COVID-19 spreading faster outside China despite travel restrictions. Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand add new cases.

Nurul Azliah

While the World Health Organization refrains from declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, infections are growing seemingly out of control around the world with the virus now spreading faster outside of China.

Only 440 new cases were reported in China while 665 were discovered abroad, largely in Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea. The virus is crossing Europe and has now reached at least 44 nations.

Signaling that strict travel measures may no longer be effective containment, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday the country may lower its outbreak threat level from orange to yellow if the disease continues to spread around the world and such restrictions no longer make sense.

Regionally, a handful of new cases have been reported in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand in the past 24 hours, and more Indonesians and Malaysians have been sent to quarantine. The Indonesians were crew members from a quarantined World Dream cruise ship in Hong Kong while the Malaysians were repatriated yesterday from virus ground zero in Wuhan, China. 

New spikes of cases have also been reported in highly infected South Korea and Italy as the disease continues to spread rapidly across the world with at least five new countries reporting first cases since yesterday.

Thousands have also been deemed to have recovered from the infection and discharged from hospitals. However, Japan today joined China in reporting patients who were believed to have recovered only to test positive for the virus. 

Testing remains far from perfect – China’s Guangdong province recently said that 14% of people thought to have recovered from the disease later tested positive again.

Major COVID-19 outbreak developments since yesterday:

  • A Japanese woman in her 40s who was deemed to have recovered from COVID-19 and was discharged from the hospital tested positive for the coronavirus again, NHK news reported today. The woman works as a tour guide and was on a bus carrying tourists from Wuhan.
    • Japan has 895 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday morning, with 705 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Most of the infections were in Hokkaido and Tokyo, with 39 and 35 cases respectively so far. 
      • Hokkaido reported the prefecture’s first COVID-19 death on Wednesday. A man in his 80s died in Tokyo today. The death toll in Japan stood at seven as of Thursday morning. 
  • South Korea reported another spike of 334 new cases in the country, bringing the total number of known infections to more than 1,500. At least 300 of which are in Daegu city. 
    • Thirteen people have died so far, with the latest involving a 74-year-old who is a member of the “Shincheonji” religious sect in Daegu.
    • A group of South Koreans repatriated from Wuhan was allowed to go home today after completing their two-week quarantine.
  • China reports a higher number of daily new cases on Thursday. A total of 440 new cases and 29 new deaths have been confirmed since yesterday. More than 78,000 have been infected in China and at least 2,700 killed so far. 
  • The World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there have been more new cases outside of China. 
  • Norway, Romania, Georgia, Pakistan, North Macedonia, Brazil, and Greece are among countries who reported their first cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. The case in Romania involves a man who was in contact with an Italian visitor in the country last week, according to AFP. 
  • The number of cases in Italy rose to 470 this morning. Twelve people have died from the disease. 
  • France yesterday announced its second coronavirus death, which is also the country’s first death involving a French national. 

Updates from our newsrooms in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong:

Singapore

  • Singapore reported two more cases last night involving:
    • A 27-year-old Singaporean man who tested positive yesterday morning and is being isolated at the Sengkang General Hospital
    • A 38-year-old Singaporean man who also tested positive yesterday morning and is being isolated at the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital
  • Four more people have been discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries to 62.
  • Thirty-one are still hospitalized with seven still in critical condition.
  • Singapore and Malaysia health officials working together to prevent disease spread through the border met for the first time on Tuesday. Aligning health screening protocols and exchanging patient information are among the things they agreed on.
  • Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told a press conference yesterday Singapore might lower its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition, or DORSCON, level back to yellow if the disease spreads widely around the world and travel restrictions no longer prove useful.

COVID-19: Here’s every coronavirus infection in Singapore on a map

Malaysia

  • Malaysia brought home more citizens from Wuhan yesterday morning. The group of 75 people was sent for quarantine.

Thailand

  • Thailand reported three new cases yesterday, bringing the total number of known infections to 40. All three were members of the same family, two of whom recently returned from Hokkaido, Japan.

Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong has 91 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Thursday morning. 
  • A 16-year-old boy evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship became Hong Kong’s youngest COVID-19 patient yesterday. His sister, 21, also tested positive for the virus.
  • Hong Kong also announced cash handouts worth HK$10,000 (about US$1,300) for each permanent resident as the city reels from multiple events hurting the economy, including the coronavirus outbreak and months of protests. 

Manila

  • More than 400 Filipinos who were stuck for two weeks on virus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess are facing stricter quarantine measures at New Clark City in Tarlac compared to the previous 49 returnees from outbreak epicenter in Wuhan, China.
  • The group from Wuhan all tested negative from the virus and was released on Saturday after completing the quarantine.
  • A health official said stricter measures are in place because the transmission rate was higher inside the ill-fated ship. 
  • Filipinos infected on the cruise ship are currently at 80, 10 of which have recovered and discharged from hospitals, while the remaining 70 are still being treated in Japan.
  • Travel restrictions have been imposed on the South Korean province of North Gyeongsang due to the spread of the virus in the area. The health department has banned all travelers coming from the province effective last night.
  • The health department is still assessing whether or not to extend the travel restriction to other parts of South Korea. In the meantime, strict protocols for travelers entering South Korea will continue to be observed.
  • To date, the Philippines says only three people have been infected with the virus – all Chinese nationals from Wuhan – including one who died, and two who reportedly recovered and left the country. Overseas, 85 Filipinos have contracted the virus: 80 aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three in the United Arab Emirates, one in Hong Kong, and one in Singapore.

Indonesia

  • Maintaining the virus has not reached its population of over a quarter billion people, Indonesian officials have begun tracing the whereabouts of a Japanese man who became infected after a vacation in Bali and has so far found the hotel he stayed at, Bali Health Agency head Ketut Suarjaya reportedly said. 
  • A group of 188 Indonesian crew members from the World Dream cruise ship was taken to the Indonesian Sebaru Island for quarantine yesterday. 
    • The vessel was docked in Hong Kong earlier this month and was quarantined at the Kai Tak Cruise terminal after three Chinese nationals who previously boarded the ship later tested positive for the virus. There was no report of infections among the 1,800 passengers who disembarked in Hong Kong on Feb. 9 and the 1,814 crew members, according to an update by World Dream’s operator Dream Cruises.
  • Indonesian media reports that a 61-year-old Singaporean investigated for COVID-19 infection died on Feb. 22 of another illness.
    • Test results for the man, only known by his initials AA, came back negative, according to the Jakarta Post, citing Batam Health Agency head Didi Kusumajadi.

Additional reporting Khyne Palumar.

Related:

Virus infections hit 40 in Thailand as infections spread in hotspots worldwide
Hong Kong gov’t announces HK$10,000 cash handouts to all permanent residents
16-year-old becomes youngest coronavirus case in Hong Kong, as tally climbs to 89


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