of this disease,” the ambassador wrote.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has said Beijing should have acted faster to warn the world after the outbreak of the disease there.    He also dismissed criticism that his labeling it as the “Chinese virus” was racist.
    Last week, he brushed aside a reporter’s question as to whether it was potentially harmful to Asian-Americans to give the disease that name, as well for an unnamed White House official to have privately termed it the “kung flu.”

    On Monday, the president said Asian-Americans were not responsible for spreading the disease and needed to be protected.
    “When the crisis finally abates we should take stock of the outcome and evaluate the costs of this breakdown in international collaboration,” Ambassador Johnson wrote in The Times.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; editing by Michael Holden)

3/26/2020 India’s coronavirus cases tick up despite immense lockdown by Sanjeev Miglani
People queue standing in circles drawn with chalk to maintain safe distance as they wait to buy medicine during a 21-day nationwide
lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Three more people infected with coronavirus died overnight in India as the government sought on Thursday to improve basic services to 1.3 billion people locked indoors to slow the spread of the disease.
    Streets were silent across India’s cities and towns on the second day of a three-week, 24 hour shutdown as people heeded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call not to step out of homes except in emergencies or to buy food and other necessities.
    Lines of people, wearing masks and some with gloves, could be seen outside small neighborhood shops in Delhi and Mumbai, among other cities.
    Trucks were stranded at state borders and public transport was withdrawn.    Police have strictly enforced the lockdown even though Modi said essential services would be maintained.
    Ram Prakash, a shopkeeper in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, said supplies of some essential goods had improved although bottled water was still a problem.
    “We are still facing supply issues with a few things, but slowly things are getting better,” he said.
    The health ministry said the number of cases of coronavirus had risen to 649, of which 13 had died.
    The numbers are still small compared with those in China, Italy and Spain, but health experts have warned that the world’s second most populous country faces a tidal wave of infections if tough steps are not taken.
    Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, told a Geneva news conference that with the lockdown in place, India had a window of opportunity to expand testing, surveillance and quarantine facilities and said its success with eliminating polio was an example.
    “India got rid of polio by breaking it by breaking it down to the village level.    All the way through the system, it broke down the problem, it went after the polio virus district by district by district by district.    And India won.”
    “If India does the same thing, breaks down the problem, puts in place the measures that are needed, then there is a way out.”
    India has tested 24,254 people as of Wednesday, according to the government run Indian Council of Medical Research, a small number compared to the population.
    Only recently has the government authorized the private sector and some nongovernmental research laboratories to run the tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
HIKERS STRANDED NEAR EVEREST
    The number of cases rose to 1,102 in neighboring Pakistan with eight deaths, with most cases in Sindh province that is under a lockdown.     But infections in Punjab, the most populous province, are picking up now, government data showed.
    On Wednesday, Pakistan said it was seeking a fresh $1.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it deal with the economic slowdown from the coronavirus.
    Pakistan is already on a three-year rescue package that began last year as the country of 208 million people wrestles with a balance-of-payments crisis.
    In Nepal, authorities were trying to evacuate tourists stranded in different parts of the country due to a nationwide lockdown, bring them to Kathmandu and arrange to send them home, the government said.
    Shyam Thapa of the Himalayan Expedition company said about 125 foreign hikers were stranded at Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest.    “They are safe and have no problem,” Thapa told Reuters.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Gibran Peshiman in Islamabad, Aftab Ahmad in Delhi and Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/26/2020 Japan’s Abe calls coronavirus a ‘national crisis’ after surge in Tokyo by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg
People wearing protective face masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
queue to buy masks at a drugstore in Tokyo, Japan March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan banned entry from Europe on Thursday and warned of a high risk the coronavirus would become rampant after a surge in Tokyo, setting up a task force – a step toward a possible state of emergency – though the government said none was yet planned.
    “In order to overcome what can be described as a national crisis, it is necessary for the state, local governments, medical community, and the people to act as one and press ahead with measures against coronavirus infections,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a task force meeting.
    He announced a ban on entry from 21 European countries and Iran, to begin from Friday.    Abe said he had launched the task force under a recently revised law, after receiving a report that the chance the virus would spread widely were high.
    Public broadcaster NHK said 47 new cases were reported in the capital Tokyo on Thursday.    Authorities are worried that a jump in cases in the capital in recent days means Japan, which has so far escaped the sort of mass spread that has hit Europe and North America, could now be on course for a big new wave.
    As of Thursday evening, Japan had 1,369 domestic cases of coronavirus, as well as 712 from a cruise ship docked near Tokyo last month, according to NHK tallies.    There have been 46 domestic deaths and 10 from the cruise ship.
    “I told Prime Minister Abe there is a high risk of coronavirus spreading widely,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters after meeting Abe and Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.
    Japan was an early focus of the coronavirus outbreak, with the cruise ship initially the biggest source of infections outside China.    But it has so far averted the mass community spread that has forced Europe and North America to grapple with thousands of new cases per day.
    A rise in cases from sources that cannot be traced now has many Japanese expecting the government to announce a state of emergency, giving local authorities legal basis to ask residents and businesses to restrict movement and work.    Nishimura, the economy minister, said no such declaration is planned for now.
    Under a law revised this month to cover the coronavirus, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread threatens serious economic damage.
    Japan was already teetering on the brink of before the virus struck.    On Thursday, the government offered its bleakest assessment on the economy in nearly seven years, saying conditions in March were “severe.”
    A state of emergency would allow governors in hard-hit Japanese regions to take steps similar to those taken in Europe and U.S. states, such as asking people to stay home, closing schools and other public facilities and cancelling large events.    It does not give powers to impose penalties for ignoring such requests in most cases.
    Japanese shares tumbled on Thursday following three days of big gains after the rise in domestic coronavirus cases stoked worries of tougher restrictions for social distancing.
    Hitachi Ltd instructed 50,000 employees at its group companies in Tokyo to work from home and avoid unnecessary outings.
    A landmark department store in Tokyo’s Shibuya district – popular with young people, many of whom have continued to go out to play and shop – said it would close on the weekend.    Toho Cinemas also said it would close its movie theaters in Tokyo and nearby Kanagawa prefecture on Saturday and Sunday.
WORRIES OF SURGE
    On Wednesday, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike warned of the risk of an explosive rise in infections in the capital and asked residents to avoid non-essential outings through April 12, especially over the weekend.    She repeated her call on Thursday.
    Koike was to meet Abe later on Thursday.    Koike has asked the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa to ask their residents to refrain from non-urgent, non-essential travel to Tokyo, the Nikkei business daily reported. The governor of Kanagawa later asked residents to stay at home this weekend.
    “The government and local authorities will cooperate based on the awareness that this is a very critical time to prevent the spread of the virus,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosihide Suga told a news conference.
    Suga later said the risk of the infection spreading was high, but there was no need to change a plan to reopen schools in early April.    Many closed earlier this month at Abe’s request.
    The International Olympic Committee and the government on Tuesday agreed to put back the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by a year.
    If an emergency is declared, enforcement provisions will still be weak.    “For better or worse, no police at our doors,” said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute of Population Health at King’s College, London.
    On a sunny three-day break last weekend, crowds of people were out in Tokyo despite bans in some areas on picnics for the traditional spring “hanami” cherry-blossom viewing.    On Thursday, tabloids blared “Tokyo Lockdown Panic” and “Tokyo Destruction.”
    But a long line of people waited at a chocolate croissant cafe in Tokyo for lunch, while subways were packed and people lined up before drug stores opened to buy masks and sanitary products that are in short supply.
(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki, Linda Sieg, Elaine Lies, Ju-min Park and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel and Peter Graff)

3/26/2020 Vietnam quarantines tens of thousands in camps amid vigorous attack on coronavirus by James Pearson and Phuong Nguyen
Health workers in hazmat suits are seen at the gate of Vietnam's largest hospital, Bach Mai,
where coronavirus cases have been detected in Hanoi, Vietnam March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has sent tens of thousands of people to quarantine camps as waves of overseas citizens return home to escape a coronavirus pandemic spreading in Europe and the United States.
    Even though Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia’s poorer nations, its efforts against the virus, praised at home, have ensured its tally of infections is lower than many neighbours.
    By Thursday, those quarantined in military-run centres numbered 44,955, down about 15% from Monday’s figure, official data showed, as many among the first influx to return home early in March were discharged.
    “All passengers undergo quick screening,” a medical official at Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport told Reuters.
    “Those with symptoms are taken to hospital, and the rest are sent to quarantine camps, where they will share a room with 10 to 20 others on the same flight.”
    The official was one of several interviewed by Reuters who sought anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to media.
    Vietnam has reported just 148 infections, its health ministry says, with no deaths.
Its proven infection rate is lower than any regional nations except Myanmar and Laos, where testing has been very limited.
    Official figures show Vietnam has tested more than 30,000 people.
    The current phase of the battle against the virus is “decisive,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has said, in an effort government statements describe as the “spring general offensive of 2020.”
    Vietnam took a textbook approach in its early response strategy, based on its experience as the first country outside China to be hit by the SARS outbreak of 2003, said Todd Pollack, an infectious diseases specialist at Harvard Medical School.
    “Quarantine of individuals who have contact with a case or are coming from a high risk area is definitely a key strategy; especially since people infected seem to be infectious at the very start of symptoms,” added Pollack, who works with a Harvard initiative in Hanoi, Health Advancement in Vietnam (HAIVN).
‘CARING SOLDIERS’
    Vietnam began its mass quarantine programme on Mar. 16, when it began compulsory testing and quarantine measures for arrivals from virus-hit areas.
    Singapore and Taiwan are among the other nations to have quarantined thousands of people, although most have been confined to their homes rather than camps.    China also sends new arrivals to designated sites for compulsory quarantine.
    Vietnam’s aggressive contact tracing has occasionally led to the quarantine or self-isolation of hundreds of people because of just a few cases.
    People’s hearts have been warmed by tales on social media of tired soldiers offering help or sleeping in the forest to provide bed space for arrivals at military-run quarantine centres.
    “Quarantine camp can’t be like home,” said Nguyen Ha My, a student who was sent to a barracks 160 km (100 miles) outside Hanoi after she arrived from Hungary on Saturday.
    “No place can be like home, but I feel safe here,” My, who shares a room with several people, told Reuters.    “The soldiers here are very caring.    I was given the smallest things such as shampoo, shower gel, and even toilet paper.”
    My and others in quarantine said everyone practised social distancing, with those showing initial symptoms immediately moved elsewhere in the camp.
    Nguyen Nhat Anh, who left Vietnam in February to study in Australia, is another person who returned home on Saturday.     “It’s like a vacation, at quarantine camp,” Anh told Reuters.    “Free Wi-Fi, free meals, free face masks.    Just a little heart attack if any of the roommates cough.”
(Reporting by James Pearson and Phuong Nguyen; Additional reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Clarence Fernandez)

3/26/2020 South Korea warns of deportation, jail for quarantine violators by Hyonhee Shin
Women wearing masks to protect against contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk
along a street in Seoul, South Korea March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea warned on Thursday that it will deport foreigners while its citizens could face jail if they violate self-quarantine rules after a surge in imported coronavirus cases.
    South Korea has tightened entry rules for travellers from countries suffering big outbreaks, subjecting them to two weeks of mandatory quarantine but at least 11 people violated self-quarantine rules between March 13 and 24, the health ministry said.    It did not specify their nationalities.
    “We will apply zero-tolerance principles in taking action against those who leave their self-isolation venue without legitimate reasons,” Yoon Tae-ho, director-general for public health policy at the health ministry, told a briefing.
    “Foreign nationals will be forcibly repatriated and Korean citizens will be reported to police for due penalties and lose financial support provided for those who have faithfully implemented a 14-day quarantine.”
    South Koreans who violate the rules could be jailed for up to a year and fined 10 million won ($8,100).
    South Korea reported 104 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, including 30 imported one, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.    That brought its total cases to 9,241, with a new death toll of 142, up from 126.
    The number of infected travellers arriving in South Korea has grown more than five-fold to 284 over the past two weeks, the KCDC said.
    Other countries in Asia, including China and Singapore, have also seen sharp increases in imported cases, threatening their largely successful efforts to get domestic epidemics under control.
    Many of those coming back are citizens of those Asian countries who have been studying in Britain and the United States, now leaving as the coronavirus spreads rapidly there and their schools and universities suspend classes.
    People arriving in South Korea on long-term visas from Europe must be tested for the virus and spend two weeks in quarantine.
    People arriving from the United States will also have to undergo quarantine from Friday, though only people showing symptoms of the coronavirus will be tested.
    Nearly 90% of the foreigners subject to the rules have signed up for a smartphone application that tracks their movements while in quarantine while some 60% of South Koreans have, an interior ministry official said.
    The KCDC said it was looking in to ways to keep in touch with those who are unable to use the application.
    “Up to 90% of the overseas arrivals are our citizens and there were many new cases among them,” deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a separate briefing.
    “Travellers please stay home for two weeks upon return and join our efforts to contain the spread of the virus.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Robert Birsel)

3/26/2020 Iran starts intercity travel ban amid fears of surge of coronavirus by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Members of firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
as they disinfect the streets, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in Tehran, Iran March 18, 2020.
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has started an intercity travel ban, an Iranian official said in a televised news conference on Thursday, a day after Iran’s government spokesman warned the country might face a surge of cases in the coronavirus pandemic.
    Officials have complained that many Iranians ignored appeals to stay at home and cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20.
    The outbreak has killed 2,234 people in Iran where there have been 29,406 reported cases of the virus so far.
    “Those who have travelled for the Iranian New Year holidays should immediately return to their cities without making any stops in other cities on their way back home,” said Hossein Zolfaghari, a member of Iran’s national headquarters for fighting the coronavirus.     The authorities have called on Iranians to avoid public places and stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural and sports centres have been temporarily closed.
    “The closure of universities and schools as well as suspension of gatherings has been extended,” Zolfaghari said, adding that violators of the measures will face legal consequences.
    President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will contain the spread of the virus in two weeks, adding that further measures have been taken to ease the economic impact of the outbreak on lower-income citizens.
    “We will send a letter to Iran’s supreme leader today to seek permission on withdrawal of $1 billion from Iran’s sovereign wealth fund,” Rouhani said in a meeting, broadcast live on state TV.
    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all state matters.
    “This amount will be used to help impacted lower-income people and to assist our health sector.”
    Shut out of international capital markets and facing a further hit to its finances with the collapse in oil prices coming on top of U.S. sanctions, Iran is struggling to shield its economy from the coronavirus pandemic.
    “Despite being under tough U.S. sanctions … our fight against the coronavirus outbreak continues and we will overcome the outbreak,” said Rouhani.
    Tensions have risen between longtime foes Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    Iranian authorities, blaming U.S. sanctions for hampering Tehran’s efforts to curb the outbreak, have urged other countries and the United Nations to call on Washington to lift the sanctions.    Washington has rejected lifting the sanctions.
    Khamenei has dismissed a purported U.S. offer of humanitarian aid amid the pandemic, saying Americans “could be giving medicines to Iran that spread the virus or cause it to remain permanently.”
    Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami on Thursday said Iran has the capability to overcome the outbreak, rejecting the purported aid offer as a “trick.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Perry, Jason Neely and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/26/2020 Japan PM Abe sets up coronavirus task force, enacts Europe, Iran entry ban
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference on Japan's response to the
coronavirus outbreak at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has established a task force under the country’s revised emergency law to deal with the global rise in coronavirus infections and deaths.
    It is necessary for people to act as one to overcome what can be described as a national crisis, Abe said in Tokyo on Thursday.
    Japan will ban entry from 21 European countries as well as Iran, to take effect from March 27, Abe said.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Rocky Swift; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/26/2020 Malaysia reports 235 new coronavirus cases in biggest daily jump
FILE PHOTO: A police officer points at a drone, which is used by Malaysian police to remind citizens to stay at home during the movement
control order due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia on Thursday reported 235 new coronavirus cases in its biggest daily jump, bringing the total number of cases to 2,031.
    The number of deaths from coronavirus rose to 23, the health ministry said.
    Malaysia’s total number of cases has now doubled in a week. On Wednesday, the government extended curbs on travel and movement to until April 14th to contain the spread of the virus.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/26/2020 U.S. imposes fresh Iran-related sanctions despite coronavirus by Daphne Psaledakis and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals on Thursday for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in the last two weeks even as Tehran battles the coronavirus outbreak.
.     In a statement, the U.S. Treasury Department accused those targeted of supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm and of transferring lethal aid to Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, all of which Washington deems foreign terrorist organizations.
    The Pentagon blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a March 11 rocket attack that killed one British and two U.S. personnel in Iraq.
    U.S. officials say they plan to keep sanctioning Iran to try to force it to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities despite the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 2,234 people in Iran.
    Treasury accused those designated of “malign activities” including selling Iranian oil to Syria, smuggling arms to Iraq and Yemen and backing Iraqi militias that attack U.S. forces.
    The sanctions freeze any of their U.S.-held assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.
    The five targeted companies are Mada’in Novin Traders and Reconstruction Organization of the Holy Shrines in Iraq, both of which are based in Iran and Iraq; Bahjat al Kawthar Company for Construction and Trading Ltd, also known as Kosar Company, and Al Khamael Maritime Services, which are both based in Iraq; and Middle East Saman Chemical Company, which is based in Iran.
    The action also blacklists 15 individuals who are associated with the companies or officials of the Quds Force and Kataib Hezbollah.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the boycott of U.S. sanctions, though it was unclear if he was responding to the latest actions.    “Does the US want a ‘forever pandemic’?    Moral imperative to stop observing the bully’s sanctions,” he tweeted.
    Humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 multilateral deal to limit its nuclear program.
    However, broader U.S. sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran.
    The United States and Switzerland this year finalized a Swiss channel to get humanitarian goods to Iran.    As of March 19, one transaction had been processed.
    Separately, Washington renewed a sanctions waiver letting Iraq import electricity from Iran but vowed to blacklist anyone who used it to help terrorist groups.
(Additional Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Franklin Paul, Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

3/27/2020 China’s Xi offers Trump help in fighting coronavirus as U.S. faces wave of new patients by Se Young Lee and Lusha Zhang
A woman wearing a face mask takes pictures with a mobile phone at a riverside park by the Yangtze River in Wuhan of
Hubei province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump during a phone call on Friday that he would have China’s support in fighting the coronavirus, as the United States faces the prospect of becoming the next global epicentre of the pandemic.
    The United States now has the most coronavirus cases of any country, with 84,946 infections and 1,259 deaths.    Hospitals in cities like New York and New Orleans struggle to cope with the wave of patients.
    Xi’s offer of assistance came amid a long-running war of words between Beijing and Washington over various issues including the coronavirus epidemic.
    Trump and some U.S. officials have accused China of a lack of transparency on the virus, and Trump has at times called the coronavirus a “China virus” as it originated there, angering Beijing.
    In the call, Xi reiterated to Trump that China had been open and transparent about the epidemic, according to an account of the conversation published by the Chinese foreign ministry.
    Trump said on Twitter that he discussed the coronavirus outbreak “in great detail” with Xi.
    “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the virus,” Trump said.    “We are working closely together.    Much respect!.”
    The World Health Organization has said the United States, which saw 17,099 new coronavirus cases and 281 deaths in the past 24 hours, is expected to become the epicentre of the pandemic.
CHINA CUTS FLIGHTS
    Like U.S. hospitals now, China’s medical system struggled to contain the coronavirus just two months ago, but draconian city lockdowns and severe travel restrictions has seen China dramatically ease the epidemic.
    Mainland China on Friday reported its first local coronavirus case in three days and 54 new imported cases, as Beijing ordered airlines to sharply cut international flights, for fear travellers could reignite the coronavirus outbreak.
    The 55 new cases detected on Thursday were down from 67 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said on Friday, taking the tally of infections to 81,340. China’s death toll stood at 3,292 as of Thursday, up by five from a day earlier.
    The central province of Hubei, with a population of about 60 million, reported no new cases on Thursday, a day after lifting a lockdown and reopening its borders as the epidemic eased there.
    The commercial capital of Shanghai reported the most new imported cases with 17, followed by 12 in the southern province of Guangdong and four each in the capital Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin.
    Shanghai now has 125 patients who arrived from overseas, including 46 from Britain and 27 from the United States.
    In effect from Sunday, China has ordered its airlines to fly only one route to any country, on just one flight each week. Foreign airlines must comply with similar curbs on flights to China, although many had already halted services.
    About 90% of current international flights into China will be suspended, cutting arrivals to 5,000 passengers a day, from 25,000, the civil aviation regulator said late on Thursday.
    From Saturday, China will temporarily suspend entry for foreigners with valid visas and residence permits, in an interim measure, the foreign ministry added.
    Before the new curbs, foreign nationals made up about a tenth of the roughly 20,000 travellers arriving on international flights every day, an official of China’s National Immigration Administration said last week.
    As commercial flights dwindle, Chinese students from wealthy families are paying tens of thousands of dollars to fly home on private jets.
    International demand for chartered and private flights into China increased 227% in March from a year earlier, said Shanghai-based private jet service provider iFlyPlus.
    Notably, requests for flights from the United States to China rose 10-fold in late March, iFlyPlus told Reuters.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee, Lusha Zhang, Stella Qiu, David Stanway, Huizhong Wu, Colin Qian and Ryan Woo; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

3/27/2020 Exclusive: Support for Hong Kong protesters’ demands rises even as coronavirus halts rallies: poll by Felix Tam and Clare Jim
FILE PHOTO: Anti-government protesters attend a rally to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong, China January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Support for the demands of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong has grown even as rallies have paused due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a survey conducted for Reuters that also showed a widespread lack of confidence in the government’s ability to manage the COVID-19 crisis.
    Demands for the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, were supported by 63% of respondents in the poll, conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute between March 17-20, versus 57% in a poll it conducted in December.
    Supporters of the protests outnumbered opponents by a ratio of roughly two to one, with 28% against them compared with 30% in a poll in December, and 58% supporting them, versus 59% previously.
    The poll showed a significant increase in the levels of support for key demands of the often-violent demonstrations which rattled the city for most of last year and into early January before the coronavirus crisis.
    The survey also showed a widespread lack of confidence in the government’s coronavirus measures, with 54% expressing distrust and 33% giving the thumbs up.
    The anti-government protests escalated in June 2019 over a since withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions of defendants to mainland China, and later morphed into a movement for greater democracy in the Chinese-ruled city.
    Many protesters say Beijing has used its authority under the “one country, two systems” formula, agreed when Britain handed over the city to China in 1997, to undermine freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong that are unavailable in the mainland.
    “It is understandable that protesters resort to extreme means,” said Patrick Yeung, a 32-year-old IT worker who responded to the survey.    “I hope Beijing can meddle less in Hong Kong’s affairs, which could actually stabilize Hong Kong and curb people’s anger.”
    Beijing denies meddling in Hong Kong and blames the West for fomenting unrest.
    For more comments from respondents see.
    Lam’s office and China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which comes under the State Council, or cabinet, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Support for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, a core demand of protesters aimed at strengthening the territory’s level of autonomy, rose to 68% from 60% in December.
    An independent commission of inquiry, which protesters want to look into how the police handled demonstrations, is now supported by 76% of respondents versus 74% previously.
    The demands of the protesters “haven’t been diluted, or forgotten, due to the epidemic situation,” said Ma Ngok, associate professor of government and public administration at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
    Opposition to the demands of the protesters has remained virtually unchanged at 15%.
    “The government should investigate the culprits behind the political crisis and should not accede to other demands from the protesters,” said another respondent, Ming Hon, an unemployed 49-year-old who moved to Hong Kong from mainland China recently and had jobs in cleaning and construction.
    For the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 1,001 respondents were randomly surveyed by telephone in Cantonese, which is spoken by the vast majority of people in Hong Kong.    The results were weighted according to the latest population figures.
VIRUS RESPONSE
    Following a large rally on New Year’s Day in which some protesters clashed with police, crowds on the streets have dropped from many thousands to a few hundred as Hong Kongers adopted social distancing to fight the coronavirus.
    Some recent protests focused on the government’s decision not to fully close the border with mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated.    The administration has since banned all tourist arrivals.
    Although Hong Kong has won praise for limiting the outbreak to roughly 450 cases and four deaths, the poll showed that many citizens remain distrustful of the government.
    “The results in combating the pandemic are because of the self-discipline of Hong Kong people.    The government has nothing to do with it,” said Evelyn Lau, a 23-year-old tutor who participated in the poll.
OPPOSITION TO INDEPENDENCE
    Another key finding of the survey is that while calls for Hong Kong’s independence from China grew within the margin of error, opposition to the idea has dropped significantly and indifference has increased dramatically.
    Support for independence rose from 17% in December to 20%, but opposition tumbled from 68% to 56%, and those not leaning either way doubled to 18%.
    “People talk more about it, so it becomes more easy to accept,” said Samson Yuen, assistant professor in the political science department at Lingnan University, referring to the independence issue.    “When people talk more about ‘liberating Hong Kong’, it shifts the frame.”
    With Legislative Council elections due in September, the pro-democracy/pro-Beijing split remained virtually unchanged from last year’s district council vote, with 58% saying they would vote for a pro-democracy candidate and 22% for a pro-Beijing one, with the rest undecided or not planning to vote.
    The degree of support for the protests varied sharply by age, education and whether respondents were born in Hong Kong.    Younger and better-educated people born in the city were far more likely to lean pro-democracy or support the protests.
    The poll, the second in a series commissioned by Reuters from the independent polling firm to gauge public sentiment amid the city’s worst political crisis in decades, showed respondents mainly blamed Lam’s administration for the state of affairs.
    Some 43% of respondents primarily blamed the Hong Kong government, compared with 47% in the previous poll, while 14% blamed the central government in Beijing versus 12% in December.    The police and protesters were blamed by about 10% each in both polls.
    Many protesters say they are incensed by what they see as an abuse of power by the police in dealing with the unrest.    The police say they have used reasonable and appropriate force against illegal acts including vandalism and rioting.
    China has denounced acts of violence in the protests, which it sees as being aimed at undermining Chinese sovereignty.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Philip McClellan)

3/27/2020 Iran’s death toll from coronavirus rises to 2,378: Health Ministry
A family wear protective face masks and gloves, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they walk by
the iconic Freedom Square, in Tehran, Iran March 26, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic rose to 2,378 on Friday, with 144 people dying in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
    The total number of confirmed cases of the disease increased by 2,926 to 32,332, he told state TV, adding that 2,893 of the patients are in a critical condition.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/27/2020 U.S. increases support for Taiwan, China threatens to strike back by Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen speaks in the Los Angeles Overseas Chinese
Banquet during visit in Los Angeles, California, U.S. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu
    TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law an act that requires increased U.S. support for Taiwan internationally, prompting a denunciation by China, which said it would strike back if the law was implemented.
    China claims democratic and separately ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and regularly describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
    While the United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up backing for the island, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.
    The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, signed by Trump into law on Thursday with strong bipartisan support, requires the U.S. State Department to report to Congress on steps taken to strengthen Taiwan’s diplomatic relations.
    It also requires the United States to “alter” engagement with nations that undermine Taiwan’s security or prosperity.
    Taiwan complains that China is poaching the dwindling number of countries that maintain formal ties with Taipei and has prevented it from participating in bodies like the World Health Organization.
    China says Taiwan is merely one of its provinces, with no right to the trappings of a state.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture on her Twitter page of Taiwan’s flag fluttering next to the U.S. one under the words “Friends in freedom, partners in prosperity,” to welcome Trump’s signing of the law.
    It was “a testament to Taiwan-U.S. friendship & mutual support as we work together to address global threats to human health & our shared democratic values,” she wrote in English.
‘RESOLUTE STRIKE’
    China has stepped up its military drills around Taiwan in recent weeks despite the outbreak of the coronavirus, which emerged in a central Chinese province late last year and spread rapidly in China and beyond.
    Taiwan says China should focus more on fighting the disease than menacing it.
    China is already angry about U.S. accusations it poorly handled the coronavirus outbreak, and the new law adds to Sino-U.S. tension.
    Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the U.S. act contravened international law, was a “crude” interference in China’s internal affairs and obstructed other sovereign states from developing normal relations with China.
    “We urge the United States to correct its mistakes, not implement the law, or obstruct the development of relations between other countries and China, otherwise it will inevitably encounter a resolute strike back by China,” Geng said, without giving details.
    One of the authors of the act, Senator Cory Gardner, said it was needed to respond to Chinese pressure on, and bullying of, Taiwan.
    “This bipartisan legislation demands a whole-of-government approach to ramp up our support for Taiwan, and will send a strong message to nations that there will be consequences for supporting Chinese actions that undermine Taiwan,” he said in a statement.
    The United States has been particularly concerned about China hiving off Taiwan’s allies in the Pacific and Latin America, areas of the world Washington traditionally considers its zone of influence.
    Taiwan now only has diplomatic relations with 15 countries, almost all small and developing nations like Nauru, Belize and Honduras.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/27/2020 Exclusive: Japan favors home-grown design for next-generation fighter after rejecting foreign plans: sources by Tim Kelly
FILE PHOTO: A prototype of the first Japan-made stealth fighter is pictured at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' factory
in Toyoyama town, Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Takenaka/File Photo/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan wants to develop a stealth fighter domestically, rejecting designs from Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co in the United States and Britain’s BAE Systems PLC, three sources with knowledge of the program told Reuters.
    That would put Japan’s leading defense contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, in the lead for a military contract worth more than $40 billion. The company has not submitted a design for the next-generation fighter, but developed Japan’s stealth fighter technology demonstrator, the X-2, in 2016.
    “Japan’s stealth designs have performed well in tests so far,” said one of the sources, who has knowledge of discussion about the new proposed plane, referred to as the F-3 or F-X.
    A spokesman for Mitsubishi Heavy said the company would work with the government on whatever policy it decided to follow.
    “We understand the Japanese government will lead the development program,” a Mitsubishi Heavy spokesman said.
    Japan’s Air Self Defense Force flies about 200 Boeing F-15 jets and is replacing squadrons of decades-old F-4 fighters with Lockheed Martin F-35s.    The F-3 will succeed the F-2, a derivative of the F-16 Fighting Falcon jointly developed by Mitsubishi Heavy and Lockheed Martin more than two decades ago.
    Proposals from Lockheed, Boeing and BAE “were judged not to have met our needs,” said an official at the Japanese defense ministry’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA).    “No decision has yet been reached on the airframe,” he added.
    After settling on the airframe – the aircraft itself without the systems that make it fly – Japan’s government will select suppliers for the engine, flight systems, sensors and other components that will give the proposed jet its advanced capabilities, the sources said.
    All three spoke on condition of anonymity because the were not authorized to speak to the media.
    For many of the systems, Tokyo will need help from foreign companies to reduce development costs and time, ensuring it can deploy the fighter in the next decade to counter Chinese expansion in East Asia.
    U.S companies, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, are still potential partners, the sources said.
    “Lockheed Martin is encouraged by the ongoing dialogue between the U.S. Government and Government of Japan regarding Japan’s F-2 replacement plans, and is looking forward to detailed discussions with Japanese industry,” Lockheed Martin said in an email.    It had proposed an aircraft combining elements of its F-22 and F-35 stealth jets.
    “Boeing is committed to partnering with Japan to support development of a Japan-led, next-generation future fighter,” said a spokesman from Boeing, which had offered Japan a design based on its F-18 Super Hornet jet.
    Northrop Grumman is “engaged in frequent dialogue with Japan’s Ministry of Defense and Japanese industry in support of the F-X program,” a company spokesman said.    Northrop Grumman did not submit an airframe proposal.
    The United States, which has about 50,000 troops in Japan, including as an aircraft carrier strike group, remains the cornerstone of Tokyo’s defense policy.    U.S. President Donald Trump wants Japan to pay more for that protection and reduce its trade surplus with the United States.
    Japan is seeking deeper security ties elsewhere, including with Britain, which is courting Japan as a possible partner on its proposed next-generation jet, the Tempest.    If built, it would deploy in the 2030s.
    The leading defense contractor in that project, BAE, which offered Japan a design based on the Eurofighter Typhoon jet, could stand to benefit.
    BAE and other companies involved in Tempest proposal “continue to support the UK in its discussions with Japan to consider more deeply how the two nations can collaborate on their combined combat air requirements,” a BAE spokesman said.
    Japan wants to decide on the international partners for the F-3 by the end of the year, the ATLA official said.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/27/2020 South Koreans told to stay isolated, checks tightened on arrivals from U.S. by Josh Smith
A woman wearing a protective face mask to prevent contracting the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) walks stairs in Seoul, South Korea March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Authorities in South Korea pleaded with residents on Friday to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings as new coronavirus cases hovered close to 100 per day, while tighter border checks on people arriving from the United States also took effect.
    South Korea reported 91 new coronavirus cases on Friday, taking the national tally to 9,332, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
    The country has reported similar daily numbers for the past two weeks, down from a high of over 900 in late February.
    But a recent surge in imported cases has prompted authorities to toughen entry rules for travellers from Europe and the United States.
    The government has sought to convince a restless public that several more weeks of social distancing and self-isolation may be needed to give health authorities time to tamp down the smaller but still steady stream of new cases.
    “As the weather is getting nicer, I know many of you may have plans to go outside,” Yoon Tae-ho, director-general for public health policy at the health ministry, told a briefing.
    “But social distancing cannot be successful when it’s only an individual, it needs to be the whole community.”
    People arriving from the United States have to spend two weeks in quarantine starting Friday, and those showing symptoms like fever will be tested.    Tighter rules, including a mandatory test and quarantine took effect on Thursday for visitors from Europe on long-term visas.
    South Korea has installed “walk-through” testing stations at Incheon airport to meet the need to check arrivals from the United States and Europe.
    The tent-like facilities, set up just outside the airport, are capable of running more than 10 tests per hour, whereas regular hospitals conduct up to three and drive-through stations handle six to eight, the health ministry said.
    The number of infected travellers has increased by more than fivefold to 309 over the past two weeks, 90% of them returning South Koreans, according to the KCDC.
U.S. MILITARY ON ALERT
    The U.S. military command this week also moved to try to restrict the movements of roughly 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.
    On Friday, United States Forces Korea (USFK) reported that an American contractor had tested positive, the third case to be confirmed this week among Americans working at the sprawling Camp Humphreys, where the U.S. military is headquartered.
    Late on Thursday an American soldier stationed at the camp south of Seoul tested positive, as did another American contractor also working there earlier this week.
    In all, 12 people – including two soldiers – related to USFK have tested positive.
    USFK declared a public health emergency, which gives commanders more authority to ensure “total force compliance” with regulations aimed at stopping the spread of infections by restricting the movements of not only troops, but also their families, as well as other civilians who work on the bases.
    “We cannot allow the actions of a few, who knowingly and selfishly take matters into their own hands, place the rest of population at an unacceptable level of risk,” USFK said in a letter this week.
    As recently as Wednesday a Facebook page affiliated with Camp Humphreys had advertised entertainment events for Thursday and Friday.    It was unclear if those events were cancelled, but new statements on the camp’s social media sites said as of Friday all movement on the base was restricted to “only bare necessities, which means food and life-health-safety.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin and Minwoo Park; Editing by Michael Perry and Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/27/2020 Malaysia reports 130 new coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: Workers spray disinfectant at a market, which is closed during the movement control order due to the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia reported 130 new coronavirus cases on Friday and a total of 2,161 infections, the highest total in Southeast Asia.
    The number of deaths from the virus outbreak rose to 26, the health ministry said.
    Earlier on Friday, Malaysia announced a stimulus package worth 250 billion ringgit ($58.28 billion) to help cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/27/2020 Fake coronavirus cure leaves hundreds dead in Iran by OAN Newsroom
FILE — In this Monday, March 2, 2020 file photo, a man wearing a face mask, to help protect against the
new coronavirus, speaks on his cellphone in downtown Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo Vahid Salemi, File)
    Hundreds of people are dying in Iran as a result of false remedies for the coronavirus.    According to reports, 470 people have died from drinking bootleg alcohol containing methanol to disinfect themselves.
    Nearly 3,000 more have alcohol poisoning as fake cures for COVID-19 have been circulating social media in the country.
    An advisor for the Iranian Health Ministry, Dr. Hossein Hassanian, said in some provinces the number of deaths caused by poisoning have surpassed those from the virus.
    “Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic, but we are fighting in two fronts here,” Dr. Hassanian explained.    “We have to both cure the people alcohol poisoning and also fight the coronavirus.”
    Meanwhile, international health experts have expressed concern that Iran is under-reporting cases of the virus.    Nonetheless, the country has reported the highest numbers in the Middle East with over 29,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
[WOULD YOU DEPEND ON A RULER WHO KILLS HIS OWN PEOPLE TO EXPECT HIM TO GIVE YOU GOOD ADVICE ON HOW TO SAVE YOUR LIFE.].

3/27/2020 Iran urges U.S. to free Iranian prisoners amid coronavirus
General view of a deserted street, during the intercity ban, amid fear of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Tehran, Iran March 26, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The Tehran government urged the United States on Friday to release Iranians held in U.S. jails on sanctions-related issues due to fears about the coronavirus epidemic.
    The death toll in Iran, one of the countries worst hit by the disease, meanwhile rose to 2,378 on Friday, a jump of 144, while its number of cases rose to 32,332, according to Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of holding a number of Iranians in its prisons and said that under the circumstances they should be set free.
    “US even refuses medical furlough — amid #covid19 — for innocent men jailed in horrific facilities. Release our men,” he said on Twitter.
    The United States became the country with the most infections globally when its cases topped 85,000 on Thursday.
    Zarif also referred to a report by the Guardian newspaper about Dr Sirous Asgari, a materials science professor, who it said was still being held in a crowded facility after being acquitted in November on U.S. federal charges of stealing trade secrets.
    “US has taken several Iranian scientists hostage — without charge or on spurious sanctions charges — & not releasing them; even when its OWN courts reject the absurd charges,” Zarif said.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month that U.S. citizen Michael White, who has been detained in Iran since 2018, had been released on medical furlough, adding that the U.S. navy veteran was under the custody of the Swiss government.
    Days before speaking about White, Pompeo said Tehran was considering freeing some U.S. citizens and urged it to do so as a humanitarian gesture because of coronavirus.
    On Thursday, the United States blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals accused of supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in the last two weeks.
    Humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear programme.    However, broader U.S. sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

3/27/2020 Shrimp vendor at Wuhan market possible patient zero by OAN Newsroom
People wearing masks buy foods at a supermarket in Hangzhou in east China’s
Zhejiang province, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Chinatopix via AP)
    A shrimp vendor at a market in Wuhan, China has been identified as the possible patient zero of COVID-19.    Friday reports revealed a 57-year-old woman was the first person on record to be diagnosed with the coronavirus.
    The woman has said she developed symptoms on December 10th while at a seafood market in Wuhan, which was the first location to report a cluster of cases.    Thinking she had the flu, the woman picked up treatment at a clinic and went back to work.    She may have spread the coronavirus to others from there.
    After her infection became much worse a week later, she went to a larger hospital.    She was told others had come in with the same “ruthless” bug.
    It remains unclear how she contracted the virus.
    As of Friday, there were more than 89,000 active cases of coronavirus in the U.S. alone, along with at least 1,382 reported deaths.    The number of active cases around the world has risen above 395,000, with the global death toll surpassing 24,000.
    U.S. health officials have warned the nation’s coronavirus cases are expected to continue rising before leveling off.
FILE – In this Feb. 4, 2020, file photo workers arrange beds in a convention center that has been converted
into a temporary hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province. (Chinatopix via AP, File)

3/27/2020 Hong Kong to limit public gatherings to 4 people by OAN Newsroom
People wearing face masks walk at a downtown street in Hong Kong Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    Hong Kong has implemented strict measures on group gatherings to stop to the spread of the coronavirus.    On Friday, city leader Carrie Lam banned public gatherings of more than four people.
    The city recently experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases, due to a rush of residents returning from abroad.    Starting this weekend, gyms, theaters and other places of entertainment will close for two weeks.
    Lam acknowledged the measures will further impact local businesses, but assured residents that the new rules are necessary.
    “In other words, we have a public emergency,” she said.    “Hence, we need stronger measures, including legislation, to prevent public gatherings of a large scale.”
    According to Lam, the government will provide financial support to affected businesses and employees.    She added they will have details at a later date.
In this Jan. 31, 2020 file photo, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, left, and other government officials
wear protective face masks before a press conference in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, File)

3/28/2020 Iran’s health system strong, ready for possible escalation in coronavirus cases: Rouhani
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting of the Iranian government task force
on the coronavirus, in Tehran, Iran, March 21, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s health infrastructure is strong and ready to cope with a possible escalation in coronavirus cases, President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday on state TV.
    Iran is among the few countries worldwide severely affected by the pandemic.    On Friday, the health ministry reported a death toll of 2,378 and total confirmed infections at 32,332.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

3/28/2020 Taiwan foreign minister invites U.S. reporters expelled by China
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu speaks during an
interview in Taipei, Taiwan November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu extended a personal invitation on Saturday for three major U.S. newspapers to station on the island their China-based journalists whose expulsion Beijing has announced.
    China said on March 18 it was revoking the press accreditations of all American journalists in the China bureaus of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, which were due to expire at the end of 2020.
    Beijing also said those affected would not be allowed to work as journalists in the Chinese-run city of Hong Kong.    In the past, foreign journalists kicked out of, or barred from, mainland China were allowed to work in Hong Kong.
    “As @nytimes, @WSJ & @washingtonpost face intensifying hostility in China, I’d like to welcome you to be stationed in Taiwan – a country that is a beacon of freedom & democracy,” Wu wrote on Twitter.
    “Yes!    You’ll find people here greeting you with open arms & lots of genuine smiles.”
    Taiwan is home to only a small number of permanent foreign correspondents, and none of the three newspapers has a full-time presence on the island currently.
    While Chinese-claimed Taiwan is a freewheeling democracy with freedom of expression, it has stepped up border controls to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and generally only foreigners already holding residence permits are currently allowed entry.
    China has laid the blame for the situation with the three newspapers at Washington’s door, for first restricting the number of Chinese media in the United States.
    Last month, Washington demanded journalists from Chinese state media be registered as staff of diplomatic missions, saying it was a response to the growing crackdown on independent reporting in China.
    China then expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters – two Americans and an Australian – after the paper published an opinion column calling China the “real sick man of Asia.”
    In an open letter published earlier this week, the three publishers urged China to reconsider the move, saying it was “uniquely damaging and reckless” at a time when the world is sharing the burden of fighting the coronavirus.
    China hit out at what it called “biased” reporting on Friday in a frosty response to that request.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/28/2020 China readies stimulus measures as local virus cases dwindle by Andrew Galbraith and Luoyan Liu
Security personnel wearing face masks stand guard in front of closed shops inside a railway station
in Wuhan on the first day inbound train services resumed following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
in Wuhan of Hubei province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s authorities plan stronger steps to revive an economy hit by the spread of coronavirus, as the nation on Saturday reported no new locally transmitted infections for the previous day.
    The ruling Communist Party’s Politburo said on Friday it would step up macroeconomic policy adjustments and pursue more proactive fiscal policy, state media reported.    With the world’s second-biggest economy expected to shrink for the first time in four decades this quarter, China is set to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.
    The Politburo called for expanding the budget deficit, issuing more local and national bonds, guiding interest rates lower, delaying loan repayments, reducing supply-chain bottlenecks and boosting consumption.
    “We expect government ministries to roll out more tangible measures in the coming weeks as this Politburo meeting gave them no choice but to do more,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note.
    The Politburo did not elaborate on plans for the central government to issue special treasury bonds, which would be the first such issuance since 2007.
    Restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday, as China reported no new locally transmitted infections and a small drop in so-called imported cases.
    Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday.
    Beijing has in recent days emphasized the risk posed by imported virus cases after widespread lockdowns within China helped to sharply reduce domestic transmissions.    The Politburo said it would shift its focus to prevent more imported cases and a rebound in locally transmitted infections.
    “We must be extremely vigilant and cautious, and we must prevent the post-epidemic relaxation from coming too soon, leading to the loss of all our achievements,” the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said in a front-page editorial.     The authorities also reversed planned reopenings of movie theaters, the state-owned China Securities Journal reported, citing sources.
DEATH TOLL AT 3,295
    China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday that 54 new coronavirus cases were reported on the mainland on Friday, all imported cases.    There were 55 new cases a day earlier, one of which was transmitted locally.
    The number of infections for mainland China stands at 81,394, with the death toll rising by three to 3,295, the commission said.
    Hubei province reported no new cases, and three new deaths. The province of 60 million, where the virus was first detected, has recorded 67,801 coronavirus cases and 3,177 deaths.
    Shanghai reported the highest number of new cases, with 17. An additional 11 cases were reported in Guangdong, six in Fujian, five in Tianjin, four in Zhejiang, three each in Beijing and Liaoning, two each in Inner Mongolia and Jilin, and one in Shandong.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday that China would support U.S. efforts to fight the coronavirus.
    The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States rose by at least 16,000 on Friday to nearly 102,000, the most of any country.
    George Gao, the director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, urged people to wear masks to control the virus’s spread overseas.
    Gao told the journal Science in an interview published late on Friday that the “big mistake in the United States and Europe has been the failure to wear masks," which “can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith and Luoyan Liu; Editing by Sandra Maler and William Mallard)

3/28/2020 Tokyo coronavirus cases rise by daily record, residents urged to stay home by Stanley White and David Dolan
FILE PHOTO: Passersby wearing protective face masks, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), walk past notices of closed and business hours reduction displayed in front of a movie theater
at Kabukicho entertainment and shopping district in Tokyo, Japan March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo has confirmed more than 50 new coronavirus infections, a record daily increase, public broadcaster NHK reported on Saturday as the governor of Japan’s capital urged citizens to stay indoors.
    Governor Yuriko Koike’s plea followed a surge in coronavirus infections this week that she said put Tokyo on the brink of an emergency.     She has asked the tens of millions of people in the city and surrounding regions to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings until April 12, and particularly this weekend.
    Infections in Japan have climbed to more than 1,400, with 47 deaths, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined last month.    Hit early by the coronavirus in its initial spread from China, Japan had seen a more gradual rise than the recent surge in much of Europe and the United States.
    This week, however, saw an acceleration that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called “a national crisis.”    People in the Osaka area in western Japan have also been asked to stay at home.
    Infections on Friday rose by a daily record 102, according to public broadcaster NHK.    Cases in Tokyo now total more than 300, according to data from NHK.
    Health officials in the Tokyo metropolitan government did not answer telephone calls from Reuters seeking confirmation of the latest numbers.
    While the current level of infection appears low for a city of nearly 14 million, with many millions more living in surrounding suburbs, experts warn there is a high risk that the number of cases could spiral as authorities have been unable to track all the contacts of more than half of the latest cases.
    The government has deployed the military to greater Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports to assist in virus screenings and the transport of people placed in quarantine, NHK said.
    The voluntary calls by Koike and other Japanese leaders for people to stay at home compares with the more rigors lockdowns in major cities in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, and the United States – the new global epicenter of the virus.
    Globally, infections have topped half a million with more than 20,000 deaths, with the contagion affecting more than 100 countries.
    Abe, who has not declared a national state of emergency, is expected to order economic steps including $135 billion or more in spending, government officials and lawmakers say, joining policymakers globally trying to blunt a downturn.
    In a quiet neighborhood close to the prime minister’s private residence in central Tokyo, the scene was typical of a Saturday morning.    Some people were jogging and walking their dogs.    A few stopped to pray at a local shrine. Traffic was brisk on local roads.
    “I’m a little worried, but I have an appointment today, which is why I’m outside,” said a 41-year old man walking down the street, who declined to be named.
    “It’s not something that I can’t cancel, but I do have to meet someone.    I will be riding the train later.”
    Trains weren’t empty but were far less crowded than on a normal weekend.    Some department stores, movie theaters, museums and parks closed, but many supermarkets and convenience stores were open as usual.
    In Setagaya, a popular residential area in western Tokyo, many restaurants and shops were shut, although those that were open were doing brisk business, including an Italian restaurant that was filled with some young families and older couples.
    Nearby, laborers worked on a construction site as if it were a normal day.
(Reporting by Stanley White and David Dolan; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by William Mallard)

3/28/2020 Australia tightens social distancing rules to fight coronavirus by Lidia Kelly
People are seen on the nearly deserted steps of the Sydney Opera House, in the wake of New South Wales implementing measures
shutting down non-essential businesses and moving toward harsh penalties to enforce self-isolation as the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) reached what the state's premier calls a "critical stage" in Australia, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia stepped up enforcement of social distancing rules on Saturday to contain community transmission of the novel coronavirus, implementing fines, closing beaches and threatening stricter measures if people defy pleas to stay at home.
    The death toll from the virus rose to 14 after an elderly woman died in an aged-care facility in New South Wales (NSW) state where several residents and employees have tested positive for the virus, according to NSW health officials.
    The country’s total number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped by 469 to 3,635 on Saturday, the federal health ministry said, from less than 100 at the start of March.    The case number has leapt about 30% since Thursday, with most infections in NSW and Victoria states.
    As of midnight on Saturday, all returning citizens from abroad will be put into compulsory quarantine in hotels for two weeks at the government’s expense.    Military personnel will help ensure travelers comply with the new rules.
    “There’s so many parts of the world where this (coronavirus) is running rampant and I think every returned traveler is a significant risk,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told a televised briefing.
    Two-thirds of the cases in Australia have been traced to contact with people returning from overseas, government health officials said, although community transmission has been growing.
    NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said harsher enforcement of social distancing could be necessary if community transmission began to rise “at a rate that we are not comfortable with.”
MORE BEACHES CLOSED
    Australia’s state and federal governments have sent some mixed messages about social distancing and other containment measures, leading to widespread confusion.
    While there is no national order to stay home, entertainment and other mass-gathering venues have been shut and authorities have urged people to cancel house parties and other social gatherings.
    Victorian police closed beaches on Saturday after hundreds of people flocked to the waterside a day earlier in a repeat of scenes the previous weekend at Sydney’s Bondi beach.
    Police said they had attended a backpacker hostel at Bondi on Friday night to prevent a “free sausage sizzle” that had been advertised at the venue, amid concerns that young people in particular are not taking social distancing seriously.
    Victoria and South Australia states implemented on-the-spot fines for people and businesses breaking social distancing rules, following similar measures introduced by NSW.
    While beaches and some parks were closed in various parts of the country, department stores were allowed to remain open under rules requiring shoppers to stay 1.5-metre (5 feet) apart.
    That has not helped the major retailers much, with Myer Holdings shutting all its stores for four weeks from Sunday amid a slump in consumer spending.
    Woolworths Holdings, which owns David Jones and Country Road Group in Australia, also said it would close 280 small-format fashion stores for at least four weeks from Sunday, with 5,000 staff to be stood down.
    In Queensland state, more than one million people were required to visit polling stations to vote in council elections on Saturday.    The state government asked them to bring their own pens and practice social distancing.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Additional reporting by John Mair; Editing by Stephen Coates)

3/28/2020 India to use some train coaches as coronavirus isolation wards by Nidhi Verma and Asif Shahzad
A man paints a message on a street after India ordered a 21- day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
    NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – India said on Saturday it was planning to turn some railway coaches into isolation wards for patients with coronavirus, as authorities scramble to prepare the country’s health infrastructure for an expected surge in cases.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the country’s 1.3 billion people this week to stay indoors for three weeks in the world’s biggest lockdown, seeking to curb the spread of the illness.    India’s network of trains, the country’s lifeblood, has been idled.
    One train coach has been turned into a prototype quarantine facility, state-owned Indian Railways said in a statement on Saturday.
    Once they get clearance, the plan is for each of India’s railway zones to convert 10 coaches into such wards every week, the company added.    Indian Railways has 16 zones, according to its website.
    “Railways will offer clean, sanitised & hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover,” tweeted railways minister Piyush Goyal.    He did not specify how many people could be cared for in each coach.
    India has reported 918 confirmed cases, including 19 deaths.
    The lockdown measures are taking a huge toll on India’s poor, including millions of migrant labourers whose jobs in cities have vanished.    Many are now walking back to their villages or crowded bus stations in the hopes of finding rare transport, raising fears they will unintentionally spread the virus across India.
    On Saturday, a migrant worker, who set out from New Delhi on a 270 kilometres (168 miles) walk to his hometown in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, collapsed and died, a police official said.
    India’s home ministry said in a statement on Saturday it was advising states to provide food and shelter to migrants at relief camps alongside highways.
PAKISTAN SEEKS ARRESTS
    Overall, the number of coronavirus cases in South Asia has risen to 2,648, including 39 deaths.    Sri Lanka reported its first coronavirus death on Saturday, a 65-year-old diabetic tour guide.
    While the toll in South Asia remains low overall, there are fears it could swell given the region’s poor health services and population density.
    In Pakistan, police on Saturday arrested 38 prayer leaders and mosque officials for violating a ban on congregational prayers even as cases swelled to over 1,400 in the country.
    A plane carrying relief assistance and eight doctors from key ally China landed in Islamabad on Saturday, a Pakistani foreign ministry statement said.
    “(They will) advise our health care specialists in the light of their experience and success in battling COVID-19 in China,” the statement read.    China has already given Islamabad testing kits, masks, protective gear and other medical equipment.
    In Nepal, more than 600 European tourists were evacuated on charter flights on Saturday, authorities said, but thousands more are still waiting to be brought home by their countries.
    “This will leave between 8,000 and 10,000 tourists still stranded due to lockdown in Nepal,” said Dhananjay Regmi, the chief of Nepal’s tourism board.
(This story was republished to note that Sri Lankan presidency corrects victim’s age to 65, paragraph 10)
(Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, and Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; writing by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Frances Kerry and Jason Neely)

3/28/2020 ‘Just one case’: fears coronavirus may spread like wildfire in world’s refugee camps
FILE PHOTO: A worker from the municipality sanitizes Syrian refugee camp, as Lebanon extends a lockdown by two weeks to
combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Marjayoun, Lebanon March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    (Reuters) – In the world’s largest refugee settlement in Bangladesh, filmmaker Mohammed Arafat has been making public safety videos to warn about the dangers of coronavirus.
    The 25-year-old is worried that the disease will devastate the vast, crowded camps that house more than one million Rohingya, members of a mostly Muslim minority who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar.
    “We are living in tiny, crowded shelters, we are sharing toilets,” he told Reuters.    “It is very difficult to protect ourselves, it’s too crowded, people can’t breathe well.”
    Bangladesh, which has reported 48 cases of the virus and five deaths, imposed a lockdown on Tuesday, the same day it confirmed the first case in Cox’s Bazar, the coastal district where the Rohingya camps are located.    A family of four Rohingya have been quarantined after returning from India.
    As the coronavirus forces the world’s big cities and wealthiest countries into lockdown, a potential humanitarian catastrophe threatens tens of millions of people crowded into refugee camps and makeshift settlements for displaced people from Bangladesh to Syria and across Africa, where healthcare and clean water is often scarce, sanitation is poor, illnesses are rife and social distancing is almost impossible.
    “God forbid, if the virus gets into the camps, it would have a catastrophic effect,” Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Reuters.
    The United Nations says almost 70 million people uprooted by war and persecution around the world are in acute danger.
    “We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable – millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres this week.
    UNHCR, the U.N. agency charged with protecting refugees, is looking to raise $255 million from member states to tackle the problem, part of a wider U.N. response plan seeking $2.01 billion.
    To be sure, camps in Bangladesh and elsewhere have experienced outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and other respiratory infections, and the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and Ebola epidemics did not lead to large-scale infections or mass deaths of refugees.
    However, the latest coronavirus has exceeded all previous outbreaks, infecting almost 600,000 people globally and killing more than 27,000, according to a Reuters tally.
    For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.
‘JUST ONE CASE’
    The mazy hills around Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh are more densely populated than the most crowded cities on earth, with 60,000 to 90,000 people jammed into each square kilometer where as many as a dozen people share single small shelters and many more use the same water well and toilet.
    Arafat, who fled violence in Myanmar eight years ago, urges people in his short videos to wash their hands and keep their distance from one another.    But he cannot share the videos as mobile networks in the area have been curtailed by the government since last year on unspecified security grounds.    As a result, both he and aid workers are struggling to educate the population about the spread of the virus.
    In recent days volunteers have been blasting public health messages from radios and loudspeakers, but Arafat said rumors and misinformation persist, with some pinning their hopes on prayer, eating leaves and exposure to heat to ward off the virus.
    “It needs just one case and it would be really critical,” said Haiko Magtrayo, a Cox’s Bazar-based aid worker from the International Committee of the Red Cross.    Further spread would be “uncontrollable,” he added.
    The closest hospital with an intensive care unit is in the town of Cox’s Bazar.    The U.N. refugee agency says it is trying to expand the capacity to 10 beds and to improve healthcare services inside the camps, but as rumors spread, some are panicking.
    “What is happening!” Mohammed Junaid, 21, said in a message to Reuters.    “If something happens, where will we go for treatment?”
MIDDLE EAST, AFRICA AT RISK
    Similar fears are spreading in regions torn by war and natural disasters in the Middle East and Africa.
    In Syria, where nearly a decade of war has uprooted 6.1 million people and forced some 5.3 million to flee to neighboring states, the coronavirus is a new threat for communities ill-equipped to deal with it.
    “We don’t wash our hands much because water is in short supply,” said Nayef al-Ahmad, 33, who has lived for five years in a camp for displaced people on muddy ground near the town of Azaz, which houses about 150 families in grimy tents.    “Gloves and masks are not available and if they are available they are very expensive,” said al-Ahmad, who lives with his wife and seven children.
    At another camp in nearby Idlib province, families have been moved from several large communal tents into individual tents, an effort to pre-empt the spread of the virus, though no cases have been recorded in the rebel-held northwest yet.
    “We’ve split them up as much as we can,” said Ibrahim Sahhari, an administrator at the camp near Maarat Misrin.
    Idlib has received around 1,500 coronavirus testing kits in the last few days.    Its population is close to 3 million.
    “Isolation is so difficult,” said Mohamed Tennari, a doctor and medical coordinator in the Idlib region.    “Some people are still living in schools or in mosques.    So all of this, if we have corona patients, will help the virus to spread very widely.”
    Similar overcrowding worries rage in neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees.    Lebanon has recorded around 350 cases so far, though none in refugee camps.    “Whenever someone breathes, their neighbor can feel it,” said Syrian refugee Hamda Hassan, describing her camp in northern Lebanon.
‘PERFECT STORM’
    In Burkina Faso in western Africa, the Barsalogho camp houses about 75,000 people fleeing a jihadist insurgency, many in wood-framed tents covered with straw mats and white tarpaulin, pitched close together.    Medical charities warn residents of the dangers of coronavirus, which has already spread across the capital Ouagadougou, infecting over 150 and killing eight.
    But shortages of water and sanitary supplies are making it difficult.
    Families of up to 10 people share about 20 liters of water a day, or about five gallons, said Manenji Mangundu, who leads operations for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Burkina Faso, well below the 35 liters per person that the NRC says is enough for a proper response to the coronavirus.
    “The situation in densely populated camps such as Barsalogho with poor healthcare is the perfect storm for a devastating outbreak.    Facilities are shared, shelters are shared.    If one case is reported in the site, it can spread like wildfire,” Mangundu said.
    Wendkouni Sawadogo, 27, lives at the camp with his family and shares a tent with 10 people.
    “I know we should wash our hands all the time and not greet people in the normal way,” he said, adding that he was aware of the growing number of cases from television news reports, but sometimes he has no water.
    In central Mozambique, where more than 90,000 victims of last year’s Cyclone Idai are still living in resettlement camps, large families of more than 10 people cram into one tent, with shared water sources and latrines, often open air with only plastic sheets for privacy.    In some cases thousands of people share one water source, or they have to walk hours to one used by nearby communities.
    Espinola Caribe, the World Food Programme’s head of sub-office in Beira, the port city where the cyclone made landfall and displaced tens of thousands of people, said any virus outbreak would be a disaster for those with immune systems weakened by the effects of extreme poverty.
    Hand-washing sites are being installed in the camps and posters printed to raise awareness as aid workers try to spread the message face to face.    Many camp residents do not have phones, and when they do, there is no guarantee they have power.
    Even when the message gets across, Caribe said conditions make it very difficult for people to comply: tents become unbearably hot in the daytime and families are forced to mix at water points, where there might be a shared bucket for collection, and conditions can be unsanitary.
NOT THE FIRST
    In Somalia, where violence and natural disasters have displaced 2.6 million of the country’s 15 million people, tens of thousands of families are dotted around the capital Mogadishu under makeshift tents of rags stretched over a frame of sticks.    Lucky ones may have a plastic tarpaulin.    The seasonal rains have just begun.
    Somali telecom companies are sending text messages about the importance of washing hands. But many have no soap and very little water, so simply use sand and ashes.    Many do not have vessels to store water: several families might share one 20-litre container.
    “We are already living in bad conditions and if coronavirus visits us, then there is no hope for life,” said Hawa Ali Ibrahim, a 50-year-old mother.    She lives with her husband, three children and grandchildren in the capital’s Alafuuto Camp, where there is no soap.    “We use sand and ashes to wash our hands.”
    Neighboring Kenya is home to nearly half a million registered refugees, about 217,000 of those living in one sprawling camp called Dadaab, near the Somali border, according to the U.N.
    UNHCR is training health workers – some of whom are refugee community leaders – and running a multilingual hotline for refugees to report symptoms.    They are increasing the distribution of soap and creating more hand-washing stations.
    There have been no reported coronavirus cases in East Africa camps, said UNHCR East Africa spokeswoman Dana Hughes.
    “These are not the first pandemics that we’ve dealt with,” Hughes told Reuters.    “We’ve dealt with Ebola.    We’ve dealt with SARS.”
(Reporting by Poppy McPherson in Bangkok, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Khalil Ashawi in northern Syria, Dominic Evans in Istanbul, Ayat Basma and Tom Perry in Beirut, Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Emma Rumney in Johannesburg, Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, Edward McAllister in Dakar and Henry Wilkins in Ouagadougou; Editing by Bill Rigby)

3/28/2020 Taliban refuses to talk to new Afghan government negotiators by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani arrives to his inauguration as president,
in Kabul, Afghanistan March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Taliban declined on Saturday to begin talks with the Afghan government’s new negotiating team in a setback to the U.S.-brokered peace process for one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
    Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants could not talk to the 21-member team named on Thursday as it was not constituted taking into account all parties.
    The team is headed by Masoom Stanekzai, an ex-security chief and supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, and includes politicians, former officials and representatives of civil society. Five members are women.
    “In order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides so that it can represent all sides,” said Mujahid.
    The United States, which ousted the Taliban from power in 2001, signed a troop withdrawal deal with the group in February.
    But progress on moving to talks between the militants and the Afghan government has been delayed by a feud between Afghan politicians, and disagreement between the Taliban and the government prisoner releases and a possible ceasefire.
    Afghan ministry of peace affairs spokeswoman Najia Anwari said the Taliban’s stance was unjustified as the negotiating team was made after wide consultations among Afghan society.
    Ghani’s political rival Abdullah Abdullah has not confirmed whether he will support the delegation, potentially important given his camp’s strong influence in the north and west.
    Abdullah’s spokesman Fraidoon Khwazoon said that though the announced list was not final and there were “considerations that needed to be addressed,” it should not be rejected outright.
    “All sides including the Taliban should try not to lose the available opportunity for peace, by make illogical excuses.    The Taliban should not lose the current opportunity.”
    The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to mediate between Abdullah and Ghana to create an “inclusive” government during a visit to Kabul on Monday, and announced a $1 billion cut in U.S. aid to Afghanistan, which he said could be reversed.
(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad and Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Mark Potter and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/28/2020 China’s Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged, begins to lift its lockdown by Brenda Goh
Staff members move barriers in front of a railway station of Wuhan on the first day of inbound train
services resumed following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan of Hubei province,
the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song - RC2TSF9ZCEW6
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged, began lifting a two-month lockdown on Saturday by restarting some metro services and reopening borders, allowing some semblance of normality to return and families to reunite.
    After being cut-off from the rest of the country for two months, the reopening of Wuhan, where the epidemic first erupted in late December, marks a turning point in China’s fight against the virus, though the contagion has since spread to over 200 countries.
    Among those on the first high-speed trains allowed into the city on Saturday morning was Guo Liangkai, a 19-year-old student whose one-month work stint in Shanghai stretched to three months due to the clamp down on movement.
    “It makes me very happy that I can see my family,” Guo told Reuters after being greeted by his mother at the main station.
    “We wanted to hug but now is a special period so we can’t hug or take any actions like these.”
    Authorities took draconian measures to stop people from entering or leaving the industrial city of 11 million people in central China.     Families were confined to their homes.    Bus and taxi services were shut, and only essential stores were allowed to remain open.
    “I think the resumption of work represents a kind of hope.    It at least shows that China is victorious,” said Zhang Yulun, 35, returning to Wuhan for work.
    China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday that 54 new coronavirus cases were reported on the mainland on Friday, all involving so-called imported cases.    Mainland China now has 81,394 cases, with the death toll rising by three to 3,295, the commission said.
    Wuhan accounts for about 60% of China’s coronavirus cases, but they have fallen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that the measures are working.    The last confirmed locally transmitted case of the virus in Wuhan was on Monday.
    With the United States, Italy and Spain and other countries now battling soaring infections, China is focusing on the risk posed by imported cases – most of them Chinese returning home.
    Effective Saturday, China suspended the entry of foreign nationals with valid Chinese visas and residence permits.
DISINFECTANT AND MASKS
    But even with the decline in cases and loosening of restrictions, Wuhan authorities were taking few chances.
    Staff, some in full-body protective gear, and volunteers bustled around the railway station in the morning, setting out hand disinfectant and putting up signs reminding travelers they need a mobile-phone based health code to take public transport.
    A worker walked through one metro train carrying a signboard reading: “Wear a mask for the entire journey, people should not gather and when you disembark please scan the health code.”
    “Everyone is taking the right precautions.    So, there shouldn’t be a problem,” Yuan Hai, 30, a passenger on a reopened metro line said when asked about the risks.    “But you have to be careful.”
    The existence of an unknown number of asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus in China has raised concerns among the public that lifting the restrictions may release thousands of people who could still be spreading the virus that causes COVID-19, without knowing they are sick.
    Life in Wuhan remains far from normal.    The vast majority of shops are shut while bright yellow roadblocks remain. Wuhan will not let people leave the city until April 8.
    Some people at the railway station, such as a woman who only gave her surname as Zhang, said they were there to see if there was any chance people could leave earlier.
    Her grandson came to visit her for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday in January and has been separated from his parents in the southern city of Shenzhen ever since.    With schools there possibly reopening, she hopes he can get back soon.
    “He was supposed to leave on the fifth day (of the holiday) but has now been here for a few months,” she said.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional Reporting by Thomas Suen; Editing by William Mallard)

3/29/2020 Iran’s death toll from coronavirus reaches 2,640 – health official
A couple wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they walk at Enghelab square, in Tehran, Iran
March 26, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 2,640 and the number of infected people has reached 38,309, a health ministry official tweeted on Sunday, as the Middle East’s worst-hit country grapples with the fast-spreading outbreak.
    “In the past 24 hours we had 123 deaths and 2,901 people have been infected, bringing the total number of infected people to 38,309,” tweeted Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran’s health minister.    12,391 people infected from the virus have recovered.”
Iran’s Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV that “some 3,467 of those infected are in critical condition.”
    I am happy to announce that also 12,391 people who had been infected across the country have recovered … The average age of those who have died of the disease is 69,” said Jahanpur.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans and Louise Heavens)

3/29/2020 China defends against incoming second wave of coronavirus by Brenda Goh and Thomas Suen
A man wearing a face mask skateboards on a street in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter
of China's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – A growing number of imported coronavirus cases in China, where the epidemic originated in December, risked fanning a second wave of infections when domestic transmissions had “basically been stopped,” a senior health official said on Sunday.
    China, where the disease first emerged in the central city of Wuhan, had an accumulated total of 693 cases entering from overseas, which meant “the possibility of a new round of infections remains relatively big,” Mi Feng, spokesman for the National Health Commission (NHC), said.
    Nearly a quarter of those came from arrivals in Beijing.
    “Beijing, the capital, still bears the brunt of the risks,” said Xu Hejian, spokesman for the Beijing government, told reporters.
    “There’s no reason to lay back and relax yet.    It’s not a time when we can say everything is going well.”
    Most of those imported cases have involved Chinese returning home from abroad.
    A total of 3,300 people have now died in mainland China, with a reported 81,439 infections.
    China was widely accused of a delayed response when suspected cases first emerged in December, with a young doctor reprimanded for “spreading rumours” when he tried to raise the alarm.
    But the world’s most populous country has since won praise from the World Health Organization for its efforts to lock down affected areas and isolate patients.
    In the last seven days, China has reported 313 imported cases of coronavirus but only six confirmed cases of domestic transmission, NHC’s data showed.     There were 45 new coronavirus cases reported in the mainland on Saturday, down from 54 on the previous day, with all but one involving travellers from overseas.
    Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday.    And restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday.
    Five more people died on Saturday, all of them in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.    It has reported only one new case in the last 10 days.
    Saturday marked the fourth consecutive day that Hubei recorded no new confirmed cases.    The sole case of domestically transmitted coronavirus was recorded in Henan province, bordering Hubei.
    With traffic restrictions in the province lifted, Wuhan is also gradually reopening borders and restarting some local transportation services.
    “It’s much better now,” a man, who gave his surname as Hu, told Reuters as he ventured out to buy groceries in Wuhan.
    All airports in Hubei resumed some domestic flights on Sunday, with the exception of Wuhan, which will open to domestic flights on April 8.    Flights from Hubei to Beijing remain suspended.
    A train arrived in Wuhan on Saturday for the first time since the city was placed in lockdown two months ago.
    Restrictions have also been eased on people looking to return to the capital, although the procedure still appears much more vigorous as it’s done on an application approval basis.
    More than 7,000 have returned to Beijing from Hubei by charted trains or private cars, Mao Jun, a Beijing government official, said on Sunday.
    On a cold and rainy Sunday, Wuhan streets and metro trains were still largely empty.    The Hubei government said on its official WeChat account that a number of malls in Wuhan, as well as the Chu River and Han Street shopping belt, would be allowed to resume operations on Monday.
(Additional reporting by David Stanway, Pei Li, Yawen Chen and Muyu Xu; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

3/29/2020 WHO says following Taiwan virus response closely, after complaints
FILE PHOTO: People go to work wearing protective face masks, amid coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) concerns, in Taipei, Taiwan, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely following the development of the coronavirus in Taiwan and is learning lessons from how they are fighting it, the body said on Sunday, after complaints from Taiwan it was being intentionally ignored.
    Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to the objections of China, which claims the democratic and separately-ruled island as its own.
    Taiwan’s government has said that keeping it out of the WHO during the outbreak amounts to playing politics with Taiwanese lives.    Both the WHO and China say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs.
    Taiwan last week said the WHO ignored its questions at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, part of what it has long described as a pattern that puts it at risk because of Chinese pressure to exclude it from international bodies.
    Taiwan has reported 298 cases, far lower than many of its neighbors, and has won plaudits from health experts for its early response and measures to keep the numbers low.
    On Sunday, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tweeted a complaint to the WHO, following an interview WHO Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward did with a Hong Kong reporter in which he declined to answer questions about Taiwan and whether it should be a WHO member.
    “Wow, can’t even utter ‘Taiwan’ in the WHO?    You should set politics aside in dealing with a pandemic,” Wu wrote.
    In an emailed statement, the WHO said the question of Taiwan’s membership is up to member states not its own staff.br>     “However, WHO is working closely with all health authorities who are facing the current coronavirus pandemic, including Taiwanese health experts,” it said.
    “The Taiwanese caseload is low relative to population.    We continue to follow developments closely.    WHO is taking lessons learned from all areas, including Taiwanese health authorities, to share best practices globally.”
    The WHO has been working with Taiwanese health experts and authorities during the virus outbreak “following established procedures to facilitate a fast and effective response and ensure connection and information flow.”
    Taiwan gets access to information under the International Health Regulations and two Taiwanese health experts took part in a WHO-organized forum last month along other scientists from around the world on how to tackle the coronavirus, it added.
    “WHO staff work around the world to respond to this pandemic with the best evidence-based guidance and operational support available for all people, based on public health needs.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/29/2020 Australia asks people to isolate more even as coronavirus spread slows by Lidia Kelly
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference held with New Zealand Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott - RC2G9F9KV4DM
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australians were asked on Sunday to further isolate themselves from the public to keep the coronavirus from spreading even as authorities said the rate of daily infections has halved in recent days.
    Government officials said that public gatherings must be restricted to two people and Australians should stay inside unless shopping for essentials, exercising, going to work or medical care.    Those over 70 should self-isolate themselves.
    “Anyone who doesn’t need to be out of their home should be in the home,” Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said.    “This is radical.”
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it is now up to the states and territories to determine how the two-people gathering limit will be enforced and whether breaching it would carry fines, which has been the case with previous gathering rules in most states.
    There were 3,978 confirmed cases in Australia as of late on Sunday, Murphy said, slightly higher than official health ministry data showing 3,966 cases and an increase of 331 over a 24-hour period.    Sixteen deaths were attributable to the virus.
    Neighboring New Zealand saw its first death related to the coronavirus on Sunday, with cases rising to 514 confirmed infections. [L4N2BM00A]
    The daily rate of the spread of the coronavirus has halved in recent days to about 13%-15%, health officials said, adding that social distancing measures have helped to slow the spread.
    “We feel reasonably confident that we are detecting a significant majority of the cases in Australia,” Murphy said.
    Two-thirds of the cases have been traced to contacts with people returning from overseas, but community transmissions have been rising, especially in the most populous New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria states, where more than half of Australia’s 25.5 million people live.
    “We have to stop the thing that’s worrying us most, which is community transmission, that is transmission without known links to a known case,” Murphy said.
ECONOMIC MEASURES
    Morrison said that there will be a moratorium on evictions of people from their rentals in the next six months on the basis of “financial stress” and other measures will be soon worked out.
    Earlier on Sunday, Morrison said that an additional A$1.1 billion ($680 million) will be spent on telemedicine care options, domestic violence support and mental health services aimed at supporting “the most vulnerable” Australians.
    That spending comes atop earlier announced measures, which equaled to about 10% of Australia’s annual gross domestic product, to help the economy weather the turmoil caused by the pandemic, which started in China and has spread to over 200 countries.
    A recession in Australia would be the country’s first in nearly three decades, when about 40% of the population wasn’t even born.    “This is part of the hibernation strategy of ensuring we keep people connected with their businesses and with their jobs, so on the other side of this, Australia can bounce back stronger,” Morrison said.
(The story crrects to clarify daily increase in cases in para 5).
(Reporting by John Mair and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/29/2020 Malaysia arrests hundreds for flouting curbs on movement as virus deaths rise
A worker sprays disinfectant on a street during the movement control order due to the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia this week arrested hundreds of people for violating restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus, a senior minister said on Sunday, amid a spike in the number of deaths linked to the outbreak.
    The death toll rose from 27 to 34 within a 24-hour period, the biggest daily rise so far, while the number of reported cases was up to 2,470, the highest in Southeast Asia.
    Malaysia has closed schools and non-essential businesses and imposed restrictions on travel and movement until April 14 to try to contain the spread.
    Defence minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told reporters 649 people were detained on Saturday, while 73 people have plead guilty to offences such as gathering in groups, obstructing public officials, and breaking through police blockades.
    This was in addition to 614 people arrested since the movement curbs were imposed on March 18.
    “Some people gave the excuse that they were just going out to buy food,” Ismail said.
    “But they were caught outside up to four times a day, to the point at which police recognized their faces… clearly, they were not being genuine.”
    Those who flout the restriction of movement order can be fined or face up to six months’ jail.
    The shutdown has caused widespread business disruptions.    The world’s biggest glovemaker and condom producer, both based in Malaysia, this week warned of global shortages as demand for their products surged amid the virus outbreak.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Louise Heavens)

3/29/2020 China readies stimulus measures as local virus cases dwindle by Andrew Galbraith and Luoyan Liu
Security personnel wearing face masks stand guard in front of closed shops inside a railway station
in Wuhan on the first day inbound train services resumed following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
in Wuhan of Hubei province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China plans stronger steps to revive an economy hit by coronavirus, as the nation on Saturday reported no new locally transmitted infections for the previous day.
    The ruling Communist Party’s Politburo said on Friday it would step up macroeconomic policy adjustments and pursue more proactive fiscal policy, state media reported. With the world’s second-biggest economy expected to shrink for the first time in four decades this quarter, China is set to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.
    The Politburo called for expanding the budget deficit, issuing more local and national bonds, guiding interest rates lower, delaying loan repayments, reducing supply-chain bottlenecks and boosting consumption.
    “We expect government ministries to roll out more tangible measures in the coming weeks as this Politburo meeting gave them no choice but to do more,” Goldman Sachs analysts said.
    The Politburo did not elaborate on plans for the central government to issue special treasury bonds, which would be the first such issuance since 2007.    China should issue at least 2 trillion yuan ($282 billion) of such bonds to aid the economy, Morgan Stanley Chief China Economist Robin Xing said.
    Restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday, as China reported no new locally transmitted infections and a small drop in so-called imported cases.
    Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday.
    Beijing has in recent days emphasized the risk posed by imported virus cases after widespread lockdowns within China helped to sharply reduce domestic transmissions.    The Politburo said it would shift its focus to prevent more imported cases and a rebound in locally transmitted infections.
    “We must be extremely vigilant and cautious, and we must prevent the post-epidemic relaxation from coming too soon, leading to the loss of all our achievements,” the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said in a front-page editorial.
    The authorities also reversed planned reopenings of movie theaters, the state-owned China Securities Journal reported, citing sources.
REBOOTING
    With local transmission of the virus basically under control, China shifts focus toward rebooting paused businesses.
    China’s Ministry of Commerce said on Saturday nearly all of the country’s major supermarkets, convenience stores, shopping malls and farm produce retail markets have reopened, while all e-commerce platforms are operating.
    Meanwhile, 80% of restaurants and 60% of hotels are back in business, ministry official Wang Bin told a news conference.
    In a sign of businesses getting back to normal, wholesale prices of vegetables have dropped 16.5% from end-February, while pork prices have fallen 7.4% from a mid-February high.
    However, many street shops such as beauty salons are not yet open as “sentiment is reviving slowly, while people remain cautious about going out shopping,” Wang said.
    In China’s central Hubei Province, authorities had removed all highway checkpoints except those in its capital city Wuhan – the virus epicenter – and allowed traffic to leave the province as of Friday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.
    Hubei officials vowed to help businesses re-open and people get back to work.
    Gong Dingrong, mayor of Hubei’s Qianjiang, dubbed “lobster city,” said the government would promote sales across the country both online and offline, adding “there’s nothing to fear” eating lobsters from the city.
DEATH TOLL AT 3,295
    China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday that 54 new coronavirus cases were reported on the mainland on Friday, all imported cases.    There were 55 new cases a day earlier, one of which was transmitted locally.
    The number of infections for mainland China stands at 81,394, with the death toll rising by three to 3,295, the commission said.
    Hubei province reported no new cases, and three new deaths.    The province of 60 million, where the virus was first detected, has recorded 67,801 coronavirus cases and 3,177 deaths.
    Shanghai reported the highest number of new cases, with 17.    An additional 11 cases were reported in Guangdong, six in Fujian, five in Tianjin, four in Zhejiang, three each in Beijing and Liaoning, two each in Inner Mongolia and Jilin, and one in Shandong.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday that China would support U.S. efforts to fight the coronavirus.
    The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States rose by at least 16,000 on Friday to nearly 102,000, the most of any country.
    George Gao, the director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, urged people to wear masks to control the virus’s spread overseas.
    Gao told the journal Science in an interview published on Friday that the “big mistake in the United States and Europe has been the failure to wear masks, which can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith, Luoyan Liu and Samuel Shen; Editing by Sandra Maler, William Mallard and Giles Elgood)

3/29/2020 Philippines reports 343 additional coronavirus cases, three new deaths
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask on his neck walks past closed shops in an empty street
following the lockdown in the Philippine capital to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Manila, Philippines, March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez - RC2DQF9SR2AY/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippine health ministry on Sunday reported 343 new coronavirus cases, marking the country’s largest daily increase in infections, and three additional deaths.
    That raised the total number of known infections in the country to 1,418, while the death toll has reached 71, it said.    Seven more patients have recovered, however, bringing the total number of recoveries to 42.
(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/29/2020 North Korea fires more missiles than ever amid coronavirus outbreak by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: The flag of North Korea is seen in Geneva, Switzerland, June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the ocean off its east coast on Sunday, the latest in an unprecedented flurry of launches that South Korea decried as “inappropriate” amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
    Two “short-range projectiles” were launched from the coastal Wonsan area, and flew 230 kilometers (143 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30 kilometers (19 miles), South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported.
    “In a situation where the entire world is experiencing difficulties due to COVID-19, this kind of military act by North Korea is very inappropriate and we call for an immediate halt,” South Korea’s JCS said in a statement, according to Yonhap news agency.
    Japan’s Ministry of Defense said they appeared to be ballistic missiles, and they did not land in Japanese territory or its exclusive economic zone.
    They would be the eighth and ninth missiles launched in four rounds of tests this month as North Korean troops conduct ongoing military drills, usually personally overseen by leader Kim Jong Un.
    That would be the most missiles ever fired in a single month by North Korea, according to a tally by Shea Cotton, senior researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
    “Coming this early in the year, the only time we’ve seen tests this frequently were in 2016 and 2017, both of which were huge years for North Korea’s missile program,” he said in a post on Twitter.
    All of the missiles fired so far this year have been small, short-range weapons, such as the KN-24 fired during the last launch on March 21.
    But Kim has warned that North Korea is developing a new “strategic weapon” to be unveiled this year, with analysts speculating that it could be a new long-range ballistic missile, or a submarine capable of launching such missiles.
    United Nations Security Council resolutions bar North Korea from testing ballistic missiles, and the country has been heavily sanctioned over its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
MILITARY DRILLS CONTINUE
    This month’s military drills have been conducted despite a border lockdown and quarantine measures imposed in North Korea in an effort to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus.
    South Korea and the United States have postponed some of their joint military exercises because of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.
    Politically and economically isolated, North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases, though some foreign experts have expressed doubts.
    In the past, North Korea has typically conducted military drills, including tests of its ballistic missiles, in March as the wintry weather turns warmer.    For the previous two years, however, it had avoided such springtime launches amid denuclearisation talks with the United States.
    Those talks have since stalled, and this year’s string of tests and military drills appear aimed at underscoring North Korea’s return to a more hard-line policy, said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists.
    “There is an element of projecting a business-as-usual image amid the COVID-19 situation, but I think it’s not overriding,” he said.    “These tests do allow Kim Jong Un to show that he’s sticking to the hard-line policy he laid out in December 2019.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/29/2020 Modi seeks ‘forgiveness’ from India’s poor over coronavirus lockdown by Alexandra Ulmer and Swati Bhat
FILE PHOTO: Migrant workers crowd up outside a bus station as they wait to board buses to return
to their villages during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the nation’s poor for forgiveness on Sunday, as the economic and human toll from his 21-day nationwide lockdown deepens and criticism mounts about a lack of adequate planning ahead of the decision.
    Modi announced a three week-lockdown on Tuesday to curb the spread of coronavirus.    But the decision has stung millions of India’s poor, leaving many hungry and forcing jobless migrant laborers to flee cities and walk hundreds of kilometers to their native villages.
    “I would firstly like to seek forgiveness from all my countrymen,” Modi said in a nationwide radio address.
    The poor “would definitely be thinking what kind of prime minister is this, who has put us into so much trouble,” he said, urging people to understand there was no other option.
    “Steps taken so far… will give India victory over corona,” he added.
    The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in India rose to 979 on Sunday, with 25 deaths.
    The government announced a $22.6 billion economic stimulus plan on Thursday to provide direct cash transfers and food handouts to India’s poor.
    In an opinion piece published on Sunday, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo – two of the three winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2019 – said even more aid for the poor is needed.
    “Without that, the demand crisis will snowball into an economic avalanche, and people will have no choice but to defy orders,” they wrote in the Indian Express.
    The lockdown is expected to exacerbate India’s economic woes at a time when growth had already slumped to its lowest pace in six years.
MIGRANT CRISIS
    There still appears to be broad support for strong measures to avoid a coronavirus catastrophe in India, a country of some 1.3 billion people where the public health system is poor.
    But opposition leaders, analysts and some citizens are increasingly criticizing its implementation.    In particular, they say the government appears to have been caught off guard by the mass movement of migrants following the announcement, which threatens to spread the disease into the hinterlands.
    “The Gov’t had no contingency plans in place for this exodus,” tweeted opposition politician Rahul Gandhi as images of migrant laborers walking long distances to return home dominated local media.
    #ModiMadeDisaster was a top trending topic in India on Sunday on social media site Twitter.
    Police said four migrants were killed on Saturday when a truck ran into them in the western state of Maharashtra.    Also on Saturday, a migrant collapsed and died in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, according to a police official.
    “We will die of walking and starving before getting killed by corona,” said migrant worker Madhav Raj, 28, as he walked by the road in Uttar Pradesh.
    On Sunday, several hundred migrants in the town of Paippad, in southern Kerala state, gathered in a square demanding transport back to their hometowns.
    The central government has called on states to provide marooned laborers with food and shelter, and Modi’s supporters slammed state governments on Twitter for failing to properly implement the lockdown.
    In India’s cities, too, anger was rising.
    “We have no food or drink.    I am sat down thinking how to feed my family,” said homemaker Amirbee Shaikh Yusuf, 50, in Mumbai’s sprawling Dharavi slum.
    “There is nothing good about this lockdown.    People are angry, no one is caring for us.”
    Following is the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia’s eight nations, according to government figures:
* Pakistan has registered 1,526 cases, including 13 deaths.
* India has registered 979 cases, including 25 deaths.
* Sri Lanka has registered 115 cases, including one death.
* Afghanistan has registered 128 cases, including 3 deaths.
* Bangladesh has registered 48 cases, including 5 deaths.
* Maldives has registered 28 cases and no deaths.
* Nepal has registered 5 cases and no deaths.
* Bhutan has registered 4 cases and no deaths.

(Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Jose Devasia in Kochi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Frances Kerry)

3/29/2020 Australia curbs gatherings, locks down travellers, in new coronavirus measures by Jonathan Barrett and Byron Kaye
FILE PHOTO: New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaks during a state memorial honouring victims of the Australian
bushfires at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous states will restrict public gatherings to two people from midnight, state leaders said on Monday, as part of a wave of new measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus which has infected more than 4,000 across the country.
    The neighbouring eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria account for most of Australia’s total COVID-19 infections and death toll, which stands at 17.
    “It is only in exceptional circumstances that you should leave home,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in Sydney on Monday.
    “We will get through this.    We are in a position now which allows us to control the spread as much as possible.”
    Police in neighbouring Victoria will issue fines of A$1600 ($984) to people who breach a limit of two people gathering in public, unless the group is from one household.
    “Unless you want to be burying an elderly relative or your best mate, or your parents … do the right thing,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in Melbourne on Monday.
    The small island state of Tasmania also imposed a two-person limit on public gatherings from midnight, and became the country’s first state to ban people from alternating between their main home and their second home, if they have one.
    “There will not be movement between your shack and your primary place of residence, allowing you to alternate and sleep nights in both,” state premier Peter Gutwein said, using the slang for holiday homes.     “You will need to make a choice,” he added.
    Tasmania reported its first coronavirus death overnight, which took the country’s total deaths from the illness to 17.    Confirmed COVID-19 cases are around 4,200 nationwide, although authorities said the rate of daily infections had halved in recent days.
    Amid the extraordinary shutdown of businesses and resulting layoffs, the regulators and banks have taken measures to pause loan repayments for six months.    Overnight, the federal government said it was putting a six-month moratorium on evicting renters.
    All travellers arriving home in Australia from overseas meanwhile must go into monitored quarantine in hotels or other facilities for 14 days, under police supervision, according to measures implemented at the weekend.
    Australia has swayed in recent weeks between policies designed to keep as many businesses open as possible, and a more aggressive push to lock down the country, causing some confusion.
    Amid concerns distressed assets could be snapped up by overseas buyers, Australia said on Monday that all foreign investment proposals would be assessed by the relevant government agency during the duration of the crisis.
    While most virus cases have been detected in major cities, clusters have also emerged in tourist destinations, such as in the Barossa Valley, a wine region in South Australia.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Byron Kaye; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

3/30/2020 North Korea says U.S. will not drop hostile policy despite leaders’ ‘special relationship’ by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides artillery fire competition in this image
released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 20, 2020. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said the United States will not drop its hostile policy even though their two leaders have a “special relationship,” state media KCNA said on Monday.
    A North Korean official said in the statement U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was undermining North Korea’s willingness to return to dialogue, criticizing his recent remarks on sanctions on North Korea.
    Pompeo had said after a teleconference with G7 foreign ministers last week that all nations must remain united in calling for North Korea to return to negotiations and applying diplomatic and economic pressure over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
    “The world would not know why the U.S.-North Korea relations continue to get tangled up, despite the special relationship between the leaders of North Korea and United States,” KCNA said.
    North Korea said on March 22 it welcomed a letter from U.S. President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a sign of “the special and very firm personal relations” between the two leaders despite recent frictions.
    KCNA said the U.S. president had written in the letter he was impressed by the North Korean leader’s efforts to defend his people from the coronavirus.
    KCNA said earlier on Monday that North Korea’s latest test of super-large multiple rocket launchers a day earlier had been a success.
    North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Sunday, the latest in a flurry of launches that South Korea decried as “inappropriate” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
    KCNA said the launch was aimed at examining the strategic and technical features of the launchers, which has been tested multiple times since last August overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, ahead of deployment.
    KCNA did not mention Kim’s attendance at the latest test, led by ruling party vice chairman Ri Pyong Chol and conducted at the Academy of National Defense Science.
    “The operational deployment of the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launchers is a crucial work of very great significance in realizing the party’s new strategic intention for national defense,” Ri was quoted as saying during the test, without elaborating.
    “The test-fire was conducted successfully,” KCNA added.
    It marked the fourth round of tests this month since North Korea staged military drills and resumed missile launches following a three-month break.
    The move indicated the progress of Pyongyang’s weapons development while denuclearization negotiations with the United States remain in limbo.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alison Williams)
[Have you noticed that North Korea has not had any reports of coronavirus contaminations or deaths, and that is either they are keeping it secret or they have not let anyone in their country to bring it to them, so the only thing coming out of NK is missiles.].

3/30/2020 Indian police fire tear gas on jobless workers defying coronavirus lockdown by Sanjeev Miglani and Sumit Khanna
Homeless people rest after they were shifted by municipal officials to a government-run shelter during a 21-day nationwide lockdown
to limit the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kolkata, India, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) – Police in western India fired tear gas to disperse a stone-pelting crowd of migrant workers defying a three-week lockdown against the coronavirus that has left hundreds of thousands of poor without jobs and hungry, authorities said on Monday.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the country’s 1.3 billion people to remain indoors until April 15, declaring such self-isolation was the only hope to stop the viral pandemic.
    But the vast shutdown has triggered a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands of poor migrant labourers employed in big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai seeking to head to their homes in the countryside on foot after losing their jobs.
    Many have been walking for days, some with families including small children, on deserted highways with little access to food or water.
    On Sunday, about 500 workers clashed with police in the western city of Surat demanding they be allowed to go home to other parts of India because they had no jobs left.
    “The police tried to convince them that it is not possible since buses or trains are not available…However, the workers refused to budge, and started pelting stones at police,” Surat deputy commissioner of police Vidhi Chaudhari said.
    She said the workers, most of them employed in the shuttered textile industry in Surat, were driven indoors by tear gas volleys and on Monday 93 of them were detained for violating lockdown orders.
TIP OF ICEBERG
    India has registered 1,071 cases of the coronavirus, of whom 29 have died, the health ministry said on Monday.    The number of known cases is small compared with the United States, Italy and China, but health officials say India is weeks away from a huge surge that could overwhelm its weak public health system.
    A health official said the large scale movement of people into the countryside risked spreading the coronavirus widely, compounding the challenge of containing the outbreak in the world’s second most populous country.
    “It’s an evolving situation with daily new challenges coming up, like having migratory populations moving from one place to another.    Like non-affected states adjoining affected states,” said Dr S.K. Singh, director of the National Centre for Disease Control, which investigates and recommends control measures for outbreaks of illness.
    In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, health workers dressed in protection suits sprayed disinfectant on a group of migrant workers who were also trying to make the journey home to their villages, local television showed.    They were made to sit on a street corner in the Bareilly district and doused with hose pipes, prompting anger on social media.
    Nitish Kumar, the top government official in the district, later said health workers had been ordered to disinfect buses being used by the local authorities but in their zeal they had also turned their hoses onto migrant workers.
    “I have asked for action to be taken against those responsible for this,” he said in a tweet.
    The federal government said on Monday that it had no plans to extend the shutdown beyond the three-week period.
    But neighbouring Nepal announced it would prolong its shutdown for another week from Tuesday.    The landlocked country has reported only five cases of the virus and no deaths, but it is concerned contagion will spread as more people travel.
(Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi, Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/30/2020 Japan ‘not planning’ state of emergency but pressure mounts on PM Abe by Leika Kihara and Takaya Yamaguchi
A woman wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is
seen inside the closed Japan Olympics Museum, in Tokyo, Japan March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan has no plan to declare a coronavirus state of emergency from April, its top government spokesman said on Monday, even as pressure mounted on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take decisive action as cases climb in Tokyo.
    As much of the rest of the world has gone into strict lockdowns to fight the coronavirus, Japan has so far managed to avoid the kind of outbreaks that have ravaged parts of Europe and the United States.
    However, a recent spike in Tokyo, along with the death of a beloved comedian on Monday, appeared to be driving home the potential risk for many Japanese.    A top doctor called on Abe to act before it was “too late.”
    Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was due to hold a news conference at 8:00 p.m. (1100 GMT), to make another appeal to the public to curb activities to prevent the spread of the virus, NHK reported. Koike last week appealed to Tokyo residents to avoid all but necessary outings over the weekend.
    “It’s not true that the government is planning on declaring a state of emergency from April 1,” Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told a news conference.
    However, Japan will raise its defenses against imported cases by banning the entry of foreigners traveling from the United States, China, South Korea and most of Europe, the Asahi newspaper reported on Monday.
    A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government had not made any decision on bans.
    But a top Japanese doctor called on Abe to issue an emergency decree to fight the outbreak before it was too late.
    “If we wait until an explosive increase in infections before declaring an emergency, it will be too late,” Satoshi Kamayachi, an executive board member of the Japan Medical Association, told a news conference, in comments carried by broadcaster Nippon Television.
    Suga, the top government spokesman, also said an expected telephone call between Abe and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), later on Monday had nothing to do with any decision on whether to call a state of emergency.
    The ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for a stimulus package worth 60 trillion yen ($556 billion) that includes direct government spending of about 20 trillion yen.
    In an effort to limit the economic damage of the outbreak, the government also plans to issue more government bond, by $149 billion from July, to fund a massive stimulus package, sources told Reuters.
    Any lockdown in Japan would look different to mandatory measures imposed in some parts of Europe and the United States.    By law, local authorities are only permitted to issue requests for people to stay at home, which are not legally binding.
    Prime Minister Abe has pledged to deploy a huge stimulus package, bigger than one compiled during the global financial crisis, to combat the outbreak, which had infected nearly 1,900 people in Japan, with 56 deaths, as of Sunday.
    Those numbers exclude 712 cases and 10 deaths from a cruise ship that was moored near Tokyo last month, public broadcaster NHK said.
    Sunday’s daily tally of 68 new cases in the capital was a record.    Bringing the tension home to many was the news that comedian Ken Shimura, a household name in Japan, had become its first celebrity to die of the virus.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara, additional reporting by Izumi Nakagawa, Chang-Ran Kim, Linda Sieg, Elaine Lies, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Daniel Leussink; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Kenneth Maxwell)

3/30/2020 Drop in China’s new coronavirus cases; none in Wuhan for sixth day by Brenda Goh and Thomas Suen
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a hazmat suit walks on a street in Wuhan, Hubei province, the
epicenter of China's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – China reported a drop in new coronavirus infections for a fourth day as drastic curbs on international travelers reined in the number of imported cases, while policymakers turned their efforts to healing the world’s second-largest economy.
    The city of Wuhan, at the center of the outbreak, reported no new cases for a sixth day, as businesses reopened and residents set about reclaiming a more normal life after a lockdown for almost two months.
    Smartly turned out staff waited in masks and gloves to greet customers at entrances to the newly-reopened Wuhan International Plaza, home to boutiques of luxury brands such as Cartier and Louis Vuitton.
    “The Wuhan International Plaza is very representative (of the city),” said Zhang Yu, 29.    “So its reopening really makes me feel this city is coming back to life.”
    Sunday’s figure of 31 new cases, including one locally transmitted infection, was down from 45 the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
    As infections fall, policymakers are scrambling to revitalize an economy nearly paralyzed by months-long curbs to control the spread of the flu-like disease.
    On Monday, the central bank unexpectedly cut the interest rate on reverse repurchase agreements by 20 basis points, the largest in nearly five years.
    The government is pushing businesses and factories to reopen, as it rolls out fiscal and monetary stimulus to spur recovery from what is feared to be an outright economic contraction in the quarter to March.
    China’s exports and imports could worsen as the pandemic spreads, depressing demand both at home and abroad, Xin Guobin, the vice minister of industry and information technology, said on Monday.
    The country has extended loans of 200 billion yuan ($28 billion) to 5,000 businesses, from 300 billion allocated to help companies as they resume work, Xin said.
Authorities in Ningbo said they would encourage national banks to offer preferential credit of up to 100 billion yuan to the eastern port city’s larger export firms.    The city government will subsidize such loans, it said in a notice. VIRUS CONCERNS
    While new infections have fallen sharply from February’s peak, authorities worry about a second wave triggered by returning Chinese, many of them students.     China cut international flights massively from Sunday for an indefinite period, after it began denying entry to almost all foreigners a day earlier.     Average daily arrivals at airports this week are expected to be about 4,000, down from 25,000 last week, an official of the Civil Aviation Administration of China told a news conference in Beijing on Monday.     The return to work has also prompted concern about potential domestic infections as travel curbs are rolled back, especially regarding carriers who exhibit no, or very mild, symptoms of the highly contagious virus.
    Northwestern Gansu province reported a new case of a traveler from the central province of Hubei, who drove back with a virus-free health code, national health authorities said.
    Authorities in Zhejiang province said asymptomatic patients with pneumonia would face the same quarantine conditions as confirmed cases, including 14 days in isolation centers, the state news agency, Xinhua, reported.
    Hubei authorities say 4.6 million people in the province returned to work by Saturday, with 2.8 million of them heading for other parts of China.
    Most of the departing migrant workers went to the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, and northeast China.
    In Hubei’s capital of Wuhan, more retail complexes and shopping streets reopened.    Electric carmaker Tesla Inc has also reopened a showroom, a company executive said on Weibo.
    Shoppers queued 1-1/2 meters (5 ft) apart for temperature checks at Wuhan International Plaza, while flashing “green” mobile telephone codes attesting to a clean bill of health.
    To be cleared to resume work, Wuhan residents must take nucleic acid tests twice.
    “Being able to be healthy and leave the house, and meet other colleagues who are also healthy is a very happy thing,” said Wang Xueman, a cosmetics sales representative.
Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh, Thomas Suen, Se Young Lee, Roxanne Liu, Lusha Zhang, Huizhong Wu, Liangping Gao, Yilei Sun, Gabriel Crossley and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

3/30/2020 Thailand reports 136 new coronavirus cases, two more deaths
People wearing protective face masks walk, during the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Bangkok, Thailand March 29, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand reported 136 new coronavirus cases and two new deaths on Monday, raising the total number of infections to 1,524 and fatalities to nine.
    Popular tourist resort island Phuket, in southern Thailand, began a partial lockdown on Monday, when it started closing beaches and all points of entry and exit except air travel until the end of April.
    The new cases were scattered across 18 of Thailand’s 77 provinces.    The capital Bangkok now accounts for nearly half of the cases overall.
    “Cases in Bangkok remain high, but numbers in the provinces are fluctuating,” said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the government’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
    The government introduced a state of emergency last week, banning most foreigners from entry and closing public facilities and businesses in major cities until April 30.
    Among the new cases, 71 were linked to known clusters from a boxing ring and entertainment venues, or came into contact with previous patients, while 21 were returnees from risky areas.
    The two new deaths reported on Monday were a 54-year-old Thai man in the southern province of Yala who had recently returned from     Malaysia, and a 56-year-old Thai woman in Bangkok, said Anupong Sujariyakul, an official at the health ministry’s Department of Disease Control.
    Three southern provinces, Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, were put on higher alert over the past week due to many cases there being linked to a mosque gathering in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, last month.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Kay Johnson and Alex Richardson)

3/30/2020 Taiwan says WHO not sharing coronavirus information it provides, pressing complaints
Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen visits a non woven filter fabric factory, where the fabric is
used to make surgical face masks, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has not shared with member states information Taiwan has provided on the coronavirus including details on its cases and prevention methods, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, ratcheting up its complaints.
    Taiwan’s lack of membership of the U.N. body, due to Chinese pressure which claims the island as its own with no right to the trappings of statehood, has infuriated the Taiwanese government during the outbreak of the virus.
    Taiwan’s government has said that keeping it out of the WHO during the outbreak amounts to playing politics with Taiwanese lives, even as the island has won plaudits for keeping its case toll so comparatively low thanks to early detection and control methods.
    Both the WHO and China say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs.
    Taiwan last week said the WHO ignored its questions at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, part of what it has long described as a pattern that puts it at risk because of Chinese pressure to exclude it from international bodies.
    On Sunday, the WHO issued a rare statement about Taiwan, saying it was closely following the development of the coronavirus there, is learning lessons from how they are fighting it, and detailing how the WHO has been working with Taiwanese health experts.
    In response, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said the WHO needed to “continue to review and improve upon some unreasonable restrictions imposed on Taiwan based on political considerations.”
    While Taiwan can report to the WHO via its International Health Regulations framework and can access information from WHO’s internal Event Information Site, the information Taiwan provides is not shared by the WHO, Ou said.
    Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Taiwan has given the WHO all the information about its cases and prevention methods, but this has never been included in the WHO’s daily updated situation report, she added.
    “Therefore, the health bodies of various countries cannot understand the current situation of Taiwan’s epidemic situation, preventive policies and border quarantine measures from the information provided by the WHO,” Ou said.
    “This shows that what the WHO said in its statement that it is learning from all regions, including Taiwan, to share ‘best practices’ with the world, differs from the facts.”
    Taiwan has also been excluded from over 70 percent of WHO technical meetings in the last decade, and for a key February meeting on the virus Taiwan experts were not allowed to attend in person, only online, she said.
    The WHO includes Taiwan’s number of cases under those of China.    Taiwan says this confuses other countries into believing its virus situation is the same as China’s, when China has no say in the island’s health policy or virus-prevention methods.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/30/2020 Iran’s coronavirus death toll reaches 2,757: health official
FILE PHOTO: Firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they disinfect the streets
ahead of the Iranian New Year holiday, March 20, in Tehran, Iran March 18, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus has increased to 2,757 with 117 new deaths in the past 24 hours, a health ministry spokesman told state TV on Monday, adding that the total number of cases has climbed to 41,495.
    “In the past 24 hours we had 117 new deaths and 3,186 new confirmed cases of people infected with the coronavirus,” Kianush Jahanpur told state TV, calling on Iranians to stay at home.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/30/2020 Philippines reports seven coronavirus deaths, 128 more infections
FILE PHOTO: A soldier waits for health workers to board a free shuttle service following the suspension of mass transportation to contain
the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ health ministry on Monday reported seven new coronavirus deaths and 128 more infections.
    Total deaths have risen to 78 and infections to 1,546, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a regular news conference.    With the arrival of thousands of testing kits and the start of operations of more laboratories, authorities are able to detect more infections, she added.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales, editing by Louise Heavens)

3/30/2020 Vietnam asks mask firms to increase production to five million a day
FILE PHOTO - Protection masks and hats are put out for sale during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam March 28, 2020. Picture taken March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Yen Duong
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has asked local mask producers to ramp up their production to make 5 million masks a day, the government said on Monday, as coronavirus cases in the country rise to 200.
    “The Ministry of Health has asked mask producers to operate at full capacity,” the government said in a statement, adding that Vietnam is also seeking to produce ventilators.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu, editing by Louise Heavens)

3/30/2020 Cambodia PM orders casinos shut down as coronavirus cases climb
FILE PHOTO: A motorbike drives past a closed casino in Sihanoukville, Cambodia
February 16, 2020. Picture taken February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Tostevin/File Photo
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered all casinos to close to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
    Cambodia reported four new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, bringing its tally to 107, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
    The new cases included a 30-year old man who had worked in a casino and karaoke club in the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey, near the border with Thailand, the ministry said.
    Hun Sen told a news conference all casinos would be closed from 23:59 p.m. on April 1.
    “I would like to clarify to various gamblers that if you want to gamble, do it tonight.    There is still tonight and tomorrow night,” Hun Sen said.
    The Cambodian leader was an early skeptic of coronavirus but cases have begun to increase and last week his government ordered restaurants and bars to close and it limited entry visas for foreigners.
    Hun Sen said that the finance ministry would work with casinos on tax exemptions while they were suspended.    Cambodia has emerged as a gambling haven for Southeast Asia in recent years, with more than 125 casinos operating as of December 2019, many of them Chinese-run.
    While no revenue figures for the industry nationwide are available, NagaCorp, which has the exclusive license to operate in Phnom Penh, reported an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue last year.
    The industry took a hit late last year when Hun Sen banned online gambling, resulting in thousands of layoffs and dozens of casinos closing.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Kay Johnson, Robert Birsel)

3/30/2020 U.S. expected to renew sanctions waivers allowing Iran nonproliferation work: sources by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is expected to allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue their work at Iranian nuclear sites to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, four sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.
    The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity and included one U.S. official, said a U.S. decision could come as early as Monday to renew waivers to sanctions that bar non-U.S. firms from dealing with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
    Jewish News Syndicate, a news outlet predominantly focused on Israel and the Jewish world, first reported the United States was expected to renew the waivers, citing two sources familiar with the decision.
    The move by the Trump administration, which in 2018 withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, will allow nonproliferation work to continue at the Arak heavy-water research reactor, the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Tehran Research Reactor and other nuclear initiatives.
    The waivers would be a rare breather in a hardened U.S. policy toward Iran, one of the hardest-hit places in the Middle East by the global coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2,460 people in the Islamic Republic and infected nearly 40,000.
    Iranian authorities say U.S. sanctions are hampering their efforts to curb the outbreak and have urged other countries and the United Nations to call for the measures to be lifted.    Washington rejects the assertion.
    “Stop lying.    … It’s not the sanctions.    It’s the regime,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, said on Monday in a Twitter post that copied a tweet by Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, accusing Washington of waging an economic war on Iranians and engaging in “medical terror” amid the outbreak.
    Washington has so far refused to lift any sanctions and has even ramped up its pressure campaign.    Last week, it blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in two weeks.
    Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions that had crippled its economy.
    Tehran has long rejected Western assertions that it has sought to develop nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)

3/30/2020 Coronavirus fails to dampen South Korea’s fever for exam success by Joori Roh
FILE PHOTO: A cleaner wearing a mask to prevent contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
stands along an empty street in Seoul, South Korea March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Choi Young-eun is so concerned about her teenagers’ education as South Korea’s schools stay shut that she has been sending them to a private tuition center to make sure they don’t miss out.
    Choi, a stay-at-home mum of two high schoolers, is one of the millions of parents keeping South Korea’s cut-throat “hagwon,” or cram schools, in business even as the government imposes tighter restrictions on gatherings in a bid to contain a major coronavirus outbreak.
    “It would be nice if hagwons were completely shut and students don’t have to go altogether, because I don’t want my kids to be the ones missing out,” Choi told Reuters.
    South Korea has delayed the beginning of the school year by about a month as Asia’s fourth-largest economy grapples with the virus that has infected more than 9,600 of its people and killed almost 160.
    The government has urged people to stay at home, and maintain social distancing, but none of this has dented the enthusiasm for cram schools, part of a $17 billion dollar private tuition industry that Koreans believe sets students up for a placement at an elite university, and life-long success.
    Data from the Seoul government showed that nine out of 10 of these schools were open last week, an increase from mid-March, when 60 percent were running.
    “Many parents called us and asked for classes to restart,” said Lim Sung-ho, chief-executive of Jongro Academy, one of the largest hagwon franchises in Korea with some 6,000 students.
    Like other schools, Jongro shut down when the government put the country on red alert in late February, but they have since reopened and attendance at all 22 outlets is almost 100 percent, Lim said.
    Class sizes are smaller, however, as the school implements mandatory social distancing guidelines: 24 students now sit at least one meter apart, down from the usual 60, he said, adjustments that have cost at least one-sixth of the academy’s annual revenue.     “Parents said it’s safer and better for studying when children are under the watch of hagwons,” Lim told Reuters.
LIFE DEFINING EXAM
    Last year, South Koreans spent more than 21 trillion won ($17 billion) on private tuition, government data shows, as three out of four children – from grade 1 to grade 12 – attended a cram school.    There were more than 127,000 teaching centers registered as of 2019.
    The ultimate goal is a high score at the annual national university placement exam, followed by a university degree, which can make all the difference to job, and even marriage, prospects in a country in which almost a quarter of all youth aged 15 to 29 years are effectively unemployed.
    Every November, at least half a million students sit for the exam, and it is this competition that makes it very difficult for parents to give up on tuition.    This year, the university exam is set for Nov. 19, but the government is expected to delay it because of the virus outbreak.
    Choi is taking no chances.    In addition to cram school, she has increased the home tutoring for her children to make up for the classes they missed.
    “I wish the exam could be delayed,” she said.    “I’m spending much more on education because of this coronavirus.”
(Reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Jack Kim and Miral Fahmy)

3/31/2020 U.S. renews sanctions waivers allowing Iran nonproliferation work by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to continue their work at Iranian nuclear sites to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.
    Reuters earlier reported that the decision to renew waivers to sanctions that bar non-U.S. firms from dealing with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was expected on Monday, citing four sources familiar with the matter including a U.S. official.
    Jewish News Syndicate, a news outlet predominantly focused on Israel and the Jewish world, first reported that the United States was expected to renew the waivers, citing two sources familiar with the decision.
    The move by the Trump administration, which in 2018 withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, will allow nonproliferation work to continue at the Arak heavy-water research reactor, the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Tehran Research Reactor and other nuclear initiatives.
    As part of its “maximum pressure” campaign, the United States has not only restored sanctions it had removed under the Iran nuclear deal, but has tightened them to try to force Iran to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities.
    However, the Trump administration has repeatedly waived the sanctions related to nonproliferation work with Iran on the argument that such projects are designed to make the Iranian nuclear program less capable of producing weapons.
    “As President Trump said earlier this year, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” Morgan Ortagus, U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.    “We will continue to closely monitor all developments in Iran’s nuclear program and can adjust these restrictions at any time.”
    The waivers are renewed for 60 days, according to the statement.
    Washington’s overall policy toward Tehran has faced increasing criticism from opponents and Iranian authorities who say the U.S. sanctions are hampering the country’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 2,460 Iranians and infected nearly 40,000 others.
    Iranian authorities have urged other countries and the United Nations to call for the measures to be lifted.    Washington has rejected the assertion.
    “Stop lying.    … It’s not the sanctions.    It’s the regime,” Ortagus said on Monday in a Twitter post that copied a tweet by Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, accusing Washington of waging an economic war on Iranians and engaging in “medical terror” amid the outbreak.
    Washington has so far refused to lift any sanctions and has even ramped up its pressure campaign.    Last week, it blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in two weeks.
    Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions that had crippled its economy.
    Tehran has long rejected Western assertions that it has sought to develop nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool, Leslie Adler and Sonya Hepinstall)

3/31/2020 Coronavirus epidemic ‘far from over’ in Asia: WHO official
Passengers sit on a social distancing chairs at a station to prevent the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The coronavirus epidemic is “far from over.” in the Asia-Pacific region, and current measures to curb the spread of the virus are buying time for countries to prepare for large-scale community transmissions, a WHO official said on Tuesday.
    Even with all the measures, the risk of transmission in the region will not go away as long as the pandemic continues, said Takeshi Kasai, Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the World Health Organization (WHO).
    The new coronavirus first surfaced in central China in late 2019.    Infections have now exceeded 770,000 cases worldwide, with the United States, Italy and Spain overtaking mainland China in confirmed cases.
    “Let me be clear.    The epidemic is far from over in Asia and the Pacific.    This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard,” Kasai told a virtual media briefing.
    “We need every country to keep preparing for large-scale community transmission.”
    Countries with limited resources are a priority, such as Pacific Island nations, he said, as they have to ship samples to other countries for diagnoses, and transportation restrictions are making that more difficult.
    Kasai warned that for countries that are seeing a tapering off of cases, they should not let down their guard, or the virus may come surging back.
    The WHO does not expect any country to be safe, as the coronavirus will eventually get everywhere, said WHO technical adviser Matthew Griffith.
    “Whereas countries and areas in this region have shown how to flatten the curve, outbreaks continue to pop up in new places and importation remains a concern,” Griffith said at the briefing, citing cases in Singapore and South Korea from people who traveled abroad.
    The focus of the epidemic is now on Europe, but that will likely shift to other regions, Griffith said.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/31/2020 China delays college entrance exam as fears grow over risk of coronavirus second wave
People wearing face masks exit a subway station following an outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China will delay its national college entrance exam by a month as it grapples with a coronavirus pandemic as travellers returning from abroad are fuelling new cases and boosting concern over the threat of a second wave of infections.
    The two-day “gaokao” annual test will be pushed back to July 7 and 8, China Central Television said on Tuesday, with Hubei province, where the virus emerged late last year, and Beijing, the capital, being given more leeway in scheduling it.
    The delay to the test, seen as opening the way to a life of opportunity and taken by more than 10 million students last year, is the latest sign of China’s struggle to resume normal life after widespread lockdowns aimed at reining in the virus.
    “China has slowed transmission of the virus and in so doing, has passed one peak in the outbreak,” said Tarik Jasarevic, a representative of the World Health Organisation.    “The challenge now is to prevent a resurgence of new cases.”
    The epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region was “far from over,” another WHO official aded.
    Last week, a study in British medical journal the Lancet Public Health recommended that China extend school and workplace closures, since an earlier relaxation of curbs could bring a second peak in the outbreak by August.
    China’s tax authorities acknowledged the pandemic’s impact on exporters, saying they were studying policies to reduce pressure on businesses, from tax cuts to an extension of preferential policies for foreign firms.
    New data from a survey of manufacturers showed that factory activity expanded in March from February’s collapse as businesses returned to work, but analysts warned that slumping external demand could prevent a durable recovery.
    “The situation could be very fluid as the virus outbreak remains unpredictable,” analysts at ANZ bank said in a note.    “Chinese policymakers will likely step up and expand the stimulus programme if needed.”
RISE IN CASES
    On Tuesday, mainland China reported an increase in new infections, reversing four days of declines, as cases rose among arrivals from overseas.
    Monday’s 48 new cases were up from 31 the previous day, the National Health Commission said in a statement, with one death.
    All were imported, taking China’s tally of such cases to 771, with no new local infection reported.
    Many were students returning from overseas.    About 35 infected Chinese citizens are still studying abroad, with 11 already cured, education ministry official Liu Jin said on Tuesday.
    Locally transmitted infections have mostly declined, but authorities concerned about travellers who caught the virus abroad are stepping up screening and quarantine measures, while slashing international flights and barring most foreigners.
    Of Monday’s new imported cases, 10 were in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, involving travellers whose flights were diverted to the regional capital of Hohhot from Beijing, state media said.
    The commercial hub of Shanghai reported 11 new imported cases, comprising mainly returning Chinese nationals, while Beijing reported three.
    Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province, reported no new infections for a seventh straight day.    Groups of medical teams in brightly coloured jackets took photographs around the city as they prepared to leave.
    By Monday, total infections stood at 81,518 in mainland China, with 3,305 deaths.
    Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Brenda Goh, Se Young Lee, Lusha Zhang, Andrew Galbraith, Roxanne Liu and Winni Zhou; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez)

3/31/2020 Indian doctors fight coronavirus with raincoats, helmets amid lack of equipment by Devjyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra
A doctor wearing a torn raincoat stands at the major coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment facility
amid concerns about the spread of the disease in Kolkata, India, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Shortages of protective health gear in India are forcing some doctors to use raincoats and motorbike helmets while fighting the coronavirus, exposing the weak state of the public health system ahead of an anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Monday said India was trying to procure bulk quantities of such gear, called personal protective equipment (PPE), domestically and from South Korea and China to meet the shortages.
    But more than a dozen doctors on the front lines of treating the novel coronavirus, which has so far infected 1,251 people in India and killed 32, told Reuters they were concerned that without proper masks and coveralls, they could become carriers.
    According to one projection, more than 100,000 people could be infected by mid-May, putting India’s underfunded health system and scarce doctors under severe strain.
    In the eastern city of Kolkata, junior doctors at the major coronavirus treatment facility – Beleghata Infectious Disease Hospital – were given plastic raincoats to examine patients last week, according to two doctors there and photographs reviewed by Reuters.
    “We won’t work at the cost of our lives,” said one of the doctors, who declined to be named because he feared retaliation from the authorities.
    The hospital’s medical superintendent in-charge, Dr. Asis Manna, declined to comment.
    In northern Haryana state near New Delhi, Dr. Sandeep Garg of ESI Hospital said he had been using a motorbike helmet because he didn’t have any N95 masks, which offer significant protection against virus particles.
    “I put on a helmet – it has a visor in front so it covers my face, adding another layer over the surgical mask,” Garg said.
    India’s health ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters queries.
    The plight of doctors in the pandemic has cast a light on a dilapidated and overburdened public health system that has for years been starved of funds and an overhaul.    India spends about 1.3% of its GDP on public health, among the lowest in the world.
    “We are living on a prayer, it’s not that we can save ourselves by relying on the health system,” said a senior federal government official in New Delhi, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation.
    In a state-run hospital in the city of Rohtak in Haryana, several junior doctors have been declining to treat patients unless they have adequate safety equipment.
    They also established an informal COVID-19 fund, to which each doctor contributed 1,000 rupees ($13.27) to buy masks and other face coverings, one of the doctors said.
    “Everybody is scared,” the doctor said.    “Nobody wants to work without protection.”
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/31/2020 Japan’s Abe, deputy avoid joint meetings to cut coronavirus risk as lockdown pressure builds
A shop employee wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prepares
antiseptic solution at Shibuya shopping and amusement district in Tokyo, Japan March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s prime minister and his deputy won’t attend meetings together to cut coronavirus risks as pressure for a lockdown builds, with domestic cases topping 2,000 and a minister saying the country’s containment strategy was stretched to the limit.
    Shinzo Abe told cabinet members on Tuesday that his second-in-command, Taro Aso, would no longer be present at any meeting the prime minister attends, a government spokesman said, in a move to guard leadership against infection that could hamper Japan’s efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
    Last week British PM Boris Johnson was obliged to switch to running the country from isolation after testing positive for the virus.    Infections have now exceeded 770,000 cases worldwide, killing more than 37,000, with the United States, Italy and Spain overtaking mainland China, where the virus originated late in 2019, in confirmed cases.
    Abe’s step came as Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said that Japan was not yet in a situation to declare a state of emergency, triggering a potential lockdown, but that the situation was precarious.
    “We’re just barely holding it together,” Nishimura told reporters on Tuesday.    “If we loosen our grip even a little, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a sudden surge (in cases).”
    Speculation that a lockdown may come soon has been intense in the capital, fuelled by rising numbers of domestic cases.
    A centre for disabled people in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, found seven more infections on Tuesday, pushing the national total past 2,000.    A total of 59 deaths have been recorded, according to the tally by national broadcaster NHK.
    With limited testing for the virus taking place, doubts linger in the capital about how widespread it may be.
    In a survey by popular chat app Line of users in Tokyo and neighbouring prefectures – conducted in partnership with the health ministry – some 7.1% of nearly 64,000 respondents reported they were suffering at least one symptom associated with coronavirus, including high fever or a bad cough, between March 27 and 30.
    The presence of such symptoms does not prove infection.    But at around 4,500, the number of people self-reporting symptoms in the survey was markedly higher than Tokyo’s official number of 443 confirmed cases as of Monday, stoking widespread comment among social media users.
NO BINDING LOCKDOWN
    Only last Tuesday, with a lockdown already in the offing, the Japanese government and International Olympic Committee succumbed to intense pressure from athletes and sporting bodies around the world to delay Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Games for a year because of the global outbreak.
    Some businesses in the capital are taking the initiative to curtail operations even ahead of any lockdown.    On Tuesday landmark department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd said it would close six stores in Tokyo on weekends through April 12.
    But any lockdown in Japan would look different from mandatory measures in some parts of Europe and the United States.    By law, local authorities are only permitted to issue requests for people to stay at home, which are not binding.
    Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has asked citizens in the capital to avoid unnecessary outings, while her counterpart in Osaka, Japan’s second-biggest city told reporters on Monday he thought the national government should declare a state of emergency, according to local media.
    A director of the country’s top organisation of doctors has said the government should declare a state of emergency before it’s too late.
    Elsewhere Abe said in a call with World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom on Monday evening that development of medicines and vaccines would be crucial to contain the outbreak.
    Abe said Japan intends to promote clinical research on an anti-flu medicine called Favipiravir with other countries as a treatment for the virus.
    The drug, also known as Avigan, was developed by Fujifilm Holdings Corp. Shares of Fujifilm closed up 2.2% after climbing as much as 6.6% in Tokyo.
(Reporting by Takashi Umekawa, Rocky Swift, Kaori Kaneko, Sam Nussey and Linda Sieg; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Kenneth Maxwell)

3/31/2020 Growth in Australia coronavirus cases slows, but experts urge caution by Colin Packham and Jonathan Barrett
A closed shop with the windows covered with plastic is seen following the implementation of stricter social-distancing
and self-isolation rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Tuesday reported a sustained fall in the country’s rate of new coronavirus infections but officials and experts warned against complacency, stressing the need for further strict social distancing policies.
    To ensure compliance, state authorities enacted sweeping powers to impose hefty fines and potential jail terms on anybody breaching rules that include a ban on public meetings of more than just two people.
    Health Minister Greg Hunt reported there were about 4,400 coronavirus cases nationally, with the rate of growth in new infections slowing to an average of 9% over the past three days from 25-30% a week earlier.
    The death toll in a country of almost 25 million stood at 19, putting the death rate for Australian cases below 1%, which is under the 10% reported by some countries and suggests “early promising signs of the curve flattening,” Hunt said.
    “That’s an achievement to which all Australians have contributed,” he said in a televised news conference.
    Countries around the world are seeking to “flatten the curve” representing growth in infections by implementing social distancing and other containment measures so that hospitals are not overwhelmed with critically ill patients.
    Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital, said while Australia stopped short of full lockdowns imposed elsewhere, it had introduced social distancing measures relatively early.
    “We acted much earlier than the likes of Italy and the United States,” Collignon told Reuters.    “We had much less community transmission and we still shut our borders and implemented social distancing policies such as shutting down bars and pubs, and did much more testing.”
    Collignon noted there may be an element of luck in the current trend, and backed official moves to keep social interactions to a minimum.
    Several states introduced penalties on Tuesday for people flouting social distancing requirements.    The repercussions differ from state to state, but include fines of up to A$11,000 ($6,780), a potential six-month prison term and the requirement to wear an electronic tracking device.
CURVE FLATTENING
    Philip Russo, president of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, said talk of curve flattening was “premature.”
    “We need to have weeks on end of decreasing numbers of new cases on a daily basis,” Russo said.    “What we are seeing now is quite possibly normal daily variation.”
    The government’s own caution was highlighted by a deal to boost the public health system with an extra 34,000 hospital beds sourced from private hospitals, along with thousands of doctors and nurses.    Australia will also take delivery of more than 5,000 ventilators at the end of April, Health Minister Hunt said.
    Health officials said earlier they wanted to increase testing, especially in places of COVID-19 clusters like Sydney’s Bondi area, which drew attention this month after people ignored social distancing rules and flocked to the beach.    State officials said the virus may have been transmitted in the Bondi community via a backpacker unaware of having the disease.
    Qantas Airways Ltd said on Tuesday that six baggage handlers at Adelaide airport have tested positive for the virus, adding that other employees who had come into contact with the infected staff would self-isolate.
    Like many countries, Australia’s financial and jobs markets have been roiled by the outbreak, prompting the government to unveil several stimulus packages.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 113,000 businesses had registered for a A$130 billion ($80 billion) six-month wage subsidy designed to stop spiraling unemployment and business closures.
    The “job keeper” allowance has brought the country’s coronavirus-related stimulus so far to A$320 billion, or about 15% of Australia’s gross domestic product, as economists forecast the country’s first recession in almost three decades.
(Reporting by Colin Packham, Jonathan Barrett, Byron Kaye, Sonali Paul, John Mair and Melanie Burton; Editing by Jane Wardell and Edwina Gibbs)

3/31/2020 Despair and pride in China’s Wuhan as coronavirus lockdown eases by Brenda Goh
People wearing face masks practise social distancing as they wait outside a Postal Savings Bank of China branch in
Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – Residents of China’s Wuhan city, ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic, have mixed emotions as containment measures are lifted and the community infection rate slows to a trickle, with some praising the government and others ruing the economic costs.
    The strictest curbs on movement and business were in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have emerged from a seafood market last year.    The city of 11 million people accounts for about 60% of China’s total infections, which stood at 81,518 as of Tuesday.
    That market is now boarded up, and an adjacent wholesale fruit center is also closed with more than 100,000 yuan ($14,108) worth of mangos, melons and other fruit rotting outside.
    A fruit trader surnamed Fang said the lockdown of the city had ruined her livelihood.
    “Of course I’m scared,” she told Reuters, gesturing to the two masks she wore, one on top of the other, as she packed apples which she sells to residential compounds at wholesale prices.
    “But I’ve not made any money for the last three months.”
    Wuhan residents’ attitudes towards the curbs are far from aligned, with some expressing immense pride in their government while others say the help they have received has not offset the costs from the lockdown.
    Some firms have resumed work and the city will start allowing people to leave on April 8.
    China has unveiled numerous measures to ease the devastating economic impact of the outbreak, and has pledged to help Wuhan get back on its feet.
    Fang teared up as she described how she had planned to see her children who are back in her hometown after the Lunar New Year in January.    She will be unable to return after the lockdown ends because she has to stay and sell her fruit.
    “At the earliest the stock might only clear by June,” she said, declining to give her full name due to the sensitivity of the situation.
CHEAP RIBS
    Hu Yanfang, who was supervising the unpacking of boxes of protective equipment and food at her housing estate in Wuhan, had a different take.
    The lockdown on residential compounds like hers was recently eased and she feels optimistic that the government has the crisis in hand.
    “It’s much better now,” said Hu, who heads the compound’s residents committee.
    Her voice cracked with emotion as she recounted how she had worked through the past two months to support her neighbors and sanitize the compound.    She thanked the government for sending ample supplies of protective gear like masks.
    “It makes me feel like our country is strong – just look at countries like Europe,” she said, referring to the surging infection and death numbers in countries like Italy and Spain.
    “The government helped us to get these,” she said, as slabs of pork ribs arrived in the boot of a taxi.    They were to be sold to residents at less than half the usual price.
    Another resident, Yu Tianhong, agreed with Hu as she queued for ribs.
    “This shows how the government is giving support and love to those of who stayed at home.    It’s not just about the meat and the money.     This makes us feel like someone is concerned about us,” she said.
    Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Tony Munroe and Stephen Coates)

3/31/2020 Indonesia to suspend foreign arrivals as coronavirus cases, deaths rise
A dog is pictured near a barricade to close the access to Canggu beach temporarily amid the spread
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bali, Indonesia, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Nyimas Laula
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s foreign minister said on Tuesday the government would ban all arrivals and transit by foreigners in Indonesia as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths rise.
    This comes a day after Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that he planned stricter rules on mobility and social distancing after a report showed more than 140,000 people in the Southeast Asian country could die in the pandemic.
    Foreigners with residence visas and some diplomatic visits will be exempted from the ban, foreign minister Retno Marsudi said, adding that the government aims to issue the regulations for the ban on Tuesday.
    The government will also strengthen screening for Indonesian nationals returning to the country, she said.
    “The president has decided that the existing policy needed to be strengthened,” Marsudi said, adding that details of the rules would be published later Tuesday.
    She said she did not know when the new travel ban would take effect.
    Medical experts have said the world’s fourth-most-populous country must impose tighter movement restrictions as known cases of the highly infectious respiratory illness have gone from zero in early March to 1,414, with 122 deaths.
    Indonesia’s foreign ministry previously prohibited the entry and transit of visitors from seven European countries plus Iran, China and South Korea from March 20.    Travellers not included in the ban had to obtain a health certificate from their home countries.
(Reporting by Maikel Jefriando; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy and Fathin Ungku; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Gerry Doyle)

3/31/2020 Thailand reports 127 new coronavirus cases, one death
A health worker is seen on a top of a fumigation car as they spray the street to prevent the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok, Thailand March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand reported 127 new coronavirus cases and one death on Tuesday, a health official said.
    The latest number raise the total number of confirmed infections in Thailand to 1,651 cases and 10 deaths since the country’s first case was reported in January.
(Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Panarat Thepgumpanat, Editing by)

3/31/2020 Mass disinfections to combat coronavirus pose another health hazard by Prasto Wardoyo and John Geddie
Firefighters spray disinfectant using high pressure pump truck to prevent the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), on the main road in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    SURABAYA, Indonesia/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A drone dispersed clouds of disinfectant in the sky above Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya on Tuesday, a response to the coronavirus pandemic which is catching on around the world despite warnings from health experts.
    Mass disinfections, often by workers in protective gear resembling characters from the comedy film Ghostbusters, have become a common sight — from Turkey’s Grand Bazaar to bridges in Mexico and migrant workers in India.
    But the visually-impressive measures taken to contain the fast-spreading virus which has killed over 37,000 people globally, have been criticized by disease specialists as a health hazard as well as a waste of time and resources.
    “It’s a ridiculous image seen in many countries,” said Dale Fisher, an infectious diseases expert in Singapore who chairs the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the World Health Organization.
    “I don’t believe it adds anything to the response and could be toxic on people.    The virus does not survive for long in the environment and people do not generally touch the ground.”
    A spokesman for Surabaya’s major said the use of drones for disinfection was necessary in areas with confirmed cases because the virus “can be anywhere.”
    Febriadhitya Prajatara compared the benzalkonium chloride disinfectant, which can cause skin irritations in high concentrations, to “soap” and said it would help “weaken the virus so it won’t enter our body.”
    Coronavirus is a contagious respiratory disease that spreads through droplets from the nose or mouth via coughing or sneezing.
    People can also become infected by contacting something contaminated before touching their own nose, mouth or eyes.
    Paul Tambyah of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection said handwashing and targeted cleaning of commonly-touched surfaces like elevator buttons offered better protection than mass disinfecting.
    “It (spraying) is probably a cheap and visible way of doing it, but careful attention to personal and environmental hygiene is probably more effective,” said Tambyah.
    Indian health workers caused outrage on Monday when they used hose pipes to douse migrant workers in the northern state of Utter Pradesh, amid fears the movement of people from cities to the countryside risked spreading the virus.
FURTHER TRANSMISSION
    In Malaysia, under nationwide lockdown due to the virus, authorities have gone on a disinfection spree in areas with high case numbers to reduce the risk of further transmission.
    But images of plumes of disinfectant spray fired from trucks into the air or from spray guns on to roads have riled health experts.
    “Disinfecting roads is clearly not going to be impactful,” said Christopher Lee, a former deputy director general in Malaysia’s health ministry and an infectious disease specialist.    “Waste of resources and man hours.”
    Malaysia’s director-general of health Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Tuesday the government would be issuing guidelines to local authorities to make sure disinfection operations are carried out properly.
    Back in Indonesia, telephone box-shaped disinfection chambers are being set up across the capital Jakarta, offering passers-by a quick blast to rid their clothes and skin of potential germs.
    “I think it’s good…I feel sanitized after touching a lot of things from the bus…I feel well-protected,” said Jakarta resident Fany Anisa after exiting one of the chambers outside a bus stop in central Jakarta.
    The private initiative being rolled out with the support of local authorities has been criticized by one expert who is advising the government’s virus-fighting taskforce.
    “It is not good for skin, mouth and eyes, it will cause irritation,” said Wiku Adisasmito, a public health professor at the University of Indonesia.
    Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease expert at Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth hospital, said mass disinfections are eye-catching and may boost morale but are not effective virus controls.
    “It would have better effect using a water cannon to disperse people and make them go home,” he said.
(Reporting by Prasto Wardoyo in Surabaya and Angie Teo in Jakarta; John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore and Krishna Das and Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur, editing by Ed Osmond)

3/31/2020 India and Pakistan crack down on Muslim group emerging as COVID-19 cluster by Sanjeev Miglani and Mubasher Bukhari
A driver wearing a protective suit walks in front of a bus carrying suspected carriers of coronavirus disease to a quarantine facility, amid concerns
about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Nizamuddin area of New Delhi, India, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI/LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – India and Pakistan sealed off centers belonging to a Muslim missionary group on Tuesday and began investigating how many coronavirus cases were linked to its activities.
    Tablighi Jamaat is a Deobandi Sunni Muslim missionary movement that preaches worldwide.    Every year, tens of thousands attend its congregations in the Pakistani city of Lahore and other parts of South Asia.
    India has so far registered 32 deaths from 1,251 confirmed infections, and Pakistan 20 from 1,914.
    The numbers are small compared with the United States, Italy or China but health officials say both countries have weak public health systems that could be overwhelmed by a surge in cases.
    New Delhi’s city administration has flagged a Muslim quarter where the 100-year-old group has a branch as a coronavirus hotspot after dozens of people tested positive for the virus there and at least seven died.
    Authorities said people kept visiting the center, in a five-storey building in a neighborhood of narrow, winding lanes, from other parts of the country and abroad, and that it had preached sermons to large groups despite government orders on social distancing.
    Hundreds of people were crammed into the building until the weekend, when authorities began taking them out for testing. More buses arrived on Tuesday to take them away to quarantine centers in another part of the city.
    “It looks like social distancing and quarantine protocols were not practised here,” the city administration said in a statement.
    “The administrators violated these conditions and several cases of corona-positive patients have been found … By this gross act of negligence, many lives have been endangered … This is nothing but a criminal act.”
TRACING MOVEMENTS
    Authorities are trying to trace the movements of people who had gathered at the Tablighi centers in Delhi and Lahore and the people who were exposed to them.
    In Pakistan, the Lahore Tablighi center was sealed off and dozens of other preaching centers across the country were placed in quarantine after 143 Tablighi members tested positive and three died, officials said.
    Media said the cases included Tablighi members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia.
    Malaysia’s health ministry had told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur that it was investigating the presence of Malaysians at the Delhi center.
    India, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, is under lockdown until mid-April to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but tens of thousands of out-of-work migrants are fleeing to the countryside, undermining the restrictions.
    Musharraf Ali, an administrator of the Tablighi center in Delhi, said the group had been seeking help from police and the city authorities to deal with the large number who were unable to leave after the government announced a lockdown.
    “There was no option … but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions until such time as the situation becomes conducive for their movement or arrangements are made by the authorities,” Ali said.
    In Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told government officials that she might extend a 10-day lockdown due to end on April 4 for a few more days.
    Following is data on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia’s eight countries, according to government figures:
* Pakistan has registered 1,914 cases, including 20 deaths.
* India has registered 1,251 cases, including 32 deaths.
* Sri Lanka has registered 132 cases, including two deaths.
* Afghanistan has registered 183 cases, including four deaths.
* Bangladesh has registered 51 cases, including five deaths.
* Maldives has registered 28 cases and no deaths.
* Nepal has registered five cases and no deaths.
* Bhutan has registered four cases and no deaths.
(Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur, Devjyot Ghoshal and Aftab Ahmed in New Delhi, Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, Gibran Peshimam and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

3/31/2020 Taliban team arrives in Kabul to begin prisoner exchange process by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (L) and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (R)
participate in a family photo at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland July 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst//File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – A three-member Taliban team arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to begin a prisoner exchange process pivotal to starting talks between the insurgents and the government side to end Afghanistan’s 18-year-old war.
    The peace talks, known as the intra-Afghan dialogue, were envisaged in an agreement between the United States and the Taliban signed in Doha, which also stipulated an exchange of 6,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government and the Taliban.
    “Our three-member technical team will help the process of prisoners’ release by identification of the prisoners, (and) their transportation,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.
    The prisoner release had been a sticking point, with the Taliban and the Afghan government differing over the process and timing of the exchange.
    However, after weeks of back and forth, the process is set to begin with the arrival of the Taliban team, which will set up camp at a luxury hotel in Kabul.
    “They are here now and we will begin our discussion; the prisoner release might go ahead in a few days if everything goes as planned,” a senior Afghan government official told Reuters.
    Mujahid said the Taliban team expected practical work to start in the next few days on a deal with the U.S.-backed government, to which the Taliban had previously refused to speak directly.
    The Taliban had planned to send a delegation of 10, Mujahid said, but it was reduced because of Afghanistan’s coronavirus outbreak.
    The talks also received a boost when the negotiating team appointed by the government was endorsed by Abdullah Abdullah, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s main political rival.
    “The formation of an inclusive negotiation team is an important step toward facilitating intra-Afghan negotiations,” Abdullah said on Twitter.
    Differences between Ghani and Abdullah over the result of the 2019 presidential election have threatened to derail the peace process, raising concerns in Washington.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed Tuesday’s developments “good news”
    Pompeo last week flew to Kabul and the Qatari capital Doha, where the Taliban have an office, to urge all sides to move forward with the process, which at that point was deadlocked.
    “We’ve seen a (negotiating) team identified.    Looks like it’s pretty inclusive, pretty broad. We’re happy about that,” Pompeo told a news conference in Washington.
    “We’ve begun to see some work done on prisoner releases as well – all elements that have to come together so we can get to the inter-Afghan negotiations, which ultimately will prove to be the only mechanism that has any hope of delivering peace and reconciliation to the people,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)

4/1/2020 China reports fewer new coronavirus cases, starts posting asymptomatic cases daily
Taxis line up outside Beijing Railway Station as the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) continues in Beijing, April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China, where the global coronavirus pandemic began in December, reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday, but it also published the daily change in asymptomatic cases for the first time, creating a murkier picture of the trends.
    There were 36 new cases on Tuesday, almost all of them involving travelers arriving from overseas, the National Health Commission said, down from 48 a day earlier, and bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 81,554.
    But the tally excludes the 130 new cases involving people who do not exhibit symptoms of the highly contagious disease, statistics from the health authority showed.    China began publishing daily data on asymptomatic cases on Wednesday.
    Some other countries include asymptomatic cases that test positive for their virus in the overall tally of confirmed cases, as per World Health Organization guidelines.
    People have expressed fears on Chinese social media that asymptomatic carriers could be spreading the virus unknowingly, especially as authorities are easing travel restrictions from the epidemic’s hotspots, now that infections have subsided.
    WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a conference in Geneva last week that in the majority of cases, the main drivers of coronavirus transmission were symptomatic patients, and many of the people listed as “asymptomatic” would go on to develop symptoms a few days after their diagnosis.
    But China has now decided that greater screening needed to be devoted to asymptomatic cases and the people with whom they have been in contact.
    The National Health Commission reported that there were 1,367 asymptomatic cases under observation as of Tuesday, down from 1,541 on Monday.
    Seven deaths from the virus were reported on Tuesday, up from just one the day before.    All but one took place in Hubei province, where the epidemic began.
    The one reported new case of a local infection on Tuesday was in Guangdong province.
    The total number of imported cases stood at 806, but while this category accounts for a small percentage of the overall number of confirmed cases, authorities have barred most foreigners from entering and introduced more rigorous checks on citizens returning from abroad as they fear imported cases could trigger a second wave of infection.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Kim Coghill and Simon Cameron-Moore)

4/1/2020 Rouhani: U.S. has lost opportunity to lift Iran sanctions amid coronavirus by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting of the Iranian government task force
on the coronavirus, in Tehran, Iran, March 21, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s president said on Wednesday that the United States had lost a historic opportunity to lift sanctions on his country over the coronavirus, while adding that the penalties had not hampered Tehran’s fight against the infection.
    On Tuesday, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the possibility that Washington might consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the coronavirus, but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so.
    “The United States lost the best opportunity to lift sanctions,” Hassan Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.    “It was a great opportunity for Americans to apologise … and to lift the unjust and unfair sanctions on Iran.”
    The coronavirus has killed 2,898 people and infected a recorded 44,606 in Iran, making it the worst-hit country in the Middle East and prompting China and the United Nations to urge the United States to ease sanctions.
    “Americans could have used this opportunity and told the Iranian nation that they are not against them,” Rouhani said.    “Their hostility (towards Iranians) is obvious.”
    Friction between Tehran and Washington has increased since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six nations and re-imposed sanctions, crippling Iran’s economy.
    Trump has adopted a “maximum pressure” policy on Iran aimed at persuading Tehran to negotiate a broader deal that further constrains its nuclear programme, limits its missile programme and curbs its use of proxy forces in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
    Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to its longtime foe.    But Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected the offer.
    Although Iranian authorities have said U.S. sanctions had hindered its efforts to curb the outbreak, Rouhani said: "The sanctions have failed to hamper our efforts to fight against the coronavirus outbreak.”
    “We are almost self-sufficient in producing all necessary equipment to fight the coronavirus.    We have been much more successful than many other countries in the fight against this disease,” Rouhani said.
    Several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, China, Britain, France, Qatar and Turkey, have sent shipments of medical supplies, including gloves and surgical masks, to Iran.
    In the first transaction conducted under a trade mechanism set up to barter humanitarian goods and food after Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Germany said on Tuesday that France, Germany and Britain had exported medical goods to Iran.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Andrew Cawthorne and Philippa Fletcher)

4/1/2020 Iran’s coronavirus death toll rises to 3,036: health ministry official
Emergency medical staff wearing protective suits, sit in an ambulance while transferring a patient with coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) to Masih Daneshvari Hospital, in Tehran, Iran March 30, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 3,036, with 138 deaths in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Wednesday, adding that the country had 47,593 infected cases.
    We had 2,987 new cases of infected people in the past 24 hours and 15,473 people have recovered from the disease,” Jahanpur said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/1/2020 In Taiwan, anger at China over virus drives identity debate by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Tourists wear protective face masks to protect themselves from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while passing
by a flag rising ceremony at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Anger at being confused with China amid the coronavirus outbreak and Beijing’s stepped-up efforts to assert sovereignty is stirring heated debate in Taiwan about how to further distance itself from its giant and often threatening neighbour.
    At its core is a debate about whether to drop “China” from the island’s official name, the Republic of China.
    During the virus crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO), which considers the island part of China, has listed Taiwan’s far lower case number under China’s, and China has repeatedly insisted only it has the right to speak for Taiwan on the global stage, including about health issues.
    Taipei says this has confused countries and led them to impose the same restrictions on Taiwanese travellers as for Chinese, and has minimised Taiwan’s own successful efforts to control the virus.
    Taiwan has been debating for years who it is and what exactly its relationship should be with China – including the island’s name. But the pandemic has shot the issue back into the spotlight.
    Lin I-chin, a legislator for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said in parliament last month that Taiwan should change its English name to “Republic of Chunghwa,” an English rendering of the word Taiwan uses for China in its name.
    “Taiwan has been brought to grief by China,” she said.
    On Sunday, the New Power Party, one of Taiwan’s smaller opposition groups, released the results of a survey in which almost three-quarters of respondents said Taiwan passports should only have the word “i>Taiwan” on them, removing any reference to China.
    “During this epidemic period, our people have been misunderstood by other countries, highlighting the urgency of changing the English name,” it said in a statement.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has given a cautious response to the passport idea, noting that according to the constitution, the official name is Republic of China and that the word Taiwan was already added to passport covers in 2003.
    “In the future, if there is consensus between the ruling and opposition parties on this new name, the Foreign Ministry shall cooperate in handling it,” spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.
    But the government is wary of a name change for Taiwan, saying there is no consensus for such a radical move.
    Although the DPP supports the island’s independence – theoretically meaning the official formation of a Republic of Taiwan – President Tsai Ing-wen says there is no need to do so, as the island is already an independent country called the Republic of China.    She often refers to the island as the Republic of China, Taiwan.
‘REPUBLIC OF TAIWAN’
    Premier Su Tseng-chang has said changing the island’s name isn’t the most urgent issue facing Taiwan.
    “If we want to change then it might as well be to ‘Republic of Taiwan’.    Taiwan is more well known,” Su said in parliament.    “But if there’s no national consensus, a name change isn’t the most important thing for now.”
    Taiwan’s official name is a throwback to when the Kuomintang party fled to the island after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists in 1949, and continued to claim to be China’s legitimate government.
    “The Republic of China is a country, Taiwan is not,” Chen Yu-jen, a Kuomintang legislator from the island of Kinmen, which sits just offshore from the Chinese city of Xiamen, told parliament on Monday.
    The statement drew a sharp rebuke from Su, who told reporters it meant Chen had no right to be a member of the legislature.
    China’s pressure on Taiwan diplomatically and militarily during the virus crisis has also reduced Beijing’s already low standing in the eyes of many Taiwanese.
    A March poll commissioned by Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council and carried out by Taipei’s National Chengchi University showed more than three-quarters of respondents believed China’s government was unfriendly to Taiwan’s, the highest level in a decade.
    Any name change would infuriate China, which has a law mandating the use of force to stop Taiwan independence.
(This version corrects day of week to Sunday from Monday in paragraph 8)
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

4/1/2020 Over 100 countries ask South Korea for coronavirus testing help: official by Hyonhee Shin and Anne Kauranen
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff in protective gear take a break at a facility of a 'drive-thru' testing center for the novel coronavirus disease of
COVID-19 in Yeungnam University Medical Center in Daegu, South Korea, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
    SEOUL/HELSINKI (Reuters) – South Korea has received requests from 121 countries for help with coronavirus testing, a foreign ministry official said on Wednesday, as authorities around the world come under intense pressure to curb the spread of the disease.
    South Korea’s massive testing campaign, backed by intensive contact tracing, has been credited with helping slow the spread of coronavirus in the country, which once had the second largest outbreak after China.
    “We’re getting so many requests from various countries as we have built experience from the early outbreak.    The number, which is now 121 countries, is rising by the day,” the official said asking not be named citing diplomatic sensitivity.
    South Korea has set up a task force to determine how it can offer assistance, either with exports of kits or other humanitarian aid, the ministry official said.
    The official did not name the countries but South Korean test kit makers have contracts to supply U.S. states and countries including Italy.
    Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump asked his Korean counterpart to supply medical devices and promised to help Korean firms gain U.S. regulatory approval.
    South Korean biotech firms that supply the kits have expanded production capacity to meet the surge in demand.    Shares in some of the leading companies have nearly tripled since the start of the year.
    South Korea is also analyzing coronavirus tests from Finnish healthcare provider Mehilainen, which is set to fly 18,000 samples to the country over the next two weeks, the company and a South Korean public health official said.
    Mehilainen, whose clients include some of Finland’s largest companies, said it was cooperating with a South Korean laboratory and flying the samples on Finnair charter flights.
    “Know-how in South Korea is high-grade and there is capacity for testing,” Mehilainen said in a statement.
    The planes will return with protective gear for healthcare workers and testing materials, Mehilainen said.
    Finland’s public healthcare has struggled to respond to the high demand for tests, restricting them to healthcare personnel and the most vulnerable or most severely ill patients.    Large Finnish companies have offered to pay for testing for employees unable to access the public healthcare system.
    The public health official at Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the government had advised the 118 state-authorised labs available for testing to “help Finland to the extent that would not affect Korean operations.”
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by David Clarke)

4/1/2020 Racing to stop coronavirus, India scours mosques to trace contacts with Delhi gathering by Sanjeev Miglani
Men wearing protective masks walk as they carry bags, amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Nizamuddin, area of New Delhi, India, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – As coronavirus cases rose across densely-populated South Asia, authorities scoured mosques in northern India on Wednesday trying to trace people who attended the gathering of a Muslim group in New Delhi that later emerged as an infection hotspot.
    Thousands of people from across India and some from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, had visited the headquarters of the Sunni Muslim missionary movement, Tablighi Jamaat, in a narrow winding Delhi lane last month, participating in prayer sessions and lectures over several days.
    With no public transportation and all movement stopped due to a nationwide lockdown, thousands of people had been stranded inside the Tablighi centre’s dormitories after the meeting ended while others had left the city, the administrators said.
    Delhi’s Health Minister Satyendra Jain said 2,335 people were taken out of the Tablighi centre and its mosque over a 36-hour period that ended on Wednesday.
    “They have been sent to quarantine centres, others who showed symptoms are in hospitals,” he said.
    Television images on Wednesday showed health officials in protective gear escorting people out of mosques in India northern state of Uttar Pradesh as the search for the people who attended and whoever they came in contact with progressed.
    “We are asking all these people who attended the meeting to surrender themselves wherever they are in the country, if they are in mosques they must inform officials so they can be taken and put into quarantine,” Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said.
    India has had 1,397 cases of coronavirus of which 35 have died, according to the latest figures from the health ministry, still a small number compared with the United States, Italy and Spain.
    At least 128 cases have been tied to the Tablighi centre, and seven of these have died, making it the first big cluster since infections began spreading in the world’s second most populous country last month.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a 21-day lockdown that will end in mid-April in a desperate bid to stave off an epidemic among India’s 1.3 billion people.
    With hundreds of millions living in cramped, unhygienic conditions, there are fears that India’s fragile health system could be easily overwhelmed if the coronavirus takes root.
    But the world’s largest shutdown has left millions of economically vulnerable people jobless and led to a mass exodus from the cities to the countryside.
SOUTH ASIA SURGE EXPECTED
    With one-fifth of the world’s population, millions of whom live on the edge of poverty, South Asia could see a surge of cases, health experts say.    Pakistan had 2,039 people infected with the virus after a jump of 240 cases on Tuesday, the largest single-day rise, government statistic showed.
    Most of the new cases were related to a Pakistani branch of the Tablighi which put off its meeting in Lahore at the last minute because of fear of the virus, but by then hundreds had already landed up at its centre in the eastern city.
    “The last 24 hours has seen a substantial increase in suspected patients,” Pakistan’s top health official Zafar Mirza told reporters.
    Bangladesh said it had lost a sixth person to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus while the number of confirmed cases stood at 54.
    Following is data on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia’s eight countries, according to government figures:
* Pakistan has registered 2,039 cases, including 26 deaths.
* India has registered 1,251 cases, including 32 deaths.
* Sri Lanka has registered 132 cases, including two deaths.
* Afghanistan has registered 196 cases, including four deaths.
* Bangladesh has registered 54 cases, including six deaths.
* Maldives has registered 28 cases and no deaths.
* Nepal has registered five cases and no deaths.
* Bhutan has registered four cases and no deaths.

(Additional reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad, Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

4/1/2020 Indonesia set to open emergency coronavirus hospital on uninhabited island
An aerial view of the works in progress of an emergency hospital at a Galang Island to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in Batam, Thousand Islands, Indonesia, March 25, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Bobby via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia will by next week open a new coronavirus emergency hospital on the uninhabited island of Galang, where authorities have repurposed a former Vietnam war era refugee camp as part of efforts to rapidly augment healthcare capacities.
    Indonesia has recorded 1,677 cases of coronavirus as of April 1, and 157 deaths – the highest mortality rate in Southeast Asia.
    Yet some health experts and officials believe the true infection rate among Indonesia’s population of 260 million could be substantially higher, while official data from mid-March shows the country has only about 12 hospital beds per 10,000 people.
    Located on one of a chain of islands off Sumatra and south of Singapore, the new hospital includes 360 additional hospital beds, isolation facilities and helipads, and will be used to treat coronavirus patients and as a quarantine facility.
    Indonesian President Joko Widodo said it would be open by next Monday at the latest.
    “We’re hoping not to use these (beds), but we’ve prepared from the beginning, to brace for this,” said the president, as he toured the new facilities on the 16-hectare premise.
    Amid a lack of proper protective equipment, some healthcare workers in Indonesia have worn raincoats to treat coronavirus patients.     Twelve doctors have died, including one from exhaustion, said Halik Malik, spokesman for the Indonesian Doctors Association said on Wednesday.
    Galang island was until 1996 a sprawling United Nations run refugee camp that housed 250,000 people that fled from the Vietnam War.
    During his visit Widodo said the site could also be used to check Indonesian migrant workers returning home for ‘mudik’, the period following the Muslim fasting month when people return to their hometowns and villages across the archipelago.
    Widodo’s tour of Galang came a day after he declared a national health emergency, and news that an 11-year-old girl had become the nation’s youngest fatality.
    Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said via video conference on Wednesday that it was critical to strike a balance between preventative health and economic measures.
    “Self-distancing measures, work from home, or limited isolation won’t work unless the people are given social security,” said Indrawati.
    “This is just like what happened in India, when they announced a lockdown without any preparation, it instead caused chaos and other problems that complicated things further.”
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Tabita Diela; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/1/2020 Japan ‘on the brink’ as it struggles to hold back coronavirus by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies
A staff member of Japanese drinking bar, wearing a protective face mask following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
waits for customers at almost empty of bars alley at Shinjuku district in Tokyo, Japan March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is struggling to hold the line against the coronavirus and is on the brink of crisis with medical experts particularly worried about preparations in Tokyo, officials said on Wednesday, raising the prospect of emergency lockdowns.
    Japan has some 2,200 cases of the coronavirus and 66 deaths, relatively small tallies compared with those of United States, China and some parts of Europe.
    But the new infections are appearing relentlessly, with 105 reported on Wednesday, 65 of them in the capital, where cases are closely watched as increasing numbers there add to pressure on the government to take drastic steps.
    Coronavirus: Knowns and unknowns – https://reut.rs/2UHIgvz
    “We are barely holding the line and remain at a critical point where virus cases could surge if we let down our guard,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary committee.
    He is set to hold a meeting of his coronavirus task force later on Wednesday.
    Abe is under pressure from the public to declare a state of emergency that would allow authorities to impose lockdowns and restrict movements, but on a voluntary, not a legally binding, basis.
    Economics Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said infectious disease experts were alarmed about medical preparations in Tokyo, which now has about 500 cases.
    “Many experts expressed very strong sense of crisis and opinions over the spread of infections in Tokyo and the current state of medical preparedness,” Nishimura told reporters.
    “We must prevent infections from spreading further no matter what.    We have come to the edge of edges, to the very brink.”
    The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, has requested that residents of the city of nearly 14 million people stay indoors and avoid restaurants and bars.
    “People are saying ‘I didn’t think I would get infected myself’.    I want everyone to share the awareness that one should both protect oneself while also avoiding spreading (the virus),” she said.
    A Bank of Japan poll showed the mood of industrial manufacturers at its most pessimistic for seven years.
    Calls for a lockdown are increasing on social media, with many Twitter users expressing worry and citing much more drastic measures in foreign cities.
    “One of my friends, who works in Tokyo, is still commuting on packed trains,” wrote a user under the Twitter handle Arikan.
    “I’m a little embarrassed by how indecisive Japan is compared to other nations.”
    Media reported the possibility schools would remain closed until May.    The government first closed public schools at Abe’s request from March 2.    The Tokyo metropolitan government had said it was planning to re-open at least some schools when the new academic year began in April.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Elaine Lies, Naomi Tajitsu, Sakura Murakami and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Robert Birsel)

4/1/2020 Malaysia reports 142 new coronavirus cases, total tops 2,900
A firefighter disinfects a closed shop during the movement control order due to the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia reported 142 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 2,908, the highest in Southeast Asia.
    The health ministry said it has recorded a total of 45 deaths, with two reported on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

4/1/2020 Indonesia confirms 149 new coronavirus infections, taking total to 1,677
Mannequins are pictured in the middle of a corridor at a closed shopping mall amid the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Fransiska Nangoy TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia confirmed on Wednesday 149 new coronavirus infections, taking the total in the Southeast Asian country to 1,677, a health ministry official said.
    Achmad Yurianto reported 21 new deaths from the virus, taking the total to 157, while 103 had recovered.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto, editing by Louise Heavens)

4/1/2020 Red Cross: Virus shutdowns to produce global ‘social explosion,’ says violent riots, political coups possible by OAN Newsroom
A Red Cross member sprays disinfectant inside Myanmar Economic Bank curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Yangon,
Myanmar Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some,
especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)
    Red Cross officials have issued a stark warning to national governments by saying extended economic lockdowns could produce violent unrest in their countries.
    A new report from the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) noted the coronavirus panic is expected to produce mass unemployment worldwide.    This could lead to an increase in poverty, individual bankruptcies, and suicides among the international working class.
    “The risk of suicide is increasing in the area where they are isolating the people,” stated IFRC President Francesco Rocca.    “We have a lot of people who are living very marginalized that we use in the so-called black hole of the society.”
    Experts have said a recent spike in the U.S. jobless rate may repeat in other countries whose economies heavily rely on the services sector.

Red Cross workers prepare emergency relief kits packed with basic necessities like instant food for
delivery to impoverished people experiencing difficulties amid the spread of the new coronavirus at a facility of
the Korean National Red Cross in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    As a result, tens-of-millions of people worldwide will be reliant of government giveaways, odd and menial jobs as well as subsistence farming to survive.    This may stir mass resentment and a consequential social upheaval could go as far as taking down governments across Europe and North America.
    “My only advice to the politicians and those who have the responsibility to run a country is that this is not the time for optimism,” said Rocca.    “This is a social bomb that can explode at any moment because they don’t have any way to have an income or to find an income.”
    The Red Cross stopped short of advising governments to reopen their economies, but said every effort must be aimed at stopping panic and fear of coronavirus. Experts noted the full extent of the possible social effects of this latest media scare remains uncertain.

4/1/2020 Coronavirus fear stokes panic buying and price rises in Afghanistan by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Volunteers spray disinfectants on a street amid concerns about coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Kabul, Afghanistan March 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan has been hit by a spike in prices of essential goods including food and medicines, as shortages and panic buying increase in the face of a rising coronavirus threat, residents and retailers said.
    Coronavirus cases have shot up in Afghanistan in the last few days, approaching 200, but with limited ability to test, health officials fear the situation is more serious than it seems and could worsen in coming days.
    Mustafa, a Kabul shopkeeper, said higher prices at wholesale markets had forced him to put up retail prices for items such as onions and potatoes, which had nearly doubled.
    “If this continues, not only will prices triple but it will be impossible to find these items in the market,” he said.
    The government ordered a lockdown in Kabul over the weekend, adding to the unease of residents.
    “Whenever my family gets an opportunity to go out in the lockdown we grab food in fear we may not be able to find things tomorrow,” Kabul resident Ahmad Farhad, 25, told Reuters.
    The coronavirus fears have pushed up demand in all major cities, a member of Afghanistan’s chamber of industries and mines, Abul Basir Reshtia, said.
    Afghanistan has 220 flour factories with a capacity of about 225 tonnes a day, he said, adding production had doubled to control prices but reserves were running out.
    Landlocked Afghanistan’s main supply line is through Pakistan, which in mid-March shut its borders as part of measures to contain its own coronavirus epidemic.
    The deputy chief of Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Khan Jan Alkozay, told Reuters thousands of trucks loaded with goods including food and medicine, were stuck in Pakistan – not only at the border but at the ports, too.
    Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the border crossing between the Pakistani town of Chaman and Afghanistan’s Spin Boldak, one of two main crossings between the countries, would be opened to allow essentials into Afghanistan.
    However, the border closed after opening for two days on March 21, a senior Pakistani customs officer told Reuters by telephone from Chaman, adding that at least 2,000 containers full of Afghanistan-bound goods were parked on the Pakistan side.
    The official said truck drivers were reluctant to travel to Afghanistan fearing prolonged quarantine.
    Afghan traders met President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday in a bid to get trade flowing, Alkozay said, adding that Ghani told the traders to get in touch with Pakistani officials to find a solution.
    “The longer these items are stuck in Pakistan, the more people will feel the shortage in Afghan markets,” Alkozay said.
(Additional reporting by Gul Yousafzai in Quetta; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Robert Birsel)

4/1/2020 Japan’s vice premier slams WHO for political ties to Beijing by OAN Newsroom
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Financial Minister Taro Aso, wearing a face mask as a safety precaution against the new
coronavirus attend a session of the parliament’s upper house in Tokyo Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Toshiyuki Matsumoto/Kyodo News via AP)
    Japan has criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for siding with mainland China in its assessment of COVID-19.    In a recent statement, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso accused the WHO of helping Beijing cover up the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages.
    Aso added the organization should be renamed the “Chinese Health Organization” over its political proximity to Beijing.
    “People think the World Health Organization should change its name.    It shouldn’t be called the WHO, it should be renamed the CHO.    This appeal is truly resonating with the people.” – Taro Aso, Deputy Prime Minister of Japan
    The vice premier noted that back in January, the WHO claimed China did not have a flu outbreak, but then changed its story.    The official slammed the organization for excluding Taiwan and not helping it fight the outbreak.
    Aso also stressed both China and the WHO have spread “misinformation,” while accusing other countries of doing just that.

4/1/2020 Report: China concealed severity of coronavirus by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo, a security guard wears a face mask as he walks along
a pedestrian shopping street during a snowfall in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
    China reportedly hid and is still concealing the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.    According to U.S. officials, a classified intelligence report to the White House revealed China intentionally under-reported both the total number of cases and the number of deaths from COVID-19.
    According to members of the coronavirus task force, medical experts’ response to the virus was less effective due to incomplete data from the country.
    “When you looked at the China data originally and you said, ‘Oh, well, there’s 80 million or 20 million people in Wuhan, 80 million people in Hubei’ and they come up with a number of 50,000, you start thinking of this more like SARS than you do this kind of global pandemic,” explained Dr. Deborah Birx.
FILE – In this Feb. 1, 2020, file photo, funeral home workers remove the body of a person suspected to have died from the
coronavirus outbreak from a residential building in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province. (Chinatopix via AP, File)
    One recent study found China could have prevented 95 percent of infections if it had acted sooner.
    Western officials also believe other countries have failed to accurately report their coronavirus numbers, including Iran, Russia and North Korea.

4/2/2020 Iran’s death toll from coronavirus rises to 3,160: health official
Emergency medical staff wearing protective suits, sit in an ambulance while transferring a patient with coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) to Masih Daneshvari Hospital, in Tehran, Iran March 30, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has reached 3,136, with 124 deaths in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Thursday, adding that the country had 50,468 cases of infection.
    “We have 3,956 infected people in critical condition … There was 2,875 new cases of infected people in the past 24 hours… 16,711 people have recovered from the disease,” Jahanpur said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/2/2020 China logs fewer coronavirus infections but tightens some curbs on movement by Huizhong Wu and Andrew Galbraith
FILE PHOTO: A man sits at a meat stall market inside a partially closed shop, as the country is hit by an outbreak
of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China, where the coronavirus outbreak first erupted in December, logged fewer new infections on Thursday, but measures restricting movement have been tightened in some parts of the country due to a fear of more imported cases.
    China had 35 new cases of the disease on April 1, all of which were imported, the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Thursday.
    The central province of Hunan, which had recently downgraded its emergency response to the lowest level, reported its first imported infection on Wednesday, state media reported on Thursday, citing the provincial health commission.
    Authorities remain concerned about the risks posed by imported cases of COVID-19, and have in recent days banned foreign passport holders from entering and ordered a sharp reduction in the number of international flights.
    China currently allows no more than 134 international flights per week to enter the country to meet demand from citizens and students abroad wishing to return home, and just 108 flights have been granted permission this week, Lu Erxue, the deputy director-general of China’s civil aviation administration said at a briefing on Thursday.
    A total of 1.6 million Chinese students study overseas, of which 36 have tested positive, said Ma Zhaoxu, vice-minister of foreign affairs, at the same briefing.
    The civil aviation administration arranged nine flights between March 4 and 26 to bring Chinese citizens back from overseas, and dispatched another plane on Thursday to ferry about 180 students back to China from the UK, Ma said.
    China has also seen a gradual reintroduction of restrictions, including closures of cinemas that had been permitted to reopen, amid worries that early relaxation of lockdowns could spark another wave of infections just as the world’s second-largest economy is struggling back to its feet.
    On Wednesday, a county in the central province of Henan said it had banned people from leaving without proper authorisation, and prevented residents from leaving their homes for work without clearance following several coronavirus infections in the area.
    On Thursday, Henan reported one new imported asymptomatic case, according to the provincial health authority. A total of 10 asymptomatic cases remained under medical observation, six of which involved travellers arriving from abroad.    The remaining four were locally transmitted.
    Meanwhile, in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, 37 new asymptomatic cases were logged as at the end of Wednesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
NO SYMPTOMS
    The number of new asymptomatic cases fell sharply to 55 on April 1, from 130 the day before.
    China said it is treating such cases like confirmed ones and plans to publish information in a timely and transparent way, according to comments made by NHC official Wang Bin at a news briefing.
    Asymptomatic carriers are less infectious than confirmed cases, said China CDC Chief Epidemiologist Zunyou Wu, citing a Ningbo CDC research paper.
    But around 2 out of 3 such carriers will develop symptoms, said Wu.
    One asymptomatic patient can only pass the virus to, on average, less than one person while confirmed cases can pass it to three, Wu added.
    Users of Chinese social media have expressed fear that carriers with no symptoms could be spreading the virus unknowingly, especially as authorities ease curbs on travel for previous hotspots now that infections have subsided.
    Last week, WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said symptomatic patients were the main drivers of transmission, while most of those classified as asymptomatic developed symptoms a few days after diagnosis.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu, Ryan Woo, Huizhong Wu, Lusha Zhang and Vincent Lee in Beijing, Engen Tham and Andrew Galbraith in Shanghai; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Philippa Fletcher and Kim Coghill)

4/2/2020 Infection rate steepens as India searches for 9,000 exposed to Delhi cluster by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: High-rise residential towers are seen behind shanties in