Surf’s up, coffee’s ready as New Zealand reopens

BANGKOK (AP) — Surfers greeted a spectacular sunrise in Christchurch, construction workers purchased their favorite espresso coffees and some lawmakers returned to Parliament in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, on Tuesday as some aspects of life began returning to normal.

The country had been in a strict lockdown for over a month to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but those conditions were eased a little on Tuesday to allow some parts of the economy to restart as new infections wane.

Among those places to reopen were construction sites, as well as cafes and restaurants that sell takeaway coffees and food. People are still required to maintain social distancing and work from home if they can.

New Zealand recorded three new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing its confirmed total to 1,472, including 19 deaths.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

∫ Hundreds Hit The Beach: Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach reopened to swimmers and surfers on Tuesday despite the area having Australia’s highest concentration of COVID-19 cases. People can only enter during daylight hours, cannot linger on the sand and are counted to ensure social distancing. Hundreds braved cool autumn weather to return to the water soon after the gates opened. A virus testing tent is nearby due to the high rate of infections, particularly among backpackers who often live in crowded conditions.

∫ Vaccine Needed Before Olympics: The head of Japan’s medical association said it will be difficult to hold the Olympics without coronavirus vaccines. “I hope vaccines and drugs will be developed as soon as possible,” Japan Medical Association President Yoshitake Yokokura said. The Tokyo 2020 Games have been rescheduled to July next year. Experts have said it could take two years or longer to develop a safe and effective vaccine.

∫ Bangladesh Sees Biggest Increase: Bangladesh confirmed 549 new infections, its biggest one-day increase so far. The country has confirmed 6,462 cases, including 155 deaths. Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, is facing challenges in dealing with the coronavirus because of its fragile health care system.

∫ S. Korea Urges Cooperation With N. Korea: South Korea has repeated calls for joint efforts with North Korea to fight the coronavirus. A South Korean presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing protocol, said Tuesday that Seoul doesn’t expect possible efforts to clash with sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said earlier that joint anti-virus efforts could provide a “new opportunity” for inter-Korean engagement. But the North has ignored the calls, saying there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, a claim that is questioned by many outside experts. — AP writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul

∫ Japan To Approve Antiviral Drug: Japan said it will approve remdecivir, a closely watched antiviral drug made by Gillead Sciences Inc., for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the country. The drug is expected to be the first approved COVID-19 drug in Japan. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday that Japan has been part of multinational testing of remdecivir and that it was moving ahead overseas. Japan has a fast-track permit for emergency use of drugs approved overseas. Remdecivir was originally developed to treat Ebola and has been also used for SARS and MERS, but is still under investigation for COVID-19.

∫ China Rejects Independent Probe: China’s foreign ministry has dismissed Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus. Australia’s call for an investigation independent of the World Health Organization into the origin of the virus and WHO’s handling of the pandemic is placing increasing strain on Australia-China relations. Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye angered Australia by warning in an interview that pursuing an inquiry could spark a Chinese consumer boycott of students and tourists visiting Australia as well as of sales of major exports including beef and wine. Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary Frances Adamson responded by calling Cheng and expressing concerns about the interview. China’s embassy on Tuesday said Cheng “called on Australia to put aside ideological bias” and “stop political games” during the phone conversation.

∫ China Says Unfair To Call Kits ‘Faulty’: The Chinese Embassy in India said Tuesday that it was “unfair and irresponsible” to label Chinese testing kits procured by India as “faulty.” On Monday, India canceled orders to procure rapid antibody testing kits from two Chinese companies after quality issues and controversies over its price. “The quality of medical products exported from China is prioritized. It is unfair and irresponsible for certain individuals to label Chinese products as ‘faulty’ and look at issues with preemptive prejudice,” said Chinese Embassy spokesperson Ji Rong said.

∫ Hong Kong Reports 3rd Day With No New Cases: Hong Kong reported no new coronavirus cases for a third straight day Tuesday and announced a resumption of public services next week and a relaxation of quarantine restrictions on travelers from mainland China. The eased quarantine will apply to students crossing the border daily to attend school in Hong Kong, and travelers deemed economically important to the city. However, an entry ban on non-residents flying into the city has been extended to June 7.

∫ Malaysian Businesses Urge Reopening: Malaysian businesses have urged the government to end a weeks-long virus lockdown following a sharp decline in infections. Daily cases have dropped to double digits in the past two weeks with 31 new infections reported Tuesday, the lowest since a partial lockdown began March 18. Malaysia now has 5,851 cases with 100 fatalities. The Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the lockdown, which has been extended until May 12, should be lifted immediately to revive the economy and save jobs.

∫ Sri Lankan Growth Sinks: Sri Lanka’s Central Bank said the country’s economic growth will sink to 1.5% in 2020 as the coronavirus deals a severe blow. Growth had already declined to 2.3% in 2019 from 3.3% a year earlier as Easter Sunday bomb attacks devastated tourism. Sri Lanka has been under a curfew since March 20 to contain the disease.

By Jim Ellis

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