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South-east Asian countries impose coronavirus restrictions | World news

Countries across south-east Asia are imposing sweeping restrictions on millions of people after recording a wave of coronavirus cases.

A rise in patient numbers across the region – where nations had initially recorded relatively few cases – follows a ramping up of testing efforts. The increases have cast doubts on suggestions that warmer weather may stop the virus.

Malaysia, which announced a range of measures on Monday evening, now has 553 confirmed infections, while in the Philippines cases rose from six to 140 in roughly a week.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. In the UK any household where a person develops a fever or a new continuous cough are recommended to self-isolate for 14 days.

Justin McCurry

On Tuesday, the Philippines became the first country to shut its financial markets because of the rise in transmission. The government had already placed its capital region and the island of Luzon under lockdown, stopping public transport, closing schools and many businesses. The restrictions have caused chaos for those who still need to travel to and from work, the news website Rappler reported, forcing commuters to scramble onto the backs of crowded trucks.

Officials have encouraged people to practice social distancing, but it is likely that the millions of residents living in the country’s slum areas will struggle to isolate themselves.


WATCH: Commuters rush to ride trucks in Philcoa, Quezon City on March 17, as mass public transpo is suspended due to the Luzon-wide #COVID19quarantine. | via @jaegermaraester pic.twitter.com/RnISKU71nS

March 17, 2020

Thailand reported on Monday that a further 30 people have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total to 177.

Prof Dale Fisher, chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the World Health Organization, urged caution over speculation that the climates could halt the spread of the virus.

“What is important is how effectively countries are isolating cases, removing people from communities. That’s the biggest factor, not the weather,” Fisher told Reuters.

“At best, warm weather might influence the spread but it will not see the end of it,” he said.

Thai officials have proposed shutting schools, universities and entertainment venues, and postponing the traditional New Year celebration, Songkran, due to be held 13-15 April.

There is concern that religious events in some countries could risk further transmission. In Malaysia, all mass gatherings, including religious activities, have been banned. The move follows a surge in infections linked to a gathering of 16,000 people at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur. There is also anxiety about a recent Hindu gathering that attracted 30,000 people in Penang state.

In Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, the top Muslim body issued a fatwa stating that people should not attend Friday prayers if they live in an area which has a “high or very high transmission potential” but that people in areas with “low potential for transmission” must attend. It is feared, however, that areas with apparently low case numbers may actually have undetected transmission.

Indonesia only recorded its first cases on 2 March. It had carried out only 220 tests a week ago, but this has now risen to nearly a thousand. As of Monday, the country has recorded 134 cases of the disease.

The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo,said on Saturday he had withheld some information about cases to prevent the country from panicking, the Jakarta Post reported. He has also rejected calls for a lockdown to be imposed on hard hit areas.

In contrast to other countries in south-east Asia, both Myanmar and Laos have not reported any confirmed cases. Officials in Myanmar have denied suggestions there are unreported cases of the virus, and said that citizens’ diet and lifestyles have protected the country.

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