Southeast Asia isolates virus-stricken South Korea as pandemic fears mount

A display shows infrared temperature screening of travelers at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport. Photo: Incheon International Airport/Facebook
A display shows infrared temperature screening of travelers at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport. Photo: Incheon International Airport/Facebook

Countries are scrambling to put new travel restrictions in place for virus-hit countries amid the coronavirus outbreak as fears of a global pandemic spread.

Effective today, Hong Kong has banned all travel from South Korea, where one of several possible new epicenters has emerged, while Taiwan says it will immediately quarantine arrivals from the peninsula. 

Twenty South Koreans were among travelers put in hospital quarantine upon arrival Monday in Vietnam, Yonhap reported, while Singaporeans and Filipinos have been advised to avoid nonessential travel to South Korea.  

Seoul has now reported the most COVID-19 cases outside of China with nearly 900 infected patients and nine deaths as of noon, followed by Japan with at least 850 cases and five deaths, and Italy with 231 cases and seven deaths. Photos and videos of panic-buying in Italy and South Korea have been spreading online.

Those surging outbreak centers, alongside the virus’ spread across the Middle East, with Jordan, Bahrain, and Iraq reporting cases for the first time have raised fear of a global pandemic. Countries including Turkey and Afghanistan have closed their borders with Iran, where 61 cases and 12 deaths were reported as of this morning by Al Jazeera.

The World Health Organization said last night that declaring a global pandemic now “does not fit the facts,” but warned that the world is not prepared for one.

Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that measures must be taken to safeguard those nations most vulnerable.

Israel, where six people have been infected, joined Jordan, Bahrain, Samoa, American Samoa and Kiribati in banning travelers from South Korea. South Korea is in talks to charter flights to repatriate hundreds of citizens from Israel.  

In China, where the outbreak began in mid-December, at least 77,000 have been infected with the virus and more than 2,600 killed. The country last night announced a permanent ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals, a suspected source of the pathogen.

Here are updates from other parts of Asia:

Singapore

  • Singapore reported one new case yesterday involving a 75-year-old Singaporean woman linked to a cluster of infections involving the Life Church and Missions. She tested positive Feb. 23.
  • Two more people have been discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of patients recovered to 53.
  • Thirty-seven infected patients are still in hospital.
  • Seven people are in critical condition in hospital ICU, two more than previously reported Sunday by the Health Ministry.
  • The Health Ministry also issued a travel advisory yesterday to avoid nonessential trips to South Korea’s Daegu city and Cheongdo county in North Gyeongsang province due to the surge of infections there. 
    • Some Singapore universities have suspended exchange programs with South Korea.
  • Singapore is bracing for economic uncertainties amid the outbreak, with state investor Temasek reportedly freezing salaries and Singapore Airlines freezing hiring.

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

Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong has announced nine new cases since Monday including four who were evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and another four who had visited a Buddhist temple in North Point, where several others also contracted the virus. 
  • The total number of infections in Hong Kong around noon Tuesday stood at 83. 
  • Hong Kong has also imposed a travel ban effective today preventing South Koreans from entering the city. Those already on board flights before the ban took effect will undergo health assessments upon arrival.
  • Hong Kong also plans to rescue more residents from Wuhan after a mother and daughter reportedly escaped the Chinese city and made it home after a 10-hour road trip. It is not clear when the next evacuation will take place. 
  • Hong Kong is reportedly facing a coffin shortage following the closure of factories in Guangdong during the outbreak has disrupted production.

Malaysia

  • The COVID-19 situation appeared to be improving in Malaysia, where two more people were discharged yesterday, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 20.
  • Only two people were still being treated, according to Dzulkefly Ahmad’s last tweet as Malaysia’s health minister following the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Indonesia

  • Indonesia has yet to announce COVID-19 cases despite reports of infected travelers elsewhere who had traveled within the country.
  • The Indonesian Health Ministry may have already detected the virus. With regards to a  Japanese man who contracted the virus after visiting Bali, a health official told reporters yesterday the man was infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, despite his insistence otherwise.

Indonesian official says Japanese coronavirus patient who visited Bali infected with SARS-CoV-2, not COVID-19

Manila

  • The Philippines advised citizens against nonessential travel to South Korea amid the surge of infections there.
  • The official number of infections in The Philippines still stood at three as of Tuesday morning. Abroad, 63 Filipinos have contracted the virus: 59 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, two in the United Arab Emirates, one in Hong Kong and one in Singapore.

Thailand

  • Public Health officials announced two new cases Tuesday, raising the total confirmed since the outbreak began to 37. The latest two people said to take ill were both Thai — a 31-year-old housemaid and 25-year-old driver.
  • Thai Airlines is slashing ticket prices in a bid to support the tourism industry affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. 
      • Thai Airways International is offering free domestic tickets for international tourists, while Thai AirAsia is providing discounts for domestic routes.

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