Asia Today: Australian capital free of known virus cases

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Buddhist believers wearing faces masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus burn incense during a service to pray for overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak and to celebrate Buddha’s birthday at the Chogyesa temple in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

BANGKOK (AP) — The Australian Capital Territory has become the first of the country’s eight states and mainland territories to declare itself free of all known cases of the coronavirus.

Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said the territory surrounding Canberra, the capital city, was free of any recorded infection on Thursday for the first time in seven weeks after the last patient recovered.

There have been 106 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canberra and three patients have died. The capital territory has a population of only 420,000, the second-smallest of Australia’s states and territories, and its infection rate per population ranks in the middle of the field.

Everyone with cold or flu symptoms has been offered free COVID-19 testing in Canberra for the past week and the government said that offer will be extended for another week. One in 49 of the territory’s people had been tested by Thursday.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said a government announcement will be made Friday on the future of lockdown measures that will take into account the risk of a second wave of infections.

Lawmakers and their staff from across Australia will travel to Canberra on May 12 for the first regular sitting of Parliament since early March.

Australia has recorded 6,746 virus cases, 90 of whom have died. Eight new cases have been reported since Wednesday.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— CHINA DENIES VIRUS WAS RELEASED FROM LAB: China says any claim that the coronavirus was released from a Chinese laboratory is “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.” Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the center of the allegations “does not have the ability to design and create a new coronavirus, and it has never done so.” Geng cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying it strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen. “I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said. He also criticized U.S. politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”

— MALDIVES HAS FIRST DEATH: Maldives has reported its first death from the new coronavirus with 280 infections. Health Minister Abdulla Ameen said the victim was a 83-year-old woman from the capital, Male. The first cases of COVID-19 were reported at tourist resorts in the Indian Ocean archipelago, and authorities for sometime kept it from spilling over into the local community. However, the number of patients has spiked suddenly with no traceable source of infection.

— SRI LANKA NAVY CLUSTER: Sri Lankan authorities said 257 navy sailors are infected with the coronavirus in the biggest cluster since the Indian Ocean island nation reported its first patient a month ago. Army chief Shavendra Silva said of the 30 newest cases, 22 are sailors and seven had close contact with infected sailors. More than half of Sri Lanka’s 649 cases have been reported since April 22, and many are sailors and their contacts. The virus initially spread inside a naval camp and spread further when the sailors went home on leave. The government canceled troop leaves on Sunday and is reimposing a 24-hour countrywide curfew.

— INDIA CREDITS LOCKDOWN: India says it has had success in curbing coronavirus infections by imposing the world’s largest lockdown five weeks ago. The Home Ministry said it expects considerable relaxations in some areas when the lockdown is reviewed Sunday. India has reported more than 33,050 cases with 1,074 deaths. On Wednesday, migrants and other people stranded by the lockdown were allowed to resume their journeys by road. Neighborhood shops have been allowed to reopen and manufacturing and farming allowed to resume.

— SOUTH KOREA’S INCREASE LOW: South Korea reported four more cases of coronavirus infection in its first daily increase below five in about two months. The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the country’s totals were now 10,765 cases with 247 deaths. It said 9,059 people have recovered and been released from quarantine. The four new cases were all imported. Local media said it was the first time South Korea had no daily increase of local infections since Feb. 15.

— CASES DECLINE IN CHINA: China reported no new deaths from coronavirus and four new cases, all brought from outside the country. China has been testing and quarantining arrivals from abroad, who have accounted for many of its recent cases. The National Health Commission said 619 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19. China has reported 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,862 cases.

— MALAYSIA URGED NOT TO ROUND UP MIGRANTS: Amnesty International is urging Malaysia not use its current virus lockdown to round up foreigners living in the country illegally. A senior minister said Wednesday that undocumented migrants found in eight areas under a full lockdown will be taken away once it is lifted, the Bernama news agency reported. Amnesty International’s Malaysian chapter said sending migrants to overcrowded and filthy detention centers would increase their risk of contracting the virus. It called the policy “outrageous” and unjustifiable in a time of pandemic. It expressed concern that Muslim Rohingya refugees could face deportation back to Myanmar.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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