From 'circuit breaker' to tear gas: A look at what countries are doing to curtail coronavirus

Century Square mall on April 6, 2020. Most workplaces and retail outlets will be closed from April 7 as part of Singapore's "circuit breaker" measures. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Worldwide government efforts from nationwide lockdown to social distancing aimed at ending the coronavirus pandemic have reaped varying results, with some promising ones. But a handful of governments have so far shied away from taking more drastic action.

Here is a look at what some countries have done:


Singapore: 'Circuit breaker'

Singapore is ramping up its fight by applying what the Government calls a "circuit breaker" to stem the growing spread of the coronavirus which causes the Covid-19 disease.

Starting this week, all schools and most workplaces will be closed, and only businesses in key economic sectors and essential services will remain open.

Social interactions too will be limited. Among other things, people will no longer be allowed to dine in and will have to take away their food.

These restrictions are expected to last from April 7 to May 4 and may be extended if needed.

As of April 6, Singapore has reported more than 1,300 cases and six deaths.

Malaysia: From RMO, MCO to MCO 2

Malaysian soldiers and police inspect motorists at a roadblock in Penang on March 24, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin imposed a nationwide restricted movement order (RMO) that was activated on March 18 to ban public gatherings, close schools and businesses, stop overseas travel for Malaysians and shut out tourists until March 31. But 22 categories of essential services, including banking and finance, were allowed to operate.

The order was subsequently extended for another two weeks until April 14 and took on another name: Movement control order (MCO). During the phase 2 of the order, dubbed MCO 2, only 10 categories of essential services are allowed to remain in operation. Services dropped from MCO 2 include hotels and accommodations.

Authorities also have the discretion to seal off an area or locality in a red zone - defined as an area with more than 40 cases of infection - by implementing the enhanced movement control order (EMCO) which strictly forbids any movement of people and shutters all business premises with some exceptions for a period of two weeks.

As of April 6, Malaysia has reported more than 3,600 cases and 61 deaths.


South Africa: Rubber bullets, batons, whips and bullying

A South African policeman stops a man in Johannesburg during a patrol aimed at enforcing the country's lockdown on April 2, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Soldiers towered over youngsters in South Africa's Soweto township, forcing them to do push-ups and roll on the floor as punishment for not adhering to a lockdown meant to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Rubber bullets, tear gas and whips have been used to maintain social distancing in shopping queues and to discipline citizens caught outside their homes without any valid reason.

Caught on camera and circulated on social media, such acts have added to a string of videos purporting to show violence by security forces deployed to enforce curfew and confinement in South Africa and other parts of Africa.

Since March 27, a 21-day lockdown has been imposed in South Africa.

As of April 6, South Africa has reported more than 1,600 cases and 11 deaths.

Kenya: Tear-gassing of crowd

Commuters at the Likoni ferry terminal in Mombasa, Kenya, on March 27, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Police charged at hundreds of commuters waiting for a ferry in the port city of Mombasa before the start of a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew on March 27. Clad in riot gear, the police fired tear gas at the crowd, forcing people to the ground and whipping them.

In Kisumu, western Kenya, police used tear gas to force businesses in slum districts to close and clashed with shop owners.

In a separate case, the Kenyan police have called for an inquiry into the death of a 13-year-old boy shot on his balcony in Nairobi as officers allegedly opened fire to enforce the curfew.

As of April 6, Kenya has reported more than 140 cases and four deaths.


Sweden: Free movement

Patrons at a restaurant in Stockholm on April 4, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Swede's softer measures to combat the spread of the new coronavirus have drawn criticism both at home and abroad.

In stark contrast to its Nordic neighbours and much of Europe, Swedes are still able to move about freely though they are strongly advised to respect social distancing and to self-isolate at the first sign of symptoms.

People over the age of 70 and in risk groups have been advised to avoid contact with other people. Data on April 5 showed that 352 of the 401 Covid-19 deaths in Sweden were among those over the age of 70.

High school and university classes have been moved online. But nursery and primary schools remain open, as well as cafes, restaurants and shops.

Among the stricter measures are bans on gatherings of more than 50 people and on visits to nursing homes.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has urged Swedes to take individual responsibility to slow the spread of the virus, as he warned that Sweden may be facing "thousands" of coronavirus deaths and said the crisis is likely to drag on for months rather than weeks.

Public health officials have expressed scepticism about the viability of lengthy lockdowns. According to local media reports, criticism from across the political spectrum forced his Social Democrat-led government to back down on a proposal to bypass Parliament when implementing sterner measures to fight the virus.

As of April 6, Sweden has reported more than 6,800 cases and 401 deaths.

Japan: Just stay-at-home requests for now

Pedestrians in Tokyo's Shibuya district on April 5, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Tokyo and other cities in Japan issued stay-at-home requests and it appears that the Japanese are paying heed and shunning the streets of shopping areas, while more stores and restaurants suspended their operations during the weekend, Kyodo News reported.

Japan, which has taken a considerably more relaxed approach to fighting the coronavirus than other countries, is now being forced to relook its measures.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is reportedly set to declare a state of emergency after coronavirus cases in Tokyo jumped over the weekend to top 1,000, raising worries of a more explosive surge.

Declaring a state of emergency hands powers to local governments, including to urge residents to stay at home. But with the protection of rights like freedom of movement enshrined in the Constitution, such requests are unlikely to impose criminal penalties or even be legally binding.

As of April 6, Japan has reported more than 3,600 cases and 85 deaths.

Brazil: 'Just a little flu'

People protesting against a quarantine order imposed by Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, in Sao Paulo on April 5, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the Covid-19 respiratory disease from the novel coronavirus as a "little flu", stirring up conflicts with governors and his own health minister who advocate social distancing measures that the president sees as economically disastrous.

Despite warnings from the World Health Organisation and his own Health Ministry about the potential consequences if the virus is allowed to spread unrestrained, Mr Bolsonaro has stuck to his guns.

He has spoken of fighting the pandemic with "vertical isolation" - confining those at highest risk and letting the rest of society get on with life - and called his supporters for a national day of fasting and prayer on April 5 to "free Brazil from this evil" epidemic.

As of April 6, Brazil has reported more than 11,200 cases and 487 deaths.


South Korea: See you in court

Pedestrians in Seoul's Sinchon district on April 5, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

South Korea, which has largely managed to bring the epidemic under control for now, extended its intensive social distancing campaign scheduled to end on April 6 as concerns about imported coronavirus cases and new outbreaks in small clusters persist.

Under the policy, first imposed on March 21, high-risk facilities are urged to close and religious, sports and entertainment gatherings are banned.

In late March, the southern province of Jeju Island hauled to court a mother and her teenage daughter who tested positive for coronavirus after a five-day trip of the island.

The lawsuit, filed by the provincial government and six local businesses, is seeking over 100 million won (S$116,665) in damages and business losses.

The defendants are a 19-year-old who attends a university in the US and her mother. They travelled to Jeju five days after the daughter returned from the US, and tested positive for the virus infection the day after the trip.

As of April 6, South Korea has reported more than 10,200 cases and 186 deaths.

Denmark: New Bill targets immigrants

People in Frederiksberg Garden in Copenhagen on March 28, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Danish government on March 11 ordered the closure of schools, day cares, restaurants, cafes and gyms, and shut all borders to most foreigners.

In a Bill approved in Parliament on April 2 designed to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, authorities are allowed to expel immigrants caught committing any crimes related to the virus, leading to criticisms that the Social Democratic-led government is exploiting the Bill to crack down on immigrants.

The Nordic country was one of the first in Europe to shut down, and with the number of coronavirus cases stabilising it is now facing tough decisions on reopening.

The government is expected to soon reveal plans to relax its lockdown, reasoning that the risks of a deep recession may now be more dangerous for Danish society than a second outbreak.

As of April 6, Denmark has reported more than 4,300 cases and 179 deaths.


Australia: Three's a crowd

Manly Beach in Sydney on April 6, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

In Australia, public gatherings have been capped at just two people, with violators threatened with jail or fines.

New South Wales and Victoria will fine people between A$1,000 (S$862) and A$1,600 for flouting the rules. Violators also face six months' jail in New South Wales. In Tasmania, residents are also banned from alternating between their main home and any second home.

Officials said the rate of new infections has slowed under its rules.

As of April 6, Australia has reported more than 5,700 cases and 39 deaths.

Panama: Sorted by gender

An empty street in Panama City on April 5, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Panama is separating its citizens by gender in a stringent effort to stem the spread of the virus. Under the strict restrictions, men and women can leave their homes for only two hours at a time, and on different days.

Men are allowed into supermarkets and pharmacies on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while women can go on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. No one is allowed outside on Sundays. The measure, which started on April 1, will last 15 days.

As of April 6, Panama has reported more than 1,900 cases and 54 deaths.

Tunisia: Robocop deployed

A Tunisian Police PGuard robot patrolling in Tunis on April 1, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Tunisia's Interior Ministry has deployed a police robot to patrol the streets of the capital and enforce a lockdown imposed last month.

Known as PGuard, the remotely operated "robocop" is equipped with infrared and thermal imaging cameras and a sound and light alarm system. The PGuard calls out to suspected violators of the lockdown: "What are you doing? Show me your ID. You don't know there's a lockdown?"

Tunisia has been under night-time curfew since March 17.

As of April 6, Tunisia has reported more than 570 cases and 22 deaths.

With input from AFP, Bloomberg, The Korea Herald/Asia News Network, Worldometer

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