Sri Lanka stages mock election to test coronavirus measures
Sri Lanka has staged a mock election to test measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus during a parliamentary vote in August.
The poll was due to be held on 25 April but was cancelled and postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic, which official figures show has infected nearly 2,000 people and killed 11 in the country.
The election commission said Wednesday the vote would be held on 5 August. New health measures – to be implemented at polling booths and counting centres – were trialled on Sunday in four of the 22 electoral districts, commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya told reporters.
We were very pleased to see that all those who volunteered to take part in this exercise today wore face masks. Officials and polling agents will be behind clear plastic screens or wear face shields. We have also ensured that voters will stand a metre apart when they queue up.
The island nation of 21 million people has steadily lifted its lockdown restrictions, although a night curfew remains.
An election official issues a ballot paper to a voter during a mock election to test anti-Covid 19 guidelines in Ingiriya of Kalutara District in Western Province, Sri Lanka. Photograph: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images
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Russia emerging from crisis with ‘minimal losses’, says Putin
President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is emerging from the coronavirus crisis with minimal losses, having handled it better than the United States where party political interests got in the way.
With 528,964 confirmed cases, Russia has the third-highest number of infections after Brazil and the United States.
However, its official death toll stands at 6,948, much lower than in many other countries, including the United States which has had over 115,000 deaths. The veracity of Russian statistics has been called into question.
Speaking on state TV, Putin said:
We are working rather smoothly and emerging from this situation with the coronavirus confidently and, with minimal losses… But in the (United) States that is not happening.
Russia’s political system had handled the crisis better than its US counterpart, said Putin, because authorities at federal and regional level had worked as one team without disagreements unlike those in the United States.
I can’t imagine someone in the (Russian) government or regions saying we are not going to do what the government or president say. It seems to me that the problem (in the United States) is that group, in this case party interests, are put above those of society’s as a whole, above the interests of the people.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS
Afghanistan has detected polio in areas previously declared free of the disease after immunisation programmes were paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials have said.
The polio virus has spread to three provinces that had not reported cases for up to five years, said Jan Rasekh, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s polio eradication programme. Balkh, Herat and Badakhshan have each declared a single case.
Although the number of new cases nationwide is lower so far this year – with 14 compared to 26 in 2019 – the location has sparked concern.
“We had worked hard for years and cornered polio to a limited geography,” Rasekh said, in comments reported by AFP. “The coronavirus has helped polio spread beyond its endemic region of south and southeast, and now threatens people across the country.”
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said last month that polio eradication drives had been suspended in dozens of countries, while measles vaccination campaigns were also put on hold in 27 nations.
There are only two nations remaining where the wild version of the polio virus continues to spread – Pakistan and Afghanistan – but a strain that has mutated from the vaccine itself has caused outbreaks in Africa.
Afghanistan has so far declared more than 24,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 471 deaths. Experts say the actual number of cases is likely higher given limited testing capacity.
Australia to spend a further A$1.5bn to boost economy
The Australian government will spend another A$1.5bn on infrastructure and fast-track approval for projects in a bid to stimulate the country’s economy post-lockdown, prime minister Scott Morrison will say on Monday.
Due to lockdown measures introduced in March to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Australia is on course for its first recession in 30 years.
The country’s government has already brought forward A$3.8bn in infrastructure spending, but Morrison will on Monday promise a further A$1.5bn in funds. According to extracts of a speech seen by Reuters, the Australia’s prime minister will say:
As we come out of the COVID crisis, infrastructure can give us the edge that many countries don’t have.
The money will be spent on “small priority” projects identified by Australia’s states and territories. As well as increased spending, Morrison will say that Australia will fast-track approvals for 15 projects, including BHP’s Olympic Dam.
Projects in Australia typically take 42 months to receive necessary approval. Morrison will say that he intends to reduce this period by half.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP
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A century after the 1918 pandemic, South America’s largest country has passed Britain to claim the world’s second-highest death toll. The Guardian’s Tom Philips looks at Brazil’s deepening Covid-19 catastrophe.
As a child growing up in 1940s São Paulo, Drauzio Varella remembers his grandmother’s tales of how the Spanish flu ravaged the blue-collar immigrant community they called home.
“So many people died that families would leave people outside on the pavements, and early each morning the carts would come by to collect them and take them off to burial in mass graves,” remembered Varella, who would go on to become Brazil’s best-known doctor.
More than a century after the 1918 calamity, South America’s largest country is again being shaken by a devastating pandemic, and Varella is in disbelief.
“Nobody thought this could happen. Perhaps they imagined it theoretically – that some kind of virus might come along,” said the 77-year-old oncologist, author and broadcaster. “But even when this virus did show up, we didn’t think it would cause a tragedy of such proportions.”
Graffiti depicting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and a figure representing Covid-19 pulling a rope against health workers with the question “Which side of the rope are you on?” in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
Uzbekistan will reopen its borders to some air travellers from 15 June with quarantine procedures depending on their country of origin, Reuters reports.
The borders of the Central Asian nation, closed since March, will reopen for diplomats, their family members, investors and medical tourists, as well as Uzbeks leaving the country for study or medical treatment, the cabinet said in a statement.
Depending on where they are coming from, visitors will be either quarantined, placed under observation at home, or just let in; the latter will apply to those arriving from China, Japan, South Korea and Israel.
The former Soviet republic has confirmed 4,966 Covid-19 cases with 19 deaths.
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Delhi is to use 500 railway coaches as hospital facilities after a surge in the number of coronavirus cases led to a shortage of hospital beds.
India’s federal government said on Sunday it will provide New Delhi’s city authorities with 500 railway coaches that will be equipped to care for coronavirus patients, Reuters reports.
The coaches will increase Delhi’s capacity by 8,000 beds, home minister Amit Shah said on Twitter after a meeting with the capital’s chief minister.
The government will also ramp up testing in the city, especially in containment zones, conduct a door-to-door health survey of residents and provide sufficient supplies of oxygen cylinders and ventilators, he said.
India is the fourth-worst affected country in the world, with cases steadily increasing. It reported a record single-day jump in cases on Sunday, adding nearly 12,000 confirmed infections and taking the total to more than 320,000, according to health ministry data.
Prime minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown in late March that has since been loosened.
Iran’s daily toll tops 100 for first time since April
Iran’s daily virus death toll has exceeded 100, for the first time in two months, AFP reports.
In televised remarks, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari announced 107 Covid-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the overall toll to 8,837.
It was very painful for us to announce the triple-digit figure. This is an unpredictable and wild virus and may surprise us at any time.
Iran last recorded triple-digit daily fatalities on April 13, with 111 dead.
Lari also announced 2,472 new cases confirmed in the past day, bringing the total infection caseload to 187,427, with over 148,000 recoveries.
There has been scepticism at home and abroad about Iran’s official COVID-19 figures, with concerns the real toll could be much higher.
Iran has struggled to contain what has become the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the illness since it reported its first cases in the Shiite holy city of Qom in February. But since April it has gradually lifted restrictions to ease the intense pressures on its sanctions-hit economy.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday reproached citizens for failing to observe measures designed to rein in the virus.
Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, which the government has attributed to increased testing rather than a worsening caseload.
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