Coronavirus: Hong Kong orders quarantines; Iran releases inmates

By Darryl Coote & Don Jacobson
Coronavirus: Hong Kong orders quarantines; Iran releases inmates
A traveler takes photos of a departure board showing canceled flights at Tokyo International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

March 17 (UPI) -- Hong Kong announced mandatory quarantines Tuesday for anyone entering from abroad, and Iran released thousands of prisoners Tuesday to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The World Health Organization in its daily update called on European nations to follow China's example of taking tough measures to halt the spread of the disease as much as possible.


A live tally by Johns Hopkins University showed Tuesday morning a total of 185,000 cases worldwide and 7,300 deaths. The total number of recovered patients, it said, has surpassed 80,200. China has recorded the most number of cases, 81,000, followed by Italy (28,000) and Iran (nearly 15,000).


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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said that anyone entering the semi-autonomous region from abroad will be quarantined for 14 days starting Thursday.

Lam announced the measure during a briefing while wearing a protective face mask, and added that Hong Kong is shifting its focus to prevent imported cases of the virus. The outbreak has significantly slowed in mainland China several weeks after it first emerged in Wuhan.

"With the continuous spread of the disease, the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government has now moved our focus from preventing import cases from mainland to import cases to overseas," Lam said.

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Hong Kong has recorded more than 150 cases since the first patient in early January.

Taiwan on Tuesday also ordered a 14-day quarantine for travelers from 20 countries and three U.S. states, Washington, New York and California, starting Thursday at midnight.

China's National Health Commission reported 21 new cases, all but one of which were imported. Hubei province, which houses Wuhan, reported just one new case.

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Chinese officials, meanwhile, are criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump for repeatedly calling COVID-19 a "Chinese virus."

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing is "strongly indignant" over Trump's term, which he said smacked of "stigmatization."

A sharp rise in cases was reported in Indonesia Tuesday, health officials said, and Jakarta announced it will suspend its visa exemption policies for short stays -- and Malaysia reported its first coronavirus death, a 60-year-old pastor. Malaysia so far has reported more than 550 cases -- the most in Southeast Asia.

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Hans Kluge, regional director of the WHO's European office, said Tuesday the outbreak there -- which has now surpassed China in the total number of reported cases -- has produced "a new reality" in the lives of millions on the continent.


"Europe is the epicenter of the first pandemic of coronavirus, and every country, with no exceptions, need to take their boldest actions to stop or slow the virus spread," he said. "Boldest action should include community action."

Kluge praised lockdowns imposed in Italy, Spain, France and other European nations this week.

"The experience of China and others shows that testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing and community mobilization, when put in place quickly and effectively, can prevent infections and save lives," he said.

Middle East

In Iran, where health officials said cases reached nearly 15,000 Monday, some 85,000 prisoners were temporarily released as a means to spread out the population and slow the virus.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said half of those released were "security-related" inmates and others were political prisoners. Officials had been calling for a release of prisoners from Iran's overcrowded and disease-prone jails.

In Jordan, health officials reported four new cases and authorities suspended operations on the nation's stock exchange until further notice.

Australia and New Zealand

New Zealand announced a $7.3 billion stimulus package Tuesday to boost healthcare, offer businesses subsidies and support the most vulnerable. The package represents 4 percent of New Zealand's GDP, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement.


"Our first priority is the health and well-being of our people," he said. "The global spread of the virus has also disrupted economies across the world, costing the jobs and livelihoods of countless families."

The full impact on New Zealand, which has 11 confirmed cases, is not yet known but Robertson said it will likely cost some jobs and negatively impact businesses.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade urged Australians traveling abroad who wish to return home do so as soon as possible via commercial flights, warning they may not be able to later.

The agency also warned that Australians abroad may not be able to access help at consular offices due to travel restrictions

Middle East

Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday it was suspending all prayer services at mosques across the religious nation except for at locations in Makkah and Madinah, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The measure was announced to encourage citizens to remain home amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Middle Eastern country reported 38 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, increasing its total to 171.

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A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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