Asian Insider, March 19: Imported cases of coronavirus, China’s Covid-19 diplomacy, religious gathering worries

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

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In today's bulletin:

Alarm grows in Asia over a Covid-19 rebound as imported cases rise, China's outreach to Europe in the spotlight, religious gatherings in the region raise concern, a Thai ninja to fight infections, and more.

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WILL COVID-19 MAKE A COMEBACK IN ASIA AS IMPORTED CASES RISE?

Worries over coronavirus infections coming in from abroad seemed of growing concern as imported cases of infections grew and countries considered further travel restrictions.

China reported today that while there were no new infections in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, imported cases surged by a record and accounted for all of the new confirmed cases in mainland China. In another move, the port of Fuzhou in eastern China began restricting vessels arriving from nine countries in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus by visiting ships and their crew.

The Philippines announced today it is stopping the issuance of visas to foreigners to contain the outbreak.

Singapore, on Wednesday, announced that all Singaporeans and residents returning to the country will have to serve a 14-day isolation period. This came on a day when the number of new cases spiralled to 47, an all-time high. Of these, 33 cases were imported and of them 30 involved Singapore residents returning from abroad.

Two days ago, India shut down the Taj Mahal and other popular tourist locations and expanded its travel and visa restrictions to include travellers from the European Union, Turkey and the United Kingdom. In Japan, the revelry was missing as the country's famed cherry blossom season, that usually attracts visitors from around the world, was officially declared as having started on March 14.

Also read:

Airfares soar 174% as Chinese flee Europe

What is a stay-home notice, and what should you do if you are affected?

New evidence shows young people are falling seriously ill

CHINA STEPS UP COVID-19 DIPLOMACY IN EUROPE AS TRUMP CONTINUES TO SLAM BEIJING

China is reaching out to European countries to share its knowledge and expertise on Covid-19. But some observers say this is Beijing's attempt to improve its global standing, at a time when both are not on good terms with the Trump administration.

Some European countries are showing appreciation. China's aid and assistance comes at a time of growing concern as Europe becomes the new epicentre of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump riled China by insisting the virus originated in China and there was nothing wrong in calling it a "Chinese virus". And in a surprising turn of events, the adviser to the Hong Kong government said that it was okay to refer to the virus as the "Wuhan coronavirus" in a column. But he had to withdraw the article soon after.

Read also:

Is the US-China relationship near breaking point? Read China Correspondent Elizabeth Law's report: US-China spat could tip relations over brink

And will the virus leave the European Union intact? Global Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Eyal shares his view: Covid-19 response shows up Europe's disunity

RELIGIOUS GATHERINGS RAISE REGIONAL ALARM

Indonesia succeeded in convincing organisers of a large religious gathering in the country's South Sulawesi to cancel the event that was due to begin today.

But fears that it could increase the number of coronavirus infections in the country persisted as more than 8,000 people from the region, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere had already arrived in the provincial town of Gowa, near the city of Makassar. Police and local officials were helping them leave the country.

The event was due to be held just two weeks after a similar event in Malaysia that drew over 16,000 followers but resulted in over 500 infections in Malaysia alone. At least 50 other infections in Brunei, Cambodia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have also been traced to the Malaysian gathering. Meanwhile, reports said, Malaysian police will now track down 4,000 participants who have yet to come forward to be tested for Covid-19.

Read also:

Why the Tabligh Jama'at is constantly on the move

THAILAND HOSPITALS DEPLOY 'NINJA' ROBOTS

Thailand's hospitals are deploying "ninja robots" to measure fevers of patients and protect overburdened medical workers. Now efforts are on to develop more advanced models that can bring food and medicine to the patients and disinfect wards. Meanwhile, the country recorded its highest number of daily cases today.

Don't miss:

South Korea throws up innovative tech solutions in coronavirus fight

IN OTHER NEWS

WEALTHY FLOCK TO PRIVATE JETS: With commercial airlines engulfed by the maelstrom of the coronavirus pandemic one sector of the industry favoured by the wealthy is thriving: private jets. In Asia, charter companies say the past two months had seen a sustained increase in new customers, as people who fled the virus in January returned in March from places now experiencing their own epidemics.

CHINA'S RETHINK ON CAR POLLUTION: Beijing is said to be debating whether to ease restrictions on the amount of harmful particles that vehicles emit from their tailpipes in a move that is will ratchet up concern that policymakers around the world could scale back their climate goals.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading. Stay safe and we'll be back with you tomorrow.

Shefali

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