Virus warnings for Ramadan as some countries ease pandemic shutdowns

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The world is inching towards a new phase in the coronavirus crisis as some countries like Vietnam and New Zealand with few new cases move to end their shutdowns while others like Singapore and Japan are tightening measures to prevent a surge in infections.

Many countries are moving from crisis mode to figuring out how to live with the virus by modifying pre-pandemic routines with precautions, more testing and containment of flare-ups, mindful of the potential for future waves of the virus.

Authorities in the capital of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, extended to May 22 strict disease-fighting restrictions with the approach of Ramadan, which begins with the new moon this week.

Disinfecting in Jakarta
Disinfecting in Jakarta (Dita Alangkara/AP)

Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan bowed to the country’s religious clerics, refusing to close mosques despite an appeal from the Pakistan Medical Association warning such gatherings are like a petri dish for the spread of the virus in a country with a fragile health care system.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres urged Muslims to “focus on our common enemy — the virus”, and repeated an earlier appeal for an immediate ceasefire for all conflicts.

In a separate message, he urged countries to provide equitable help to all, saying the pandemic was “a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.”

Some leaders are using the crisis as a pretext for repressive measures, Mr Guterres said, adding: “The message is clear: People — and their rights — must be front and centre.”

The UN has warned that tens of millions of people risk starvation as the pandemic, a plague of locusts in Africa and other disruptions prevent food from reaching the world’s most vulnerable populations in places like Yemen and South Sudan.

A report released on Wednesday estimated that at least 135 million people are at acute risk of starvation due to conflicts and other factors. The report was compiled before shutdowns, border closures and freezes on transport activities began disrupting food supplies.

In response, the EU pledged 20 billion euros (£17 billion) for helping bridge such disruptions to provide help to vulnerable communities globally.

While some parts of the world are just beginning to grapple with the pandemic, in China authorities reported no new deaths and just 10 new cases on Thursday. The number of people in hospital dropped to 959, with 63 considered serious.

Residents queue to get temperature checks before entering an office building in Beijing (Andy Wong/AP)

Neighbouring Vietnam, which moved quickly to close its borders and trace cases, has reported no new infections in the past three days and is preparing to loosen restrictions.

New Zealand, which announced just three new cases on Thursday, remained on strict lockdown, with 1,451 confirmed cases and 16 deaths, but was preparing to ease limits next week.

But the virus continues to pop up unexpectedly.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Japanese officials said more crew members on a cruise ship docked in Nagasaki have tested positive, raising the total on board to 48.

The Italian-operated Costa Atlantica has been docked since late January for repairs and maintenance and has no passengers. Officials plan to test all the remaining crew, and are investigating how the virus got on board since the crew has stayed on the ship since mid-March.

The coronavirus has infected more than 2.6 million people and killed about 183,000, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from official government figures.

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