China virus death toll surges past 1,500, new cases fall

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A man wears a face mask as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, as he stands in a train at Mong Kok MTR station in Hong Kong. (AFP)
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A scanning and transmission electron microscope image of coronavirus released by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' (NIAID) Rocky Mountains Laboratories (RML). (NIAID-RML)
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Updated 16 February 2020

China virus death toll surges past 1,500, new cases fall

  • More than 66,000 people have now been infected

BEIJING: The death toll from China’s new coronavirus epidemic jumped past 1,500 on Saturday but new infections fell following a mid-week surge caused by a change in the way cases are counted.
More than 66,000 people have now been infected in China from a virus that emerged in central Hubei province in December before spreading across the country a month later and causing global panic.
Some 1,700 medical workers have been infected, with six dying from the COVID-19 illness, officials said, underscoring the country’s struggle to contain the deepening health crisis.
Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged that the outbreak exposed “shortcomings” in the country’s health emergency response system.
Battling the outbreak is a “big test for the country’s governance system and governance ability,” Xi said as he chaired a political meeting on government reforms this week, according to state media.
Chinese authorities have placed some 56 million people in Hubei under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.
A number of cities far from the epicenter have also imposed tough measures limiting the number of people who can leave their homes, while schools remain closed nationwide and many companies have encouraged employees to work from home.
Several countries have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have cut services with the country.
But the epidemic has continued to spread across China and hundreds of cases have emerged in more than two dozen countries.
In Singapore, which has 67 confirmed cases, the Roman Catholic Church said it was suspending all masses indefinitely to help prevent the spread of the virus and urged the faithful to follow services on YouTube or the radio.

The National Health Commission reported 143 new deaths on Saturday, with all but four in Hubei, raising the toll to 1,523.


The commission also reported 2,641 new cases of the COVID-19 strain, with the vast majority in Hubei.
The number, however, was almost half those reported the previous day.
The scale of the epidemic swelled this week after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to their tally.
Previously, they were counting only cases with a positive lab test result but are now also including those “clinically diagnosed” through lung imaging.
Officials said the change was necessary to ensure that patients get treated early amid reports of backlogs in lab tests.
The revision added nearly 15,000 patients to Hubei’s tally on Thursday, with the World Health Organization noting that cases going back weeks were retroactively counted.
“We’re seeking further clarity on how clinical diagnosis is being made to ensure other respiratory illnesses including influenza are not getting mixed into the COVID-19 data,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday.
There were over 4,800 cases reported in Hubei on Friday and 2,420 on Saturday.
The number of new confirmed cases has been steadily falling outside Hubei, with 221 infections reported on Saturday.
A top Chinese scientist had predicted that the epidemic could peak by the end of this month after the number of new cases had fallen earlier in the week.
The WHO cautioned that it was “way too early” to make any predictions about the disease’s trajectory.
Authorities said Friday 1,716 medical workers have been infected during the outbreak, with six dying from the illness.
Most of the infections among health workers were in Hubei’s capital, Wuhan, where many have lacked proper masks and gear to protect themselves in hospitals dealing with a deluge of patients.
The grim figures come a week after grief and public anger erupted over the death of a whistleblowing doctor who had raised the alarm about the virus in December and been reprimanded and silenced by police in Wuhan.

The US government is preparing to evacuate American citizens aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the site of the most coronavirus infections found outside China and currently quarantined off Japan, the Wall Street Journal reported.
About 380 people will be offered seats on two planes back to the United States and could arrive back home as early as Sunday, the newspaper said, adding that those with a fever, cough or other symptoms will not be allowed on the flights.
Evacuees will have additional health screenings in the United States and some will probably undergo a mandatory quarantine, which will likely be 14 days, Henry Walke, an official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was quoted as saying.


Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

Updated 21 February 2020

Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

  • Country ranks sixth among those with greatest wealth inequality: Oxfam

JAKARTA: A senior Indonesian minister has suggested that poor people should marry someone of higher social status to reduce poverty.

Muhadjir Effendy, the coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs, told a meeting on the national health program in Jakarta on Wednesday that he would ask Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi — who also attended the meeting — to issue an edict recommending the move.

Effendy said that the edict could prevent the emergence of “new poor households” and provide Indonesia’s majority Muslim community with a new interpretation of the principle that one should marry a person with a compatible socioeconomic background for the sake of equivalence (kaf’ah) between prospective spouses.

The principle, he said, makes poor people marry among themselves and “automatically give birth to a new poor household.”

The minister on Thursday clarified that his intention with the “intermezzo” statement was to kick-start a social movement to break the cycle of poverty in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s poverty rate declined to below 10 percent for the first time in the country’s history, in September 2019, according to the latest data available from the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS).

The BPS sets the poverty line at $32.13 per person per month, or an average of $1.07 per day.

FASTFACT

President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the anti-poverty programs and close the country’s income inequality gap.

President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the implementation of poverty alleviation programs and close the country’s income inequality gap, which has widened over the past 20 years.

In September, the level of inequality in Indonesia measured by the Gini coefficient stood at 0.380, improving by 0.004 points from the previous year, according to the BPS. The index ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality.

An Oxfam report in 2017 showed that in the past two decades, the gap between the richest and the rest of the population in Indonesia had grown faster than in any other country in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is ranked sixth among the countries with greatest wealth inequality, according to the UK-based NGO.

Oxfam said that the four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than the poorest 100 million people. Inequality is slowing down poverty reduction, dampening economic growth and threatening social cohesion, it said.

However, economists said that suggesting the poor pursue a Cinderella story to graduate from their low-socioeconomic status was not the solution that Indonesia needed to reduce poverty and tackle income inequality.

“How would the state manage such domestic affairs? Even parents could not choose for their children,” Enny Sri Hartati, a senior researcher at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef), told Arab News on Thursday.

Indef Deputy Director Eko Listiyanto said that there was no guarantee that Effendy’s proposal, if approved, would be effective in tackling poverty. “There is no urgency for such an edict . . . the root of the problem lies with the issuance of economic policies that widen inequality as they only benefit a small group in the society,” he said.

Listiyanto said that the government was unable to drive upward mobility as the majority of its policies revolved around populism rather than empowerment. He called on the government to stop making regulations that served only oligarchs.

“It would be better to improve the national education system to prepare the next generation for their economic leap. That move would be far more sustainable compared with issuing the marriage edict,” he said.

Pieter Abdullah Redjalam, research director of the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia, said that Effendy’s idea of a cross-class marriage edict showed that he was out of touch with reality.

“He seems to forget that there is a very wide gap between the poor and the rich,” Redjalam said. “The poor are generally trapped in the poverty cycle. They cannot go to school, so they stay poor.”

Redjalam echoed Listiyanto’s recommendation of opening access to and improving the quality of Indonesia’s education system to reduce poverty in the long term. “It is a shame if the former education minister does not understand that,” he said, referring to Effendy.