Putin Declares Weeklong Virus ‘Holiday’

MOSCOW (AP) — A day after Vladimir Putin declared next week a “holiday,” during which only essential businesses — such as pharmacies, grocery stores and banks — may operate, Moscow officials on Thursday ordered restaurants, cafés, bars, shopping malls and some parks to close for nine days starting Saturday.

The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has been growing rapidly this week. Russian authorities reported 840 cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, with 182 new cases registered since the day before.

The Kremlin in Moscow.

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin that the situation is “serious.” Russia’s comparatively low caseload could reflect insufficient screening rather than the actual scale of the epidemic, he said, and urged Putin to ramp up testing all across the country.

Also Thursday, Russia’s Defense Ministry promised to build 16 medical centers for treating infectious diseases by mid-May. The centers will be spread across a range of Russian regions, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a government meeting.

“We need to ensure the fastest construction of these centers in order for our military medicine to be ready to deal with the (coronavirus) infection,” Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said.

Earlier Thursday, the government halted all international flights except for those bringing Russian nationals home from abroad.

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BEIJING
China is strongly pushing back on of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence on referring to the deadly novel coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” after the city in China where it was first detected.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday called it an effort to “stigmatize China and discredit China’s efforts in an attempt to divert attention and shift responsibilities.”

“He has a very sinister motive,” Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.

Geng defended China’s efforts at tackling the virus and denied it was seeking to place responsibility for the outbreak elsewhere. China has been accused of trying to squelch information about the outbreak during its early stages, and some of its diplomats have suggested that the virus may have been brought to China from the United States.

Pompeo’s call for the virus to be identified by name as the “Wuhan virus” at a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized countries resulted in their refusing to release a group statement.

The World Health Organization and others have cautioned against giving the virus a geographic name because of its global nature, as they foster discriminatory sentiments and behavior against Asians and Asian Americans.

Also, China’s draconian measures in Hubei Province and elsewhere appear to have arrested the spread of the disease, which is ravaging Europe and now the United States, which recorded more than 200 death from it on Wednesday, the highest daily death toll yet for the country.

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BUCHAREST
Romania’s prime minister announced the resignation of the health minister, whose statement that everyone in the capital Bucharest would be tested for the novel coronavirus had been strongly criticized.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said Thursday that while he regretted Victor Costache’s departure, “on the other hand, I understand it and I thank him.”

Orban said the government’s priority is to acquire protective equipment for hospitals to protect medical staff.

Romania has registered 906 coronavirus cases, with 17 deaths.

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PARIS
France has begun evacuating its citizens infected with the coronavirus from the Alsace epicenter onboard a special medicalized high-speed train.

France’s health minister said that the TGV train-hospital is a “first in Europe.”

Around 20 patients are being evacuated from Strasbourg to hospitals in the Pays-de-la-Loire and other regions Thursday morning, thanks to the medical locomotive.

It consists of five cars, each one kitted out with medical material and attended by an anesthesiologist-resuscitator, an intern, a nurse anesthetist and three nurses.

The train has been employed to relieve the French region worst hit by the coronavirus that has already claimed over 1,300 lives in France — almost half of whom have died in the Grand Est region’s hospitals.

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ANKARA
Turkey’s trade minister says the country is restricting the export of respirator-related medical equipment to meet domestic needs.

Ruhsar Pekcan said Thursday that exports of equipment including ventilators, intubation devices and intensive care monitors would be subject to government authorization.

The measure aims to ensure that a “disruption to the health services does not occur and the existing capacity is used effectively,” the minister said.

Turkey has reported 59 Covid-19 deaths and at least 2,433 infections.

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STOCKHOLM
Sweden saw a surge in the number of deaths that could change the Scandinavian’s rather lax approach keeping primary and elementary schools, restaurants and bars open and even encouraging people to go out and enjoy the spring sun.

Health officials in the past 24 hours reported an increase of 18 deaths since Wednesday, bringing the total to 62 deaths in the country of 10 million, in which 2,510 people have tested positive, 176 of whom are in intensive care.

The head of Stockholm’s health service Bjorn Eriksson said “the storm is over us,” hours after Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden told a news conference that the situation was “stable.”

In neighboring Denmark, the government was planning to further tighten the law so that smaller groups — less than 10 — can be banned.

And in Finland, the government said that in an exceptional it will block the movement of citizens into and out of a key southern region that includes the capital, Helsinki, to prevent the spread of coronavirus to other areas. The Uusimaa region includes Helsinki and contains 1.7 million people, nearly one-third of Finland’s population.

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LONDON
Britain’s government has ordered 10,000 ventilators to grapple with the Covid-19 crisis.

Billionaire inventor James Dyson told his staff in an email that a team of engineers has been working on a design for the past 10 days since receiving a request for help from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Dyson said the device draws on technology used in the company’s air purifiers and is powered by a digital motor.

The device was created in partnership with Cambridge-based science engineering firm TTP and still requires regulatory approval.

Britain wants to increase the availability of ventilators from 8,000 to 30,000.

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TOKYO
Tokyo Olympic organizers said Thursday they are canceling a cultural event featuring collaborative performances of kabuki and opera next month due to the coronavirus.

The cancellation follows Tuesday’s agreement between Tokyo’s Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Tokyo Games until the summer of 2021 due to the global pandemic.

The revised “Tokyo 2020 Nippon Festival” scheduled for April 18, was to feature Japanese kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa and opera singers — Italian soprano Anna Pirozi and Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott — in a performance aimed at bringing together the east and the west and contrasting the traditional and the modern.

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KUALA LUMPUR
Malaysia’s king and queen are under quarantine after seven palace staff members tested positive for Covid-19.

The palace said Thursday that seven staff were hospitalized Tuesday and health authorities were trying to identify the source of the transmission. It said King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and his wife Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah tested negative for the virus. It said the royal couple decided to observe a 14-day self-quarantine from Wednesday, with deep cleansing to be carried out in the palace.

Malaysia, which has reported 21 deaths and the highest total of cases in Southeast Asia at 1,796, has extended its lockdown by another two weeks to April 14.

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COLOMBO
Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has requested international donor agencies to provide a debt moratorium or debt deferment facility to all developing nations severely affected by coronavirus.

Rajapaksa urged Director General of the World Health Organization to forward the request to multilateral and bilateral lending agencies.

He said that such “a relief would be helpful to manage Covid-19 social distancing, public health and social security systems in those countries.”

Sri Lanka will have to repay a $4.8 billion (U.S.) external debt this year from an economy that performed poorly last year. The island nation’s economy suffered a severe blow last year due to the Easter Sunday bomb attacks by Islamic militants.

Sri Lanka’s economic growth was estimated to hit an 18-year low of 2.7% to 2.8% in 2019.

However, the International Monetary Fund said in February that Sri Lanka’s economy is gradually recovering from the terrorist attacks. The IMF said the real GDP growth is estimated at 2.6% in 2019 and that the GDP growth in 2020 is projected to be 3.7%.

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SEOUL
South Korea’s central bank says it will temporarily provide an “unlimited” amount of money to eligible banks and other financial institutions for three months through repurchase agreements as it tries to calm financial markets rattled by the global pandemic.

The Bank of Korea on Thursday said the measure was unprecedented but did not provide an estimate on how much money would be supplied to financial markets through the short-term borrowings.

The bank last week executed an emergency rate cut of 0.5% to help ease the economic fallout from the coronavirus, which brought its policy rate to an all-time low of 0.75%.

Some experts say it’s unclear whether traditional financial tools to boost money supplies would be effective now when the global pandemic has damaged both supply and demand, decimating industrial hubs in China and Italy and forcing millions to stay at home under quarantine.

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