Singapore Sees Record Number of New Cases: Live Updates
Health

Singapore Sees Record Number of New Cases: Live Updates

Singapore, praised for controlling the virus, sees a record increase in infections.

Singapore announced a record jump in coronavirus cases on Wednesday evening, with most of the 447 new confirmed cases coming from crowded dormitories for migrant laborers.

While Singapore has been lauded for its rigorous contact-tracing program, which quickly identified clusters of local transmission, the coronavirus spread quickly through residences for migrant laborers, where up to 20 people are crammed in each room with shared kitchens and bathrooms.

Nearly half of Singapore’s roughly 3,700 coronavirus cases are among low-wage migrant workers, who have built the gleaming, modern city-state. About 200,000 such workers, many from India and Bangladesh, have been quarantined to their dormitories, with healthy residents gradually being transferred to other housing to prevent community transmission.

After weeks of slow transmission, Singapore began recording a rapid rise in cases in March, as travelers from Europe and the United States brought the virus with them. But no imported cases have been recorded for nearly a week.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus among foreign laborer communities has prompted the Singaporean government to vow changes in the way migrants are treated, even if the dormitories met standards set by the International Labor Organization.

“In terms of living conditions for foreign workers, collectively many of us were blind to this, and this has to change,” said Teo Yik Ying, the dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore. “But in Singapore, it will change because we are committed to learning lessons from every epidemic.”

Britain is expected to announce on Thursday an extension of the country’s limits on movement despite signs that the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country was flattening.

Officials were to discuss the path forward at a cabinet meeting Thursday morning, led by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and later at a cross-departmental meeting of senior ministers and others. A decision is expected to be announced Thursday afternoon.

Health Minister Matt Hancock told the BBC that the country’s cases were starting to peak but that it was “too soon” to lift the measures, which are set to expire next week. The fatalities were “far too high,” he said, and any lessening of the measures would put the efforts of the past month to waste.

“It’s just too early for that,” he said.

The lockdown extension, expected to be for three weeks, would come even as some food and retail businesses signaled a gradual reopening. The sandwich chain Pret A Manger opened 10 shops on Thursday near hospitals in Central and Greater London to help front-line health care workers, a company spokesman said in an email.

The shops serve only carryout and delivery orders. Pret will also donate 7,000 additional meals per week to its charity partners.

Burger King has reopened four restaurants in England — two in Bristol, one in Coventry and one in Swindon — and KFC had reopened 11 restaurants in the past week for delivery only, according to the BBC.

The chains said they would observe strict distancing measures, train employees who choose to return to work, and urge contactless payments from customers.

Under the government guidelines, restaurants and pubs could stay open to prepare food for carryout or delivery. But many opted to close for the safety of their staff members and customers.

The clothing retailer Next has reopened its website for limited sales, and factories across the country plan to ease back to work after deep cleaning their facilities and instituting staggered breaks and distancing measures on production lines, the BBC said.

Imagine you are at your favorite Starbucks when a text arrives on your cellphone warning you that a person previously found to be infected is also in the same shop.

That sort of detailed alert regularly arrives on citizens’ smartphones in South Korea. Widespread testing coupled with the country’s super fast internet allows the government to trace individuals’ movements and warn the public of potential dangers in real time.

As a result, most restaurants, bars, churches — even the airports — remain open, and a national election took place this week. Social distancing and lockdowns do not exist. In a country of 50 million people only 220 have died from the virus, about the number who are felled on a quiet day in New York City.

But there is a trade-off.

Big Brother is watching, and so is everyone else.

Testing is widely available, and anyone who receives a test must also install the tracing app on his or her phone. Those who test positive are made to self-isolate for the duration of the illness.

The app allows the government to track the locations and contacts of infected people. That information is then used to alert those who have the app on their phones — and that is almost everyone.

For those who are being tracked the degree of detail of their movements is stunning.

Recently, the residents of the Songpa District in Seoul, the capital, learned that an infected person from another city was visiting their neighborhood. Residents learned when the individual arrived, the hotel in which he stayed, the hospital he waited outside in his car and that he dropped by a 7-Eleven and a kimbap restaurant.

They also were able to breath a sigh of relief, knowing exactly when he left town.

More than two dozen Kenyans held in quarantine on the Kenyatta University campus in the capital, Nairobi, have protested over being held for long periods even after testing negative for the coronavirus and finishing 14-day quarantines.

Some said they were presented with bills in order to be allowed to check out. On social media, those in quarantine posted about being threatened when they complained and about feeling hungry and experiencing anxiety attacks.

The protests at the university dormitory on Wednesday came days after more 30 people escaped another quarantine facility in the country’s northeast. Officials said police officers had colluded to sneak the individuals out of the facility.

Kenya’s government, facing criticism for mishandling quarantine measures, has yet to explain why people in quarantine were being asked to pay or were held in isolation for longer periods. The government has also been accused of charging poor workers staying in isolation units and holding individuals in conditions they say caused them mental anguish.

From the outset, many of those placed into mandatory quarantine complained of mismanagement, lack of information and the poor state of isolation centers.

Travelers who returned to the country in late March before the suspension of international flights were among those being held. Passengers who could pay at the time were taken to hotels, while those who couldn’t were ordered to university dormitories or government facilities.

The Health Ministry has reported 225 confirmed infections.

Even before the coronavirus arrived in Manila, a saying in the capital’s sprawling San Roque slum — “no one dies from a fever” — crystallized the many threats that its residents faced in their daily lives.

Drug-fueled petty crime. Food shortages. Overcrowding and poor sanitation. Fever, body aches and coughs were commonplace long before the virus came.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s lockdown of Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island and home to Manila, is moving into its second month, plunging San Roque’s people even deeper into poverty as the virus continues to rage. Yet the restrictions have not stopped runny-nosed children from playing tag in the slum’s labyrinth of alleyways, as parents shout halfhearted admonitions to stay away from one another.

Home to roughly 6,000 families — conservatively, about 35,000 people — San Roque, in Manila’s northern suburb of Quezon, has for years been home to some of the poorest people on the fringes of Philippine society.

Frustration over the lockdown recently exploded into violence. An April 1 gathering in San Roque became an impromptu rally, with dozens taking to the streets demanding answers from the government about when they would receive promised relief.

Police officers in riot gear and fatigues responded with force, scuffling with protesters and sending 21 people to jail. Mr. Duterte accused Kadamay, a group that advocates for the poor, of inciting the violence, and warned that his government would not be lenient toward those who challenged it.

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in San Roque. As of Wednesday, 349 people had died in the Philippines from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 5,453 infections had been confirmed. But that figure is likely to rise sharply, with the Philippine government having just begun mass testing this week.

‘Milk Tea Alliance’ battles Chinese nationalists online.

Credit…Patpicha Tanakasempipat/Reuters

A social media feud between Chinese nationalists and critics of Beijing over comments shared by Thai celebrities has inspired growing solidarity between internet users in Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong, as the coronavirus inflames online debate.

People in Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong have banded together online in recent days in the so-called Milk Tea Alliance — named after the popular sweet drinks — just as Beijing has worked to stave off international criticism over the pandemic, and as longstanding tensions flared between China and its smaller neighbors.

Pro-Beijing cyberwarriors have taken on a Thai actor, Vachirawit Chivaaree, and the Thai model Weeraya Sukaram, who were both accused of supporting Taiwan and Hong Kong independence — views anathema to Beijing. Ms. Weeraya was also accused of sharing a Twitter message that questioned whether the coronavirus had originated from a Chinese laboratory.

Mr. Vachirawit, who goes by the name Bright, has since apologized for “liking” photos that listed Hong Kong as a country, but Chinese users on Weibo, a microblogging service, have called for a boycott of his popular TV drama.

The hashtag #MilkTeaAlliance and one in Thai translated as #MilkTeaIsThickerThanBlood have since been widely shared on social media in an unexpected show of unity against authoritarian rule and Beijing’s influence, as internet users on both sides traded barbs, insults and memes.

The Chinese Embassy in Thailand even joined the fray. In a Facebook message posted on Tuesday, the embassy said the “recent online noises” challenging Beijing’s claims that Taiwan is an inviolable part of greater China “only reflect bias and ignorance.”

“The scheme by some particular people to manipulate the issue for the purpose of inflaming and sabotaging the friendship between the Chinese and Thai people will not succeed,” the embassy wrote, attracting thousands of angry emojis and replies.

Russia’s battle with the plague prepared it for the virus.

Like a ghost from the medieval past, the bubonic plague still makes occasional, unwelcome appearances in remote regions of the former Soviet Union, where it survives today in wild rodents.

Over the centuries, with improved public hygiene, the plague declined as a threat. Today, as a bacterial infection, it is treatable with antibiotics, if caught in time.

But the plague was still a lethal menace in the 1920s and also an embarrassment for the Soviet Union, which established a specialized state agency to track and contain it.

Successors to that agency still exist in Russia and in half a dozen other countries that were once Soviet republics and, with their ready quarantine plans and trained personnel, they have become a mainstay of the regional response to the coronavirus.

It is too early to tell if the former Soviet antiplague centers, as the sites were called, have made any difference in the coronavirus outbreak, which so far has infected more than 24,000 Russians, killing 198.

At most, the legacy Soviet system helped delay the spread, and it is just one data point in assessing why the coronavirus moved more slowly in Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries than in Western Europe and the United States.

Russia maintains 13 antiplague centers, from the Far East to the Caucasus Mountains, five plague research institutes and multiple field stations. In March, the authorities moved new laboratory equipment into the antiplague center in Moscow to expand its ability to test for the coronavirus.

The Microbe institute, originally dedicated wholly to bubonic plague but later expanded to tackle other infections such as cholera, yellow fever, anthrax and tularemia, models the spread of the coronavirus.

Valencia, a top soccer team in Spain, was starting to take heat from the local media and some rival teams for what they considered to be an overreaction to the threat posed by a mystery illness that had spread to Europe from Asia.

It was Feb. 29. No other team in Spain had yet dared to impose such harsh measures: The club’s first team was to be isolated. There was to be no contact with fans. All interviews, even those deemed mandatory as a part of Spanish soccer’s broadcast contract, would be banned. Employees who did not have a reason to be at the stadium were barred from attending.

Anil Murthy, the team president and a former diplomat for Singapore, had spoken to friends and family in Asia and knew the coronavirus outbreak was serious and on its way, no matter what the view in Spain was at the time.

The news media greeted Mr. Murthy with a wave of negative headlines until shortly before the league suspended all activities.

Mr. Murthy, who spent almost 16 years working with Singapore’s government, was keeping an eye on what was happening there while the team owner was sending daily updates.

The club’s staff got to work, preparing for the outbreak in part by purchasing protective clothing and equipment.

Since then, 35 percent of Valencia’s first team has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Australia will consider lifting some restrictions in four weeks if the number of new cases continues to drop and crucial public health benchmarks are met, officials said on Thursday.

Australia remains in “the suppression phase,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Before restrictions can ease, the country will need to extend surveillance measures, improve contact tracing and respond to local outbreaks faster, he said.

Research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates that Australia has one of the best detection rates in the world, with 92 percent of all symptomatic cases identified, said Brendan Murphy, the chief medical officer of Australia. The rate of new daily cases has dropped in the country, but he cautioned that it was too soon to relax.

As of Thursday, the country has 6,457 reported cases and 63 people have died, with 42 on ventilators. More than half of those who have contracted the virus have recovered, Mr. Morrison said.

Economically, Australians would also need to prepare for some “very sobering news” in the months ahead, he added. “It will be a different world on the other side of the virus.”

Australia had previously enjoyed the world’s longest economic boom, with nearly three decades without a recession. Now, with the employment rate expected to double to 10 percent by the end of June, the government has approved $200 billion in stimulus measures.

Trump wants to reopen the economy, but experts warn: Not too soon.

As President Trump pushes to reopen businesses, public health experts warn that the country is not conducting enough testing to do so without exacerbating the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, offered a road map on Wednesday on which states could be the first to ease stay-at-home orders and reopen businesses — with President Trump saying a target date could be before May 1. Governors and mayors would make the call on lifting restrictions after receiving guidance from the federal government, which would be announced Thursday, Dr. Birx said.

Some workers, agitated about the shutdowns and state-issued limitations on daily life, are starting to protest the restrictions. In Michigan on Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators in cars jammed the streets around the State Capitol, and in Frankfort, Ky., dozens of people shouted through a Capitol building window as Gov. Andy Beshear provided a virus update.

Testing shortages are hampering the country’s efforts to get life back to normal. Antibody tests, which reveal whether someone has ever been infected with the coronavirus, are just starting to be rolled out, and most have not been vetted by the Food and Drug Administration.

Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that governors were “chomping at the bit to get going,” but Dr. Birx warned that it was no time for Americans to become complacent about social distancing.

“I will remind the people again: This is a highly contagious virus. Social gatherings, coming together — there is a chance an asymptomatic person can spread it unknowingly,” she said. “Don’t have that dinner party for 20 yet.”

A victory in the South Korean Parliament was fueled by the virus battle.

President Moon Jae-in’s governing party in South Korea won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, as he leveraged his surging popularity over his country’s largely successful battle against the coronavirus to increase his political sway.​

With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Moon’s ​left-leaning ​Democratic Party had won 163 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, according to the National Election Commission. A satellite party the Democrats created for Wednesday’s elections won 17 seats.

Together, the two groups took three-fifths of the seats, giving Mr. Moon the largest majority in three decades.

The main conservative opposition group, the United Future Party, and its own satellite, Future Korea Party, suffered a crushing defeat, winning ​103 seats​ between them​. ​The remaining seats were taken by independents and candidates from smaller parties.

Pandemic or not, South Koreans proved eager to vote in the election, widely seen as a midterm referendum on Mr. Moon​, who was elected to a five-year term in 2017.​ The voter turnout was 66.2 percent, the highest for a parliamentary election in 28 years.

It was the first time in 16 years that left-leaning parties ​secured a parliamentary majority, as South Koreans expressed their support for Mr. Moon’s government, which has won plaudits for bringing the epidemic under control​. ​

The victory could embolden Mr. Moon to reinvigorate his stalled diplomacy with North Korea and ​press ahead with domestic priorities, like overhauling state prosecutors’ offices, ​​ ​which have ​​long ​been ​accused of abusing their power.

So many men. Men at the bakery, men on bikes, men in parks, men in the grocery aisles.

“It’s weird,” said Adriana Pérez, 40, a nurse in scrubs waiting at the bank, the only woman in sight. “But it’s working.”

Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, joined Panama this week in instituting a gender-based virus-prevention measure designed to limit the number of people in the streets.

On odd-numbered days, men can leave the house to seek out essentials. On even-numbered days, it’s the women’s turn.

There are exceptions for people working in critical industries, like food service and health care. Dog walkers of any gender can leave for 20 minutes. But beyond that, anyone caught breaking the rule is subject to a fine of $240, about the minimum monthly salary in Colombia.

Bogotá’s mayor, Claudia López, the first woman and the first openly gay individual to lead the city, has said that transgender people can follow the gender with which they identify. The authorities, the health order says, should respect “diverse gender manifestations.”

During the first two days of the measure, 104 women and 610 men were sanctioned by the police for violating the order, according to Ms. López. Violators must pay half the fine within five days or face a potential day in court.

Peru had enacted a similar measure, but President Martín Vizcarra canceled it following criticism that it would lead to discrimination against transgender people.

The Colombia measure is reminiscent of Bogotá’s best-known traffic policy, which restricts cars by license plate number and is a defining feature of life in the city during normal times.

The city has been under quarantine for nearly a month, which has been particularly difficult on people with jobs in the informal sector, who typically support their families on the work they do that day or that week.

On Wednesday, Yesica Benavides, 24, stood amid the men on a Bogotá sidewalk, trying to sell candy. She had no gloves or face covering, having given her only mask to her 3-year-old, Nicole, who was by her side.

“We go out every day,” she said. The two have been sleeping in a motel, and they pay their rent nightly. “If we don’t go out,” Ms. Benavides said, “we don’t eat.”

Reporting was contributed by Elaine Yu, Isabella Kwai, Su-Hyun Lee, Rod Nordland, Megan Specia, Abdi Latif Dahir, Hannah Beech, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Choe Sang-Hun, Andrew E. Kramer, Austin Ramzy, Stephen Castle, Jason Gutierrez, Yonette Joseph and Tariq Panja.

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