By Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2020

BANGKOK (AP) - A cruise ship being investigated in Australia for sparking coronavirus infections has sailed into Philippine waters to bring Filipino crewmen home.

The Philippine coast guard said Thursday the Ruby Princess will drop anchor in Manila Bay, where at least 16 other cruise ships have converged since last month while waiting for more than 5,000 Filipino crew members to be tested for the coronavirus before disembarking.

Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said 214 Filipino crewmen on board the Ruby Princess will be tested.

The Ruby Princess has been linked to 19 deaths in Australia and two in the United States. An Australian government inquiry is underway into why 2,700 passengers and crew were allowed to disembark in Sydney on March 19 before the test results of sick passengers were known.

Many passengers flew from Sydney overseas. Two died at home in the United States, including Los Angeles resident Chung Chen, whose family is suing Princess Cruises for more than $1 million in a lawsuit alleging it failed to alert passengers to the risk.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

- CHINA RESPONDS TO POMPEO: China is firing back at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that there is “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, accusing him of “making up lies and covering up a lie by fabricating more lies.” The strong language from foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying came as President Donald Trump and his allies back an unsubstantiated theory linking the outbreak to a possible accident at a Chinese lab. U.S. officials say they are still exploring the subject and describe the evidence as purely circumstantial. But aides say Trump has embraced the notion to highlight China’s lack of transparency. “Under the situation that no scientists and experts can even draw any conclusions, why did Secretary Pompeo want to rush to the conclusion to hold the Wuhan laboratory accountable? Where is his evidence?,” Hua told reporters, while defending the integrity of the Wuhan lab. “Show us. If he can’t, is he still in the middle of concocting this so-called evidence?”

- BACK IN THE AIR: South Korea’s largest airline will resume some flights next month to expand cargo operations and prepare for a possible increase in travelers as countries ease coronavirus restrictions. Despite the increased flights, Korean Air said it will be operating only 32 of its 110 international routes in June. It has said the coronavirus pandemic has pushed South Korean airlines into an existential crisis and called for stronger government support. The company is currently rotating 70% of its 20,000 workers on six months’ paid leave.

- JAPAN APPROVES REMDESIVIR: Japan has approved Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir for coronavirus treatment in a fast-track review just four days after the U.S. company submitted an application. The drug is the first approved in Japan for the coronavirus. It was originally developed for Ebola and could block the coronavirus from replicating itself in the human body. It will mainly be used for seriously ill patients. It was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for coronavirus treatment last Friday. Japan is also testing a Japanese-made influenza drug, favipiravir, that is also designed to inhibit viral replication but could cause birth defects.

- CHINA DOWNGRADES VIRUS RISK: The government on Thursday declared all areas of the vast country have been downgraded from high to low virus risk, as the numbers of new cases falls to near zero and no new deaths have been reported in more than three weeks. The last region to be downgraded was Linkou county in Heilongjiang province bordering Russia and where the most recent spike in cases occurred. Authorities shut an emergency field hospital in the region after the closing of the border and strict social distancing measures brought the number of new cases to zero. China reported just two new coronavirus cases on Thursday, both from overseas, and said 295 people remained in hospitals. China has reported 4,633 deaths among 82,885 cases.

- INDONESIA’S GROWTH SLOWS: Indonesia posted its slowest economic growth in two decades as the coronavirus affected exports, investment and consumption. Gross domestic product in Southeast Asia’s largest economy expanded by only 2.97% in January-March from a year earlier. That compares to a 4.99% expansion in the last quarter of last year. It was Indonesia’s slowest growth since the fourth quarter of 2001. The government has revised its growth projection to 2.3% this year from its original 5.3%.

- SRI LANKA REIMPOSES CURFEW, AGAIN: Sri Lanka has again reimposed a 24-hour countrywide curfew until next Monday, as part of stringent measures to contain the coronavirus. The blanket curfew was imposed Wednesday night after a surge in new infections during the last few days. There are now 797 reported COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka including nine deaths. Of the total, 460 cases were reported after April 22, including 372 navy sailors or their close contacts. Authorities have isolated the main navy camp and quarantined about 4,000 personnel there.

- NEW ZEALAND TO REOPEN BARS, SALONS: New Zealand could reopen bars, retail stores and hair salons from next week and allow domestic travel. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday outlined what the country would look like under a further relaxation of its lockdown rules. Much of the nation would return to a semblance of normality. Senior lawmakers will decide Monday whether to go ahead with the plan starting Wednesday. Under the plan, schools could reopen from the following week. The country’s borders will remain shut. Professional sports would start again, although without the crowds. Gatherings would be restricted to 100 people and social distancing protocols observed.

- VIETNAM IMPORTED CASES RISE: Vietnam reported 17 new imported coronavirus cases as it brings back more citizens who were stranded overseas. The health ministry said Thursday all of the new patients returned to Vietnam from various countries. They were put in quarantine upon arrival. After three weeks with no local cases reported, Vietnam has reopened schools, businesses, factories and tourist attractions. It has confirmed 288 infections and no deaths.

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