Coronavirus wrap | State of emergency in Japan, Duterte extends Philippines' lockdown, and Australians flown home from cruise ship

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Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

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Japan declares state of emergency over coronavirus

Japan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency over a spike in coronavirus cases, ramping up efforts to contain infections but stopping short of the strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.

The government has come under mounting pressure to tackle an outbreak that remains small by global standards but has raised concerns among Japanese medical experts, with warnings that local healthcare systems are already overstretched.

"As I decided that a situation feared to gravely affect people's lives and the economy has occurred... I am declaring a state of emergency," Abe said.

The move allows governors in seven affected regions including Tokyo to ask people to stay indoors and request businesses close.

But many supermarkets and other shops will stay open, transport will continue to run and there are neither enforcement mechanisms nor penalties laid out for those who fail to comply with government requests.

"Although a state of emergency is declared, it won't mean a city lockdown as seen overseas," Abe said.

"We will prevent the spread of infection while maintaining economic and social services such as public transport as much as possible."


Duterte extends Philippines' coronavirus lockdown to 30 April

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended until 30 April the partial lockdown of the country, affecting an estimated 57 million people in the northern island of Luzon, his cabinet secretary announced on Tuesday.

The "enhanced community quarantine", which Duterte declared in mid-March to help contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus was to end on Sunday, 12 April.

In a televised address late on Monday night, Duterte hinted at the decision when he said he was "inclined" to extend the lockdown until the end of April.

Duterte, however, said the country does not have enough funds to sustain an extended lockdown, and pleaded for financial support from private businesses.

But on Tuesday, Cabinet Secretary Carlo Nograles said the decision to extend the lockdown was made, on the recommendation of an inter-agency committee formed to address the health emergency.

The lockdown of Luzon, the country's largest island, has been in place since 17 March. It was seen as an expansion of an earlier order covering only Metro Manila, the sprawling capital which has a population of more than 12 million people.

Since then, provincial and town executives in the rest of the country have also implemented their own versions of the lockdown, putting virtually the entire country of more than 104 million under quarantine, with commercial aviation and shipping banned and land transportation under restrictions.

Aside from the lockdown, the Philippine Congress has also approved legislation giving Duterte special powers to handle the crisis, as well as more than $4bn in government funds to support the healthcare system and provide financial aid to those who have lost their jobs.


NGO migrant rescue ship hunts for port amid virus lockdown

German NGO Sea Eye was seeking a safe port on Tuesday after it saved 150 people from small boats in distress off the Libyan coast.

The vessel pulled 68 people from the Mediterranean on Monday morning before picking up dozens more later, the group said in a statement.

Sea Eye - the only NGO running rescue operations since the coronavirus pandemic intensified last month - said it had received a message from Germany's interior ministry on Monday asking it "not to begin any voyages and recall ships already at sea".

Meanwhile, Italy and Malta "made clear to the (German) foreign ministry that they would not agree to rescued people disembarking" even if there was an agreement to share them out among EU member states.

The NGO nevertheless appealed to Berlin to help it organise transport for the 150 migrants to Germany.

Underlining the risks it took to save the migrants, Sea Eye said crew of a boat flying the Libyan flag had fired shots in the air during the rescue.

"I was very worried about my crew and the refugees when I heard the shots from the Libyans," said Stefan Schuetz of Sea Eye.


Aussies to be flown home as virus cases jump on Uruguay ship

Australian and New Zealand passengers on a cruise ship off the Uruguay coast will be flown home this week after coronavirus cases on the liner jumped to 128, the vessel's operator said on Tuesday.

Confirmed Covid-19 cases on the MV Greg Mortimer - currently anchored off Montevideo - jumped from 81 to 128 on Tuesday with a medical flight for the around 100 Australians on board expected as early as Thursday.

While flights for other passengers were still being arranged, negotiations were underway to allow New Zealanders to fly with the Australians, tour operator Aurora Expeditions said in a statement.

"The plane going to Australia is set up with medical facilities for this type of situation and will be managed in alignment with current Covid-19 protocol to ensure the health and safety of all on board," the company said.

The aircraft, which will carry passengers who test both positive and negative for the virus, will head to Melbourne where the arrivals will be quarantined for 14 days.

Six passengers who were brought ashore in serious condition were now stable in Uruguay, the operator said.

- AFP

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