China new virus deaths rise to 563; 2 cruise ships isolated

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A worker sets up beds at the Hongshan Stadium to convert it into a makeshift hospital following an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 4, 2020. (REUTERS)
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An empty street is seen in Beijing on February 5, 2020. (AFP)
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Passengers wearing face masks walk to a departure gate at Sukarno-Hatta international airport in Tangerang on February 5, 2020. (AFP)
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A dog wears a paper cup over its mouth on a street in Beijing on February 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2020

China new virus deaths rise to 563; 2 cruise ships isolated

  • Global concerns have risen after the World Health Organization declared an international health emergency last week

BEIJING: China on Thursday reported 73 more deaths from a new virus, raising its total to 563, as the World Health Organization appealed for more funds to help countries battle the spread of the disease that led health officials in Asia to quarantine two cruise ships with some 5,400 people on board.
The ships in Japan and Hong Kong are caught up in a global health emergency that seems to worsen by the day.
In the port city of Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, health workers said 10 more people from the Diamond Princess were confirmed sickened with the virus, in addition to 10 others who tested positive on Wednesday.
The 10 will be dropped off as the ship docks and transferred to nearby hospitals for further test and treatment.
The 3,700 people on board faced a two-week quarantine in their cabins. The ship had 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members. More tests are pending on 171 others who had symptoms or had contact with a man who was diagnosed with the virus after leaving the ship in Hong Kong, the Health Ministry said.

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The 3,600 people aboard the Hong Kong ship were also being screened after three passengers on a previous voyage were diagnosed with the virus. The territory’s beleaguered leader, Carrie Lam, announced that two terminals — including one where the cruise ship is currently quarantined — will be shut down.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday asked for $675 million to help countries address the expected spread of the virus. He acknowledged that the sum is a lot, but told a news briefing that “it’s much less than the bill we will face if we do not invest in preparedness now.”
Tedros said that in the last 24 hours, the UN health agency has seen the biggest jump in cases since the start of the epidemic. According to the latest figures early Thursday, the number of confirmed cases jumped by 3,694 to 28,018.
Outside mainland China, at least 230 cases have been confirmed, including two fatalities, one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
China has strongly defended its epidemic control measures and called on other nations not to go overboard in their responses. Countries “can assess the epidemic situation in an objective, fair, calm and rational manner, respect authoritative and professional WHO recommendations, understand and support China’s epidemic control efforts,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chenying said at an online news conference. “Fear is worse than any virus.”

Read more: Coronavirus: What the Middle East can do to stay safe
As thousands of hospital workers in Hong Kong went on strike to demand the border with mainland China be closed completely, the city announced that all people entering from the mainland, including Hong Kong residents, must be quarantined for 14 days. Tokyo Olympics organizers, meanwhile, said they are increasingly worried about the disruption the virus is causing ahead of the games, which open in less than six months.
To reduce the danger of exposure for health workers, Beijing is seeking to develop a robot to administer throat tests. Separately, Shanghai announced that all schools will delay reopening until at least the end of February, rather than the middle of the month as originally planned. The exact date will depend on how the outbreak develops.
As examples of anti-Asian discrimination mount, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for “international solidarity” and support for China and other countries hurt by the virus. He urged a stop to any stigmatization of innocent people.
To treat the thousands of patients in its hard-hit central region, China built a new hospital in a matter of days and converted a gymnasium, exhibition hall and cultural center.
Patients were being moved into a 1,000-bed hospital with prefabricated wards and isolation rooms in Wuhan. A 1,500-bed hospital also specially built for virus patients is to open Thursday. The hospitals made from converted public spaces to treat patients with mild symptoms have a total of 3,400 beds, the simple cots placed in tight rows in cavernous rooms without any barriers between them.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.