International Covid-19 update: ‘Rice ATMs’ help the hungry in Vietnam, South Korea to aid US?

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Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Al Jazeera reports that a Vietnamese entrepreneur in Ho Chi Minh City has invented a 24/7 automatic dispensing machine providing free rice for people out of work following an ongoing nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Vietnam has reported 262 Covid-19 cases, and no deaths so far, but as a result of a 15-day social distancing programme that began on March 31 many small businesses have been shuttered and thousands of people temporarily laid off from work.

The machine distributes a 1.5kg bagful of rice from a small silo to waiting workers, many of whom are street sellers or people who earned a living from cash-in-hand jobs like housekeeping or selling lottery tickets.

Hoang Tuan Anh, the businessman behind the idea, had initially donated a batch of smart doorbells to hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City before turning his technological expertise to food distribution.

Similar "rice ATMs" have been set up in other big cities like Hanoi, Hue and Danang, according to state media.

Employees monitoring the "rice ATM" declined to comment, but Anh told state media he wanted people to feel they still had access to food and resources, despite the current economic difficulties they found themselves in.

South Korea ‘assisting US’

South Korean firms will reportedly make their first shipment of coronavirus tests to the United States this week after a request by US President Donald Trump, AFP reports. 

The US has more confirmed Covid-19 cases than anywhere else in the world and also has the highest toll, with more than 22 000 deaths.

In contrast South Korea was once the hardest-hit country outside China, but appears to have brought its outbreak under control with a huge "trace, test and treat" strategy.

The country has tested more than half a million people in a process free to anyone referred by doctors or those who have links to a confirmed case.

The Trump administration has been accused of being slow to respond to the outbreak, although the president now regularly re-iterates that the US has tested more individuals than any other country.

After a phone conversation with him last month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Trump had asked for test kits.

A Maryland-bound US cargo flight will depart from Incheon International Airport on Tuesday, carrying test kits supplied by two companies, Yonhap reported citing a foreign ministry official in Seoul.

The firms are among three South Korean companies that won interim approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, the report added, without specifying the quantities involved or the manufacturers.

A foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed to AFP that a shipment of tests would be sent on Tuesday but declined to go into details.

Iran’s death toll continues to increase 

Iran's health ministry on Monday reported another 111 deaths from the novel coronavirus, taking the official overall toll in the worst-hit Middle East country to 4 585, AFP reports.

Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 1 617 new infections took the total number of cases in the country's outbreak to 73 303, of whom 45 983 had recovered.

Iran announced its first Covid-19 cases on 19 February, when it said two people died of the disease in the holy Shiite city of Qom.

But there has been speculation abroad that the real toll of the disease in the Islamic republic could be higher.

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