Asia virus latest: first Maldives death, Australia eases curbs

Hong Kong (AFP) –


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

- Maldives reports first death -

The Maldives reported its first coronavirus fatality Thursday with the death of an 83-year-old woman, as the Indian Ocean holiday hotspot extended a nationwide lockdown.

Health minister Abdulla Ameen said the woman died on Wednesday in hospital. She had been under home quarantine since coming into contact with another Maldivian patient.

There have now been 280 confirmed cases since the virus was first detected on March 7.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Thursday extended the country's two-week lockdown by two weeks after the number of infections rose sharply in the densely populated capital, Male.

The shutting of the lucrative tourism industry in the nation of 340,000 people has taken a heavy toll on the economy.

- Chinese workers barred from entering Indonesia -

About 500 Chinese workers have been blocked from entering Indonesia over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus even though they had permits to enter the country.

They were due to work at a nickel smelter in Marosi, southeast Sulawesi, but the governor rejected their arrival.

Authorities also refused permission to dock to a Chinese vessel carrying 1,500 cement pipes destined for the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Aceh.

The 18 crew members from China and Vietnam have been stranded onboard for a month and are reportedly running out of food and clean water.

- Social distancing on wheels in India -

An Indian school drop-out has built a motorbike with a one-metre gap between the rider and the passenger to drive home the importance of social distancing.

Partha Saha, 39, bought an old bike from a scrap dealer, removed the engine and cut the machine in two, before modifying the frame to create the extra length

"Now I can ride with my eight-year-old daughter while maintaining a safe distance," he told AFP from Agartala in the northeastern state of Tripura.

Saha's new bike runs on battery power and has a top speed of 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph).

- Australia's capital 'virus-free' -

Health officials declared Australia's capital free of the virus while the country's Northern Territory announced the most comprehensive easing of restrictions in the nation.

Canberra and its surrounding areas were said to be rid of the disease after two patients recovered overnight.

The city, home to about 427,000 people, had recorded 106 cases and three deaths from COVID-19 before eliminating all known active infections by Thursday.

Restaurants, bars, cafes, libraries, gyms and beauty salons in the Northern Territory, meanwhile, will be allowed to reopen from Saturday, though physical distancing rules will still apply.

The huge rural territory closed its borders to interstate and overseas travellers on March 23, and has remained largely free of the virus with just 28 cases and no deaths recorded.

- ANZ profits dive -

Australia's ANZ Bank announced a 50-percent dive in after-tax profits as the lender set aside Aus$1 billion ($655 million) to cover expected losses resulting from the coronavirus fallout.

It also deferred a decision on its interim dividend amid ongoing uncertainty about the economic outlook.