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)
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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)
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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)
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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

  • 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.


Pakistan seeks extradition of Daesh leader from Afghanistan

Updated 11 min 51 sec ago

Pakistan seeks extradition of Daesh leader from Afghanistan

  • Aslam Farooqi is a Pakistani national wanted in connection with attacks claimed by Daesh in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has asked neighbor Afghanistan to extradite a leader in the local Daesh group affiliate who was arrested in an Afghan intelligence operation in southern Afghanistan earlier this month.
Aslam Farooqi is a Pakistani national wanted in connection with attacks claimed by Daesh in Pakistan. The Afghan government accuses Farooqi of involvement in last month’s attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul on a Sikh house of worship that killed 25 worshipers.
The Daesh group, on its affiliated Amaq website, took credit for the attack saying it was carried out by Indian national Abu Khalid Al-Hindi in revenge for Indian military action in its violence-wracked portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
A single gunman rampaged through the Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, exploding grenades and firing at worshipers.
There was no immediate response from Afghanistan.
In a statement late Thursday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, Atif Mashal, had been summoned and told of Pakistan’s worries about the activities of the Daesh affiliate, known as the Daesh -Khorazan, headquartered in eastern Afghanistan.
“Since Aslam Farooqi was involved in anti-Pakistan activities in Afghanistan, he should be handed-over to Pakistan for further investigations,” the ministry statement said
Farooqi, whose real name is Abdullah Orakzai, was arrested last weekend along with 19 other Daesh operatives, according to Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.
The upstart Daesh affiliate has taken credit for attacks in Pakistan, including one in January in the southwestern Baluchistan provincial capital of Quetta that killed 15 worshipers.
In recent months, Afghan and American officials claim the Daesh has been weakened as a result of relentless US bombing raids in eastern Afghanistan as well as military operations by the Afghan National Security Forces and attacks by their rivals, Taliban insurgents.
In the months leading up to Washington’s peace deal with the Taliban signed in February, US officials said a key component of the agreement was a promise by the Taliban to aid in the fight against Daesh, seen as the greatest threat to US national security emanating from Afghanistan.
Still, the US-Taliban peace deal has had a rocky beginning. Political wrangling in Kabul between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival in last year’s disputed presidential polls, Abdullah Abdullah, has frustrated Washington, which has threatened to withdraw $1 billion in aid if they don’t find a power-sharing deal. Their bickering has delayed the next critical step in the deal, which calls for intra-Afghan negotiations between Kabul leaders, many of whom are linked to warlords and the Taliban.
Delays in completing a prisoner release as laid out in the US-Taliban deal have further frustrated efforts to start the intra-Afghan negotiations.
However, the US and NATO began withdrawing forces and if the Taliban keep their promise to fight terrorism the US will withdraw all its forces over 14 months from the signing of the deal.