Wednesday, August 05, 2020
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Coronavirus toll in New York state passes 1,000: Live updates

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00:50 GMT - Death toll in New York state surpasses 1,000

More than 1,000 people have died from the coronavirus outbreak in New York state, according to a tally by The Associated Press  (AP) news agency.

On Sunday evening, New York City said its toll had risen to 776. The total number of statewide deaths is not expected to be released until Monday, but with at least 250 additional deaths recorded outside the city as of Sunday morning, the state's total fatalities was at least 1,026, AP said.

00:30 GMT - China reports 31 new cases in mainland

The number of COVID-19 infections in China continues to slow with health authorities in Beijing reporting 31 new cases at the end of Sunday.

The figure includes one locally transmitted infection and marks a drop from the 45 cases reported a day earlier. There were no new cases for a sixth consecutive day in central Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected in December last year. 

In mainland China, the total number of cases to date rose to 81,470 in the mainland, while the cumulative death toll increased to 3,304.

US President Donald Trump has extended federal guidelines on social distancing until April 30 after a top health official warned more than 100,000 people could die from the coronavirus in the United States.

The announcement on Sunday evening came as the death toll in hard-hit New York state passed 1,000.

"The modeling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks," Trump told reporters at the White House. "Therefore, the next two weeks and during this period it's very important that everyone strongly follow the guidelines ... We will be extending our guidelines to April 30th to slow the spread."

The initial 15-day period had been due to expire on Monday.

The US has 139,000 confirmed infections from the coronavirus, more than any other country in the world, while more than 2,400 people have died from the respiratory illness caused by the pathogen.

Worldwide, the number of cases has reached more than 718,000. Some 149,000 people have recovered, and more than 33,000 have died.

Here are all the latest updates:

Monday, March 30

06:30 GMT - EasyJet grounds fleet, furloughs cabin crew for two months

British low cost airline easyJet said it had grounded its entire fleet and reached a deal with its cabin crew for employees to be furloughed for two months under a government job retention scheme.

The airline said that its entire fleet of over 300 aircraft was parked up and there was no certainty for the date of restarting commercial flights.

EasyJet said that under a deal with Unite, the union which represents its cabin crew, they would not work for two months from April 1 and will be paid 80 percent of their average pay under the government job retention scheme.

06:00 GMT - Guatemalan deported from US tests positive

A Guatemalan man who was deported from the US last week has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to a spokeswoman for the Guatemalan health ministry.

The 29-year-old man was deported last Thursday on a flight chartered by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The flight, with at least 40 others on board, originated in Mesa, Arizona, according to the Guatemalan Migration Institute.

Read more on this story here.

A curfew to combat the spread of the virus in Guatemala has been extended until April 12.

05:50 GMT - Nepal extends lockdown until April 7

The government of Nepal extended a nationwide lockdown put in place on March 23 by another week. International flights will also be banned until April 15.

The Himalayan country has recorded a total of five infections from the new coronavirus.

05:35 GMT - Japan to 'ban all travellers from US, China, Europe'

All visitors from the United States, China, South Korea and most of Europe will be denied entry to Japan under new rules to curb coronavirus infections, according to the Asahi newspaper.

Citing government sources, Asahi said Japan's foreign ministry is expected to also advise Japanese nationals to refrain from travelling to those countries.

05:00 GMT - India lockdown hits chronic patients hard

Strict restrictions on movement in India has hampered access to healthcare for people with chronic illnesses such as HIV, kidney and autoimmune diseases.

One 15-year-old HIV patient's parents walked 32km to obtain her medication in New Delhi.

"We could quickly be facing a non-COVID humanitarian crisis if the government fails to act to restore health services, particularly for those with critical conditions that require sustained medication/treatment," said Malini Aisola, public health activist and co-convenor of the All India Drug Action Network.

04:51 GMT - Australia tightens curbs on public gatherings

New rules limiting public gatherings to just two people in Australia will come into effect at midnight on Monday, with the states of New South Wales and Victoria introducing hefty fines for people violating those restrictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said members of the public should leave their house only to buy food, attend medical appointments and for exercise.

Skate parks, outdoor gyms and public playgrounds across the country, he said.

04:20 GMT - Fears of a second wave of infections in China

Concern of a second wave of infections is growing in China amid official pressure to resume normal life, according to Al Jazeera's Katrina Yu.

"In Wuhan, the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak, some shops are open, and malls are starting to open their doors after two months. People who work in essential industries, such as the cement, steel and car industries, are also starting to go back to work," Yu said from Beijing.

Our correspondent said officials are under "tremendous pressure to resume normal life" with President Xi Jinping travelling on Sunday to a port and an industrial park in eastern Zhejiang Province to inspect the resumption of work and production there.

"He wants to get the economy going after two months at a standstill. And because of this urgency to get things going, there are fears it may be too soon and could result in a second wave of infections," she said. "Officials are also under pressure to keep numbers down, and that's causing fears they may not be transparent when it comes to reporting new cases."

02:00 GMT - Argentina extends quarantine

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez extended a nationwide quarantine until mid-April to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

"We are going to extend the quarantine until the end of Easter. What do we aim to achieve? To keep the transmission of the virus under control," he said in a televised message.

The mandatory measures were due to expire at the end of March. The lockdown will be lifted on April 12.
Argentina has 820 confirmed cases and 20 deaths from COVID-19.

01:40 GMT - South Korea reports 78 new cases; total at 9,661

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 78 new cases in South Korea on Monday, down from 105 confirmed infections a day earlier.

The figure brings South Korea's total infections to 9,661.

The KCDC said the new cases marked the 18th consecutive day that new infections hovered about 100 or fewer additional cases.

01:30 GMT - Japanese comedian dies

Ken Shimura, one of Japan's best-known comedians, died from COVID-19 at a hospital in Tokyo, according to the public broadcaster NHK.

He was 70 years old. Many fans took to social media to pay tribute.


Iran urges US to free Iranian prisoners amid coronavirus pandemic

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Iran's government has urged the United States to release Iranians held in US jails on sanctions-related issues due to fears about the coronavirus outbreak.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Washington of holding a number of Iranians in its prisons and said under these circumstances they should be set free.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Iran from the coronavirus rose to 2,378 on Friday, a jump of 144. Iran is one of the worst hit countries in the world.

Zarif also referred to a report by The Guardian newspaper about Sirous Asgari, a science professor, who it said was still being held in a crowded facility after being acquitted in November on US 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 tweeted.

On Thursday, the US 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 even as Tehran battles the coronavirus outbreak.

Humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after US President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 international agreement curbing Iran's nuclear programme.

However, broader US sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran.

Earlier, Iran's health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 144 people had died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 2,378, while the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 2,926 to 32,332.


Palestinian groups cancel mass Gaza rallies due to coronavirus

Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip have cancelled mass rallies planned for next week along the border with Israel amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in the densely-populated territory, organisers said on Saturday.

The rallies were called for March 30 to mark the second anniversary of the so-called "Great March of Return" which had prompted weekly protests by Palestinians seeking to regain access to land, now in Israel, from which their ancestors were forced to flee during the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus, in 1947-48.

They also mark Palestinian Land Day which commemorates the events of March 30, 1976, when Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian citizens of Israel as they protested against the Israeli government's expropriation of land.

"We call upon our people not to go to the Return encampments on March 30 and to stay home in order to maintain the safety of our people in the face of this lethal pandemic," said Khaled al-Batsh, a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group.

Instead, al-Batsh called on Palestinians in Gaza to mark the day by raising Palestinian flags on their rooftops and burning Israeli ones.

Traffic will also be stopped for an hour and sirens will sound across the territory to mark the occasion, the statement said, adding that a news conference would also be held for a limited number of attendees.

According to Gaza medical officials, 215 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers firing from the other side of the border during the protests, with another 8,000 suffering gunshot wounds. In the past few months, the weekly protests have been smaller.

One Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper during the demonstrations.

In 2019, UN Human Rights Council investigators said Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, with children and paramedics among the casualties.

So far, nine out of the 97 coronavirus cases in the Palestinian territories have been confirmed in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza's hospitals, which were overwhelmed during the protests by gunshot wounds and amputations, are now gearing up for the challenge of containing the coronavirus in the coastal enclave of two million Palestinians, many living in refugee camps.


Sri Lanka pardons soldier who killed Tamil civilians

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Sri Lanka's president on Thursday pardoned and released an army officer sentenced to death for slitting the throats of Tamil civilians, including four children, during the island's bloody ethnic war.

Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was to be hanged for the December 2000 killing in a case held up by previous Sri Lankan governments as an example of rare accountability over abuses during the conflict.

A court convicted him of murdering eight members of the Tamil minority, including a five-year-old and three teenagers after a 13-year trial.

They were killed as they returned to their bombed homes to salvage what was left of their belongings and their bodies were found buried in a cesspit near an army camp at Mirusuvil on the Jaffna peninsula.

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the officer's appeal and upheld the death penalty last year.

But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has now "instructed the Ministry of Justice to release Sergeant Ratnayake from prison", a spokeswoman for his office said.

Human Rights watchdog Amnesty International condemned the pardoning and said it was "reprehensible" to use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to release those convicted of heinous crimes.

"After many long years, the victims of the Mirusuvil massacre ... finally got a semblance of justice in 2015. It is despicable to have that justice reversed through an arbitrary executive decision," Amnesty's regional director Biraj Patnaik said in a statement.

Rajapaksa, a retired army officer, came to power in November promising to free military personnel jailed for a string of offences during the previous administration.

He and his brother Mahinda, now serving as prime minister, are adored by the island's Sinhala majority for spearheading the defeat of separatist Tamil rebels to end the country's 37-year Tamil separatist war in 2009.

The armed forces were internationally condemned for atrocities committed during the conflict, but Sri Lankan soldiers have seldom been tried in civilian courts.

Government troops are alleged to have killed at least 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final stages of the war - an allegation the Rajapaksas have denied.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka's main political party for the minority community, condemned what it said was an "opportunistic" decision to release Ratnayake.


Fears mount as Syria reports first coronavirus case

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Authorities step up lockdown efforts in war-torn country after 20-year-old woman tested positive.

Health officials in war-battered Syria have announced the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, as authorities in the country prepare to halt all public transportation in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

Health Minister Nizar Yazji told a news conference in the capital Damascus on Sunday that “necessary measures” had been taken to ensure that the patient, a 20-year-old woman who had come from abroad, was quarantined for 14 days.


Yazji said the patient did not exhibit all of the symptoms upon arrival, but was identified by a "detection team" responsible for scanning incoming travellers, state news agency Sana reported.

A ban on public transport as well as on private transport services will come into effect on Monday night, the agency reported. A similar ban on transportation between various cities and provinces will come into effect on Tuesday night.

Earlier, the government shut down schools, parks, restaurants and various public institutions, and called off army conscription.

Syria's healthcare system, among other infrastructure, has been ravaged by nine years of war.

Flights from Iran

On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a prisoner amnesty, according to state media, which said it was a move to relieve congestion that risked the spread of the virus.

Bakeries across the country would no longer open and bread would be home-delivered, state media said.

Medics say the country is also vulnerable with thousands of Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside Assad's forces, who maintain a strong presence in Syria's big cities and have their headquarters in the Damascus Shia suburb of Set Zaynab.

Thousands of Shia pilgrims from Iran also visit Damascus.

Iran, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic outside China, is Syria's main regional ally and operates military and civilian flights that bring the militia fighters into the country.

Iran's Mahan Air still has regular flights from Tehran to Damascus, according to Western diplomats tracking Syria, even though other Syrian flights have been suspended.

Iranian-backed militias also still enter Syria using the al-Bukamal border crossing with Iraq, where the virus is spreading, according to local residents and Western intelligence sources.

Displacement camps

The army's general command announced on Saturday it had raised the level of preparedness in military hospitals and gave orders to minimise gatherings, including military sports activities or any that take place in closed areas.

UN officials and humanitarian workers, meanwhile, fear a large outbreak in Syria could be particularly catastrophic.

Medics in the opposition-controlled northwestern region - the last rebel-held bastion in the country - also fear the coronavirus could spread quickly in crowded camps for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians who fled months of relentless Russian-backed bombing of rebel-held areas.

Since December last year, and up until earlier this month, an escalation in fighting between Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, and the Turkish-backed opposition in the region displaced nearly one million people, many of whom amassed in the already overcrowded camps near the Turkey-Syria border.

Aid agencies have been unable to respond to the overwhelming surge of new arrivals at the camps, which has forced many to share their tents throughout the harsh winter months, while others camped under trees or in their vehicles.

A campaign to help spread awareness among the camp’s residents kicked off last week but limited access to running water, pharmacies and medical facilities mean displacement camps are more susceptible to the spread of the highly infectious virus.

The area is especially vulnerable as most hospitals and medical facilities have been bombed, rendering them out of order.

The UN has previously accused Syrian government ally Russia of deliberately hitting civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, acts that could amount to war crimes.


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