Asia virus latest: N. Korea says virus-free, Australia cruise standoff

Singapore (AFP) –


Here are the latest developments in Asia related to the novel coronavirus pandemic:

- Trump casts doubt on China virus figures -

President Donald Trump cast doubt on the accuracy of official Chinese figures on its coronavirus outbreak after US lawmakers, citing an intelligence report, accused Beijing of a cover-up.

The controversy around Beijing's transparency has strained ties, adding to bad feelings triggered by a conspiracy theory in China that the US military was to blame for the virus.

- Australia seeks to end cruise standoffs -

Australian police and military will soon begin taking doctors on helicopters to several cruise ships stranded near Sydney to assess nearly 9,000 crew for COVID-19, officials said.

The military-style operation, due to begin by the weekend, is aimed at resolving a standoff between cruise line operators and authorities who fear a wave of new imported coronavirus cases would overwhelm local hospitals.

- Fiji's capital ordered into lockdown -

The Fijian capital Suva was ordered into lockdown from Friday after two people from one of the city's crowded squatter settlements tested positive, bringing the Pacific nation's confirmed cases to seven.

"There is a high risk these patients have infected others," Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warned.

- Australian scientists test vaccines -

Tests have begun in Australia of two potential vaccines on ferrets, as scientists worldwide race to develop one at record speed.

One from the University of Oxford would deliver a bit of defective virus that is unable to replicate, but would be enough to provoke an immune response.

Another from drugmaker Inovio would be an injection of genetic material from the virus. Results from the tests are expected within two to three months, although it is expected to take much longer to develop a proven vaccine.

- N. Korea insists it is free of coronavirus -

North Korea remains totally free of the coronavirus, a senior health official in Pyongyang has insisted, despite mounting scepticism overseas as confirmed global infections near one million.

The already isolated, nuclear-armed North quickly shut down its borders in January after the virus was first detected in neighbouring China, and imposed strict containment measures.

Experts have said North Korea is particularly vulnerable to the virus because of its weak medical system, and defectors have accused Pyongyang of covering up an outbreak.

- Singapore cases reach 1,000 -

Cases in Singapore have now reached 1,000 including four deaths, with the numbers growing steadily in recent days due to a rise in both infections brought in from overseas and local transmissions.

The city-state's government, which has won praise for its handling of the outbreak, is slowing tightening restrictions, with many entertainment venues now closed and people being told to work from home where possible.

- Markets fall -

Equity markets fell in Asia, tracking a sharp drop on Wall Street as the deadly coronavirus sweeps the planet, with the infection rate fast approaching one million and forcing countries to tighten already strict lockdown measures aimed at containing the disease.

- Japan's two-mask pledge ripped online -

Within hours of the announcement, the hashtag "Abenomasks", a play on the prime minister's signature "Abenomics" economic policy, was trending on Japanese Twitter.