Medical workers in Indonesia are complaining of persistent delays to an increase in coronavirus testing promised by their president, Joko Widodo, Reuters reports.
The south east Asian nation, the world’s fourth most populous, has the highest coronavirus death toll in east Asia outside China, and one of the lowest global testing rates.
Indonesia reported 568 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, taking the total to 16,006, with 1,043 deaths. It has so far conducted around 50 tests per 100,000 people, compared with 2,500 per 100,000 in neighbouring Singapore.
Widodo promised in April that 10,000 tests would be performed each day, but the goal is yet to be reached, with testing rates on average hovering at less than half that figure. Health experts have urged Jakarta to rapidly increase its testing rate to determine the true spread of the virus across the Indonesian archipelago, saying that without sufficient data the full extent of the outbreak will remain unknown.
“We can’t even get the results after two weeks,” Meneldi Rasmin, a consulting doctor at Persahabatan Hospital in Jakarta, told Reuters.
“So we cannot determine whether it’s COVID-19 or not. We can only judge them (the patients) from clinical symptoms,” he said, attributing the delay to limited equipment capacity.
In between his rounds at Persahabatan Hospital where medical staff move about in white protective gear, Rasmin called for testing capacities to be scaled up not only in the capital, but across the sprawling country.
“Early detection by rapid testing should take place in every small district. Local clinics should take control, instead of (centralized) rapid testing,” he said. “It should be organized at the community level, working together with the district authority.”
France has suggested extending a two-week lockdown to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk, AFP reports.
President Emmanuel Macron has ordered French residents to stay at home except for essential excursions such as going to the doctor, walking the dog, or going for a solitary run, and banned any gatherings.
For a two-week period that began Tuesday, people can go to work only if their employer cannot make tele-commuting possible.
But news reports have shown groups of friends and families strolling in parks despite the clampdown, prompting calls from some officials for even stricter limits.
Many have been observed ignoring the one-metre (three feet) safe inter-personal distance in queues at the essential businesses that were allowed to stay open.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said people ignoring the measures were “idiots”.
“There are people who underestimate the risk… There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots,” he told Europe 1 radio.
Macron on Thursday urged companies and workers to continue their activities “in compliance with the health safety rules”.
Genevieve Chene, who heads France’s public health agency, said between two and four weeks are needed for the outbreak to be adequately contained.
“Within two to three weeks we should be able to observe a slightly different dynamic” to the outbreak’s momentum, she told Franceinfo radio, and “a significant braking” within two to four weeks.
“It is likely that it is indeed necessary to extend (the containment measures) in order for the braking to be sufficient,” Chene said.
Meanwhile, the French government has started requisitioning hotel rooms for homeless people to occupy during the confinement period, Housing Minister Julien Denormandie announced.
More than 170 rooms will be made available in Paris by the end of the week, and the government has identified 80 sites elsewhere across the country to accomodate the country’s estimated 250,000 homeless people.
Coronavirus has been declared notifiable disease in Queensland, Australia
We’re just hearing a news conference in Queensland that as of Thursday, coronavirus has been declared notifiable disease.
“That means on clinical suspicion, any doctor or hospital that sees a patient that they think might have this novel coronavirus is obliged to let me know. They let my staff know,” says Queensland’s chief medical officer, Dr Jeanette Young.
As I wrote in the blog a short time ago, Queensland authorities have been trying to track down passengers on a plane that flew from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on 27 January, as there was a tourist from Wuhan onboard who was later diagnoses with coronavirus. He was travelling with a party of eight other people.
“We are contact tracing of course the people immediately adjacent to these people on the plane, on that Tiger flight and then we’re giving information to everyone else who was on the plane and the Tiger people have been extremely supportive and cooperative, so that we could do that, plus we need to go through in detail everyone who’s been at the hotel these people were staying at,” Young said.
I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who sent in information, it’s been extremely helpful.
Here’s a summary of some key updates before I hand over to the Australia team, who’ll continue the coverage from Sydney:
The virus has spread to at least 9,320 people around the world, surpassing that of the SARS epidemic over a year long period (2002-2003).
212 people have died, all in China.
There are 98 confirmed cases of infection outside mainland China in at least 18 countries.
The United States reported its first case of person-to-person transmission, joining Germany, Vietnam and Japan in recording similar incidents.
BA has suspended all flights to and from mainstream China until the end of February. Other countries have also implemented a flight ban, most recently Italy.
Almost 200 US citizens have been evacuated and have arrived at a military base in California. They will be isolated for a minimum of 72 hours. The US is said to be planning another airlift in the coming days.
France have evacuated 200 citizens who are currently flying back to southern France where there’ll be quarantined for 14 days. The European Commission has said it is planning a flight to evacuate more European nationals.
The Chinese Football Association has postponed its domestic games in 2020, and the World Athletics Indoors Championships, due to take place in the Chinese city of Nanjing in March, have been moved to 2021.
Google and IKEA became the latest franchises to shut their Chinese shops and offices.
In Australia, confirmed cases of the virus have climbed to 9, but two people have been released and are “post-viral” according to the country’s health minister, Greg Hunt.
Authorities have been tracking down passengers that were on a plane with a Chinese tourist who flew from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on 27 January.
The 44-year-old man, from Wuhan, was diagnosed with coronavirus and was being treated in isolation in hospital on the Gold Coast.
The Guardian understands that at least one passenger who was on that plane to the Gold Coast has been asked to stay home from work. The passenger is not believed to be at high risk but as a precaution has been asked to remain at home for the time being.
Owner of Ovation of the Seas, Royal Caribbean, has said the ship will stay in port overnight.
“We can confirm that a number of our guests were touring the island today,” it said in a statement. “We do not have any additional details to share at this time.
“Ovation of the Seas will remain overnight until we learn more about the situation. We will offer all possible assistance to our guests and local authorities. Please keep all those affected in your prayers.”
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs says it is making “urgent enquiries” to find out if any Australians were affected by the eruption. However, it does not have any information to share at present.
Kevin O’Sullivan, the chief executive officer of the New Zealand Cruise Association confirmed that a tour party of 30 to 38 people from cruise ship Ovation of the Seas were on a tour of White Island today, and had not returned.
He said the passengers names and nationalities were now being handed to police, and the Ovation of the Seas would stay docked in Tauranga at least overnight.
“I know the cruise ship will be able to compile a list of the tour party and they will be handing that to New Zealand police, and the police will then make a statement on the nationalities,” he said.
“Our hope of course is they will be recovered unharmed and returned back to the ship.”
In that press conference, deputy commissioner Tims said that some of the tourists on the island were from cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.
“From my understanding, some of the tourists are from a cruise ship so we should have a list of people that left the cruise ship and potentially are on the island. There are ways for us to have that list confirmed.”
He was then asked if all the people on the island were from the cruise ship. He says: “We don’t believe so”.
Tims says it is still too dangerous for police and rescue services to go onto the island – so they are still unclear how many people remain on the island.
23 people have been taken from the island. There were fewer than 50 people on the island at the time of the eruption.
“Some of these people have been transported to shore, however there is a number still remaining on the island who are currently unaccounted for,” Tims said.
“We are working to confirm the numbers involved. At this stage, it is too dangerous for police and rescue services to go to the island. However, we continue to assess the conditions which would allow us togo onto the island.
“The island is currently covered in ash and volcanic material. We are taking expert advice with regards to the safety of any rescue attempt.”
Clarisse Yeung believes the road to full democracy in Hong Kong will pass through a dog park. Specifically a dog park that she has promised to build if her coalition sweeps local elections today.
The district council elections held in Hong Kong every four years are normally a sleepy affair, with low turnout, mostly because councillors have very limited powers and budget, as well as a reputation for graft.
But this year’s poll has come to be seen as a de-facto referendum on the nearly six-month-old protest movement, sparked by opposition to an extradition law that would have destroyed Hong Kong’s legal protections, but which has morphed into a broader pro-democracy campaign.
Yeung, an energetic young artist, says she spent a dispiriting four years as the sole opposition member of a 13-strong council controlled by pro-Beijing representatives in central Wan Chai, battling inertia and outright opposition to even modest plans for the neighbourhood, from pet-friendly gardens to better buses.
Now she hopes a wave of protest-driven outrage, which has mobilised both voters and candidates, combined with her track record of commitment to local issues, could swing control of the council.
“I had been questioning if I should run again. It’s been so heavy, being the only pro-democracy representative in Wan Chai,” she said, as she campaigned on a street corner with a band of supporters, handing out leaflets, stroking dogs and chatting to toddlers. “I’m glad all these friends are coming out after the [protest] movement: they are my hope.”
While Hong Kong enjoys civil rights such as freedom of assembly and the press, its residents do not choose their leader, or all members of its mini-parliament, the legislative council. The district council poll is the only direct election.
For the first time, pro-democracy candidates are challenging every one of the 452 wards up for grabs, and have coordinated campaigns so they don’t split the vote. Former one-person campaigns are newly flush with volunteers. Young people in particular have raced to register to vote, to volunteer on campaigns and even to run for office themselves.
Yeung has taken advantage of this city-wide political awakening to recruit nine other candidates to stand in neighbouring wards on a “kickstart Wan Chai” platform. They range from a graphic designer to the veteran former policewoman Cathy Yau, who resigned her post in June as the protest movement kicked off, shocked by colleagues’ brutality.
All are novice candidates, and many decided to stand only in the past few months, despite the very real threat of physical violence; several pro-democratic candidates have been attacked, with one losing his ear after an attacker bit him and stabbed others. A pro-Beijing candidate was also stabbed. The attacks have led to fears about voter intimidation or fraud, particularly after authorities announced riot police would guard all polling stations. In a hint at the febrile atmosphere, the government sent out an official press release stating “the ballot is secret”, apparently to counter rumours that facial recognition software might be used, and voters would be filmed.
“I always wanted to go into politics eventually, after becoming expert in my field. But I was inspired by the protests, and realised I can’t wait any longer,” said Louis Mak, a data analyst who has given up his job to campaign full time for the Canal Road ward.
“Maybe in four years or eight years, we won’t have real elections any more. China may take actions against our civil society. And so that’s why I have stood in this election.”
Deep pockets, a powerful electoral machine, lack of voter interest and a fractured opposition have meant pro-Beijing parties control all but one of the city’s 18 district councils.
In Wan Chai, the battlegrounds are tiny, densely populated areas, and the margins small. Mak says his district is just a couple of blocks, where the winner in 2015 claimed victory with 1,000 votes and a margin of 200.
Mak put his chance of winning office at “around 50-50”, and is campaigning more than 10 hours a day. “We have to pull voting rates up to historical levels so we can take over Wan Chai.”
Pro-Beijing politicians have been open about concerns they might be swept from power. One of the most prominent, the lawmaker Regina Ip, warned against voting for pro-democracy candidates in a column in the South China Morning Post. “Hong Kong’s story doesn’t have to end in tragedy”, she told readers.
An opposition landslide would have little immediate political effect, as the councils are fairly toothless. But longer term, it could slightly shift the balance of power, because district councils have a role in arcane, complex elections to choose the city’s leader and part of its legislature.
Another well-known establishment politician defending a seat in Wan Chai said he remained optimistic, but admitted that a loss would be devastating.
“The people here are the pillars, the ones who uphold the establishment. If we lose this constituency that means something is really, really wrong and troubled in HK,” said the lawyer Paul Tse, who also holds a seat in the city’s legislative council. “It sounds very serious, but it’s very difficult to have so many people against the government.”
At one point there were widespread fears that the poll would be delayed amid unrest and unprecedented disruption. But China appears to have decided that would be so inflammatory in a city already on edge,that a possible drubbing at the ballot box is the lesser of two evils.
“Its not the right sort of atmosphere for a fair election, but in a way we are constrained,” Tse said. “If we don’t do the election they will blame us for being afraid.”
But where Tse sees a canker at the heart of Hong Kong, his challenger in the prosperous Broadwood district – part of the “Kickstart Wan Chai’” slate – sees hope.
Arthur Yeung, who is no relation to Clarisse, turned 24 the day before the poll. He spent his birthday at a campaign stand on the main road, waving to drivers, thrusting leaflets through windows and chatting to any who stopped.
Dawn and her dog Chicco, his collar bearing a rosette supporting Yeung, campaigned beside him for hours. “I want to support youth, and passion for change,” she said.
Yeung always hoped to run for office and spent much of the last year in Broadwood organising against an unpopular development, canvassing support for Clarisse’s dog park plans – easy in an area famous for dog lovers – and running other grassroots projects.
But until the protests kicked off, most of his friends thought he was crazy. Councils were widely seen as irrelevant, incompetent, self-serving political machines. There is even a Cantonese shorthand for the corruption, a list of the local delicacies that candidates ply supporters with to secure votes.
“Half a year ago, people would say to me: ‘Why don’t you get a normal job,’” he says with a wry smile. “Now they say: ‘You are very inspiring to our generation. Your mission is very clear and passionate, so thank you for bringing some good things for Hong Kong’. Its a very big change.”