New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000

New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000
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A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus linked to the Wuhan outbreak, shared with Reuters on February 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000
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A recovered patient (C in wheelchair), 83, is discharged from Leishenshan Hospital, the newly-built makeshift hospital for novel coronavirus patients, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 18, 2020. (AFP)
New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000
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This photo taken on February 14, 2020 shows a woman wearing a face mask walking past a charms shop in the Binondo district of Chinatown in Manila. (AFP)
New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000
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A bus carrying passengers who disembarked from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in quarantine due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, leaves the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama on February 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2020

New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000

New virus cases in China fall for second day, deaths top 2,000
  • China may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March
  • Iran confirmed first two cases of coronavirus on Wednesday

BEIJING: New virus cases in China continued to fall Wednesday, with 1,749 new infections and 136 new deaths announced after China’s leader said disease prevention and control was at “a critical time.”
The much-criticized quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan to avoid spreading the virus ends later in the day. The 542 cases on the ship were the most in any place outside of China and medical experts have called the quarantine a failure.
The updated figures on the COVID-19 illness for mainland China bring the total for cases to 74,185 and deaths to 2,004. New cases have fallen to under 2,000 daily for the past two days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the efforts to control the outbreak in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described in state media.
Separately, the UN secretary-general told The Associated Press that the virus outbreak “is not out of control but it is a very dangerous situation.” Antonio Guterres said in an interview in Lahore, Pakistan, that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”
China has locked down several cities in central Hubei province where the outbreak hit hardest, halting nearly all transportation and movement except for the quarantine efforts, medical care and delivery of food and basic necessities.
China also may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading. One of the automotive industry’s biggest events, China’s biannual auto show, was postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or canceled.
Many countries set up border screenings and airlines canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused almost 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Five deaths have been reported outside the mainland, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France.
The largest number of cases outside China is the 542 on the Diamond Princess at a port near Tokyo.

Hundreds of passengers began leaving the Diamond Princess cruise ship Wednesday after the end of a much-criticized, two-week quarantine that failed to stop the spread of a new virus among passengers and crew.  Results were still pending for some passengers who’ve been tested for the coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands of people in China and more than 540 on the ship. South Korea evacuated six South Koreans and a Japanese family member from the ship, and they began an additional 14-day quarantine Wednesday. More than 300 American passengers were evacuated earlier and are quarantined in the United States, including at least 14 who had tested positive for the virus.
The US also upgraded its travel advisory for China to Level 4, telling its citizens not to travel to anywhere in the country and advising those currently in China to attempt to depart by commercial means.
“In the event that the situation further deteriorates, the ability of the US Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to US nationals within China may be limited. The United States is not offering chartered evacuation flights from China,” the notice said.
“We strongly urge US citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home,” the notice said. The US previously flew out scores of its citizens on charter flights from Wuhan but does not have any further plans to do so, it said.
Despite, such warnings, the capital Beijing was showing signs of coming back to life this week, with road traffic at around a quarter of usual up from virtually nothing a week ago. While most restaurants, stores and office buildings remained closed, others had reopened. People entering were required to have their temperatures taken and register their contact information.

Meanwhile, Iran on Wednesday, has confirmed two cases of coronavirus, the first in the country.


World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 29 min 35 sec ago

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”