Bhutan bans tourists, Bollywood puts Oscars ceremony on hold over coronavirus fears
New Delhi - Bhutan imposed a two-week ban on tourists, India's biggest film awards were postponed, and countries elsewhere in Asia imposed a slew of travel restrictions to combat a spike in coronavirus cases on Friday.
The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which relies on high-end tourism, had earlier confirmed its first case of coronavirus, that of a 76-year-old US tourist who travelled from neighbouring India.
"The government has imposed a complete two-week ban on all incoming tourists with immediate effect," Bhutanese Health Minister Dechen Wangmo told dpa by telephone.
Multiple countries have imposed entry bans only on tourists from countries where the virus is most prevalent, such as China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, rather than impose a blanket ban.
Tourism is one of the major sources of foreign exchange for the country: In 2018, a total of 274,097 foreign individuals visited Bhutan, earning the country 85 million dollars.
The Japanese news agency Kyodo reported on Friday, citing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, that Japan will void millions of visas from Monday for Chinese and South Korean visitors to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Visitors from China and South Korea were also asked not to use public transport.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry described the new restrictions by Japan as "not only unfriendly, but also unscientific."
Tourists from Japan would no longer be able to come to South Korea visa-free in response, the ministry said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) criticized the use of travel curbs to fight the coronavirus, saying countries should instead stand together.
"It's very important that people understand that these restrictions are not helping," WHO emergency operations chief Mike Ryan said after Japan and South Korea slapped each other with visa restriction.
Travel measures should be imposed only after careful consideration that is based on scientific facts, and they should never last for long periods, Ryan stressed.
"The only way we can beat this virus is when we stand together," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added.
There are no regulations for mandatory self quarantine in Thailand yet, but health officials there said on Friday that they will introduce measures in the next few days that will require those travelling from China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Italy, and Iran to submit mandatory health reports. Failure to do so could result in punishments.
Meanwhile, in India, the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA), dubbed Bollywood's Oscars, have been postponed due to fears about the coronavirus outbreak, organizers announced on Friday.
The three-day awards ceremony scheduled for the end of the month was being deferred "with due regard to the growing concerns around the spread of Covid-19 virus and keeping the health and safety of IIFA's fans and the general community at large," the IIFA said.
The event - the biggest of the year for India's massive movie industry - was due to be held in the central state of Madhya Pradesh from March 27-29.
The total number of confirmed cases in India rose to 31, after a person from Delhi who had travelled from Thailand and Malaysia tested positive, the Health Ministry said. Sixteen Italian tourists were among those infected, pushing authorities to step up preventive measures.
South Korea reported another significant increase in infections of the new coronavirus on Friday, with figures showing 518 new cases over the past day and seven more deaths. This brought the total cases to 6,284 and the death toll up to 42, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Malaysia on Friday recorded by far its biggest daily increase in positive coronavirus diagnoses, with the national caseload jumping from 55 to 83, according to the Health Ministry.
The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry reported a tripling of demand for medical masks while organizers announced the postponement of a hot air balloon festival scheduled to take place in the administrative capital, Putrajaya, from March 19-22.
Taiwan has asked at least 103 people to enter home quarantine because they came into close contact with a visiting Australian musician who was later found to have the coronavirus.
The Philippines reported the first local transmission of the new coronavirus in the country, after a 62-year-old man with no travel history tested positive for the disease.
The man was admitted to hospital with "severe pneumonia" on March 1, and tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
"He has no known history of travel outside of the country," he added.
Two more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Indonesia, bringing confirmed cases in the country to four, an official said.
North Korea claims to have released 221 foreigners from quarantine. They were among the 380 foreigners who had previously been isolated and placed under strict medical surveillance, state media reported on Friday. No further details were given.
So far, no cases of infection have been officially reported from North Korea.dpa