Covid-19 wrap | New Zealand 'idiot' health minister quits, India death spike

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Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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Unpopular New Zealand health minister quits after Covid lapse

New Zealand's health minister resigned on Thursday after a public backlash over his breach of lockdown and his criticism of the civil servant responsible for the country's world-leading coronavirus response.

Outgoing minister David Clark was already under a cloud after breaking lockdown in April and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who faces an election in September, admitted his presence had become a distraction.

"It's essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public," she said.

"As David has said to me, the needs of the team must come before him as an individual."

Clark described himself as "an idiot" in April after admitting he breached strict lockdown orders by taking a 20km drive to the beach with his family.

He kept his job but was kept out of the public eye, with health department director-general Ashley Bloomfield appearing alongside Ardern to give daily updates on the coronavirus crisis.

As the success of New Zealand's response became apparent - it has recorded only 22 deaths in a population of five million - the bespectacled Bloomfield became wildly popular, with fans printing his face on tea towels and posting tributes on social media.

It meant there was public anger when Clark criticised Bloomfield for a series of mistakes linked to border quarantine and footage went viral of the minister admonishing his subordinate as the civil servant stood by looking crestfallen.

Critics said it was "like kicking a puppy" and accused Clark of throwing Bloomfield "under a bus".

- AFP


Britain's Boohoo defends supply chain practices after Leicester report

Britain's Boohoo defended its business practices on Thursday after a garment workers' rights group said the online fashion retailer was putting workers at Leicester factories supplying the group at risk of coronavirus infection.

The allegations came after Britain imposed stringent lockdown on the East Midlands city this week following a local flare-up of coronavirus, overshadowing Prime Minister Boris Johnson's attempts to nudge the country back to normality.

Labour Behind the Label, which campaigns for workers' right, said it had received reports of "workers being forced to come into work while sick with Covid-19, workers wishing to isolate being denied pay, (and) factories operating illegally throughout lockdown".

"The Boohoo group will not tolerate any incidence of non-compliance especially in relation to the treatment of workers within our supply chain," Boohoo said.

"We have terminated relationships with suppliers where evidence of this is found."

- Reuters


Other deaths spike in Indian city ravaged by coronavirus

A large Indian city badly hit by the coronavirus has recorded a sharp rise in deaths not attributed to the outbreak, according to official data and burial records, highlighting how the pandemic has affected general healthcare.

The spike in deaths in Ahmedabad, the most populous city in western Gujarat state, is due to patients with serious illnesses either not able to go to hospitals or being afraid to visit them because of the virus, doctors said.

The numbers contain "ominous signals" for the rest of the country, said Dr Rajib Dasgupta, a professor of community health at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India has the world's fourth biggest outbreak of the Covid-19 disease caused by the virus, with over 600 000 confirmed cases and 17 800 deaths, and some of its largest cities are still reeling from rising infections.

Authorities say over 1 400 people have died because of the coronavirus so far in Ahmedabad, one of India's worst-hit cities with more than 20 000 confirmed cases.

But the indirect death toll may be even higher.

Twenty-four Hindu crematoriums and four of the largest Muslim graveyards in the city have reported 3 558 deaths in April and 7 150 deaths in May - a spike compared to 2 784 and 2 706 deaths reported by them in April and May last year, respectively.

State government data for Ahmedabad district, which includes the city limits, shows 839 deaths because of Covid-19 during April and May this year.

Dr Mona Desai, president of the Ahmedabad Medical Association that represents over 9,000 doctors, said some of those who died may have been Covid-19 positive.

But more fatalities were likely to have occurred because patients did not seek timely treatment fearing they might become infected by the virus, she said.

- Reuters


Stocks rally as vaccine hope, recovery signs offset new lockdowns

Equities rose on Thursday following a record lead from Wall Street, with investors cheered by hopes for a vaccine, more positive economic data and further lockdown easing in Europe.

The developments helped offset a worrying spike in infections in the United States, which has led to the re-imposition of containment measures that could slow recovery in the world's top economy, and warnings of worse to come.

Hong Kong led the gains on reopening after a one-day break, despite concerns about a new security law imposed on the city by China that observers said was more draconian than feared and could impact its future as an attractive business hub.

And while there are worries about the issue causing further friction between Beijing and the West, markets remain positive for now.

The Hang Seng Index rose almost three percent, while Shanghai ended up 2.1%.

Sydney, Mumbai, Seoul, Wellington and Bangkok were all up more than 1%, while Manila also chalked up more than 2% gains.

Taipei, Singapore and Jakarta were all in positive territory.

- AFP


In record daily jump, Indonesia reports 1 624 new coronavirus cases

Indonesia reported 1 624 coronavirus infections on Thursday in its biggest jump in new cases since the epidemic began, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.

This brings the total number of infections to 59 394.

The country also reported 53 new deaths, taking cumulative Covid-19 fatalities to 2 987.

- Reuters


China urges coronavirus testing capacity ramp-up in preparation for potential outbreaks

China's local governments and medical institutes should ramp up and reserve coronavirus testing capacity in preparation for increased demand amid potential outbreaks, national health authorities said on Thursday.

Local authorities should have emergency response plans to be able to swiftly expand nucleic test capacity, the National Health Commission said in a guideline on its website.

Nucleic acid test results should be delivered within six hours for patients at fever clinics and within a day for those who volunteer to be tested, according to the guideline.

- Reuters


As cases in Tokyo surge, Japan gives expert advisory panel a makeover

With new coronavirus cases in Tokyo surging to a two-month high, Japan faces the prospect of a second wave without the experts who tackled the first phase of the epidemic.

Instead a new panel comprising a Nobel-prize winning geneticist, an artificial intelligence expert and a cardiologist will advise the government, as Japan seeks to revitalise its recession-hit economy.

The new advisory board, which will review steps taken so far, will be led by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a physician who has served a variety of government posts and chaired a commission on the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The reshuffle has raised concerns among some health experts over Japan's risk management capability as pandemic could re-intensify.

"Of course it is good to expand the scope by inviting broader disciplines but it looks like that this is not a scientific panel but simply another government committee managed by bureaucrats," said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute of Population Health at King's College, London.

Tokyo confirmed 107 more infections on Thursday, many in young adults who had visited entertainment venues, officials said.

Nonetheless, Japan has so far avoided the explosive coronavirus outbreak seen elsewhere by leaning on the advice of an ad hoc group of disease experts, such as Hokkaido University Professor Hiroshi Nishiura, who called for drastically curtailing social interaction and business.

- Reuters

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