Wenny Zulianti

Wenny Zulianti

06
April

Pakistan has quarantined 20,000 worshippers and is still searching for tens of thousands more who attended an Islamic gathering in Lahore last month despite the worsening coronavirus pandemic, officials said Sunday.

Authorities said they want to test or quarantine those who congregated at the event held by the Tablighi Jamaat -- an Islamic missionary movement --  between March 10-12 over fears they are now spreading COVID-19 across Pakistan and overseas.

More than 100,000 people went to the meeting, organizers said, undeterred by government requests for it to be cancelled as the virus hit the country.

In northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, authorities have so far quarantined 5,300 Tablighis or Islamic preachers who attended the Lahore meeting.

"Health officials are conducting tests for coronavirus and some of them have tested positive," Ajmal Wazir, a spokesperson for the region, told AFP on Sunday.

Wazir said thousands of Tablighis from his province were stranded in other regions because of the closure of major highways across the country.

About 7,000 have been quarantined in the central Punjab city Lahore, while in southern Sindh province up to 8,000 Tablighis have been quarantined, government officials said.

Dozens more have been forced to self-isolate in southwestern Balochistan province.

The Tablighi mosques and the movement's other places of worship were shut down or marked as quarantine centers at the end of March.

At least 154 worshippers who went to last month's Jamaat had tested positive for coronavirus, with two fatalities, authorities told AFP.

Coronavirus has killed at least 45 people in Pakistan but with only limited testing available, observers worry the number is far higher. 

Tablighi Jamaat is considered one of the world's largest faith-based movements, with millions of followers, particularly in South Asia, and sends preachers to countries to spread Islam's ideas.

Numerous foreign nationals attended this year from countries including China, Indonesia, Nigeria and Afghanistan, organizers said.

About 1,500 foreigners are now quarantined in Pakistan, but others left the country without being tested.

Gaza's health ministry confirmed last month its first two cases of coronavirus were Palestinians who had attended the gathering.

Pakistan's science minister Fawad Chaudhry earlier expressed exasperation that the event had gone ahead, blaming the "stubbornness of the clergy".

Organizers said they cut the gathering short following advice from the authorities, however at the time they said it was due to rainy weather. 

Similar Tablighi Jamaat congregations held in Malaysia and India during the coronavirus pandemic have been blamed for spreading the virus to other nations. 

06
April

A recent collaborative study conducted by a team from Monash University and the Doherty Institute in Australia has found that a commonly used antiparasitic drug could halt the incubation process of the novel coronavirus and potentially cure COVID-19 positive patients of any ailments caused by the virus.

The study showed that the drug available globally called Ivermectin was able to kill SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, growing in cell culture within 48 hours. It must be noted, however, that the study was conducted in vitro – in a controlled environment outside a living organism – and that more credible data would be obtained pending clinical trials on human subjects.

“We report here that Ivermectin, an FDA-approved antiparasitic previously shown to have broad-spectrum antiviral activity in vitro, is an inhibitor of the causative virus,” the report stated.

The drug was previously shown to have been effective against a wide variety of viruses, including HIV, dengue, influenza and the Zika virus, the study claimed.

Kylie Wagstaff, a scientist at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute who led the study, said the optimistic results of the study had warranted the possibility of human trials, which would yield more credible information regarding the drug’s efficacy within living cells.

 

“We found that even a single dose [of Ivermectin] could essentially remove all viral RNA [ribonucleic acid] by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it,” Wagstaff said in the report.

“We need to figure out now whether the dosage that can be used in humans will be effective – that’s the next step,”

Ivermectin had presumably inhibited the viral process that “dampened down” the host cells’ ability to kill it, Wagstaff said. However, the specific ways in which Ivermectin overrides such viral processes have yet to be discovered, she added.

Many countries, including Indonesia, are scrambling to find possible remedies for the deadly virus as scientists fast-tracked research on a vaccine.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced last month that the government had been preparing medicine, including 3 million doses of chloroquine, which he described as “having been proven to cure COVID-19 in other countries”.

However, health experts have since raised concerns over the risks inherent in self-medication using choloroquine phosphate – an antimalarial drug – as they claimed the medicine had an array of dangerous side effects including diarrhea, breathing difficulties, weakened muscles and mental disorders.

03
April

For West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, the consequences of letting people go to their hometowns during a pandemic are real. The governor posted on his Facebook wall on Thursday a news story about a 72-year-old stroke patient from Ciamis who tested positive for COVID-19 after having contact with his child from virus-stricken Jakarta.

“This story is one of many cases of parents in West Java who are COVID-19 positive after being visited by their children or relatives, who are unaware that they are carrying the virus to their hometowns,” he said. “Restrain yourselves and love your parents. Don’t go home now,” he pleaded.

The post is just another sign of growing apprehension among regional leaders over a possible explosion of coronavirus cases in their respective areas as millions of people from Greater Jakarta — largely deprived of their livelihood due to large-scale physical distancing policies — are set to travel to their hometowns for Idul Fitri early.

The central government still lacks a clear strategy on preventing that. Just hours before Ridwan made his plea, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced that he would not officially ban people from traveling for the Idul Fitri holidays, ignoring warnings from public health experts that the consequences of failing to prevent people from leaving Jakarta, the epicenter of the outbreak in the country, could be dire.  

Annually, some 20 million people from Greater Jakarta travel to their hometowns to celebrate Idul Fitri in a tradition called mudik (exodus). The tradition, public health experts say, could lead to massive COVID-19 contagion on Java, an island of 141 million people, where many regions have far worse healthcare systems than Jakarta.

“[The President] underlines that there is no official ban on people going on the mudik during the 2020 Idul Fitri holiday period. The travelers, however, must self-isolate for 14 days, will be given ‘people under observation’ [ODP] status, as per the World Health Organization health protocol, and will be monitored by the respective local administration,” presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said in a statement on Thursday, shortly after a speech by the President on the matter.

State Secretary Pratikno, however, later clarified Fadjroel’s statement, saying that the President actually called on people to stay in the capital, though he did not categorically state that the President would ban the mudik.

A revised statement from Fadjroel was not redacted to retract the original one.

Number of travelers during Idul Fitri exodus in Indonesia

03
April

International seat capacity has dropped by almost 80% from a year ago and half the world's airplanes are in storage, new data shows, suggesting the aviation industry may take years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Carriers including United Airlines Holdings Inc and Air New Zealand Ltd have warned they are likely to emerge from the crisis smaller, and there are fears others may not survive.

"It is likely that when we get across to the other side of the pandemic, things won't return to the vibrant market conditions we had at the start of the year," said Olivier Ponti, vice president at data firm ForwardKeys.

"It's also possible that a number of airlines will have gone bust and uneconomic discounts will be necessary to attract demand back," he said in a statement.

ForwardKeys said the number of international airline seats had fallen to 10 million in the week of March 30 to April 5, down from 44.2 million a year ago.

Data firm OAG said several years of industry growth had been lost and it could take until 2022 or 2023 before the volume of flyers returns to the levels that had been expected for 2020.

Cirium, another aviation data provider, said around half of the world's airplane fleet was now in storage.

"While many of these will be temporary storage, many of these aircraft will never resume service," Cowen analyst Helane Becker said in a note to clients. "We believe the airline industry will look very different when we get to the other side of this."

Planemakers are looking at drastic cuts in wide-body production amid a slump in demand for the industry's largest jetliners, manufacturing and supplier sources said.

Deliveries of long-range jets like the Boeing Co 777 or 787 and Airbus SE A350 or A330 have been particularly badly hit as airlines seek deferrals and many withhold progress payments.

Flights cut, staff furloughed 

Vasu Raja, American Airlines Group Inc senior vice president of network strategy, told Reuters that US domestic demand will remain weak into May, citing the lack of bookings.

The airline is cutting between 70% and 75% of domestic flights in April and about 80% in May. For both months it is cutting nearly 90% of its international flights.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said on Friday it would further cut passenger capacity after carrying just 582 passengers one day this week, a load factor of 18.3%, compared to 100,000 customers on a normal day.

Air New Zealand carried just 165 passengers on its 89 flights on Thursday, underpinning its decision to make further cuts to its schedule while the country is in lockdown due to the virus, Chief Revenue Officer Cam Wallace said on Twitter. Southwest Airlines Co said on Thursday it intends to apply for US government aid to help it ride out the sharp drop in travel demand.

"We still don't know the severity of this situation. We still don't know how long it will last," Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said in a video message.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday confirmed investment bank PJT Partners Inc will advise the Treasury on negotiations with passenger airlines over a stimulus package worth up to $50 billion, half in loans and loan guarantees and half in payroll cash grants.

Many Democrats and airline labour unions are urging Mnuchin not to exercise the right to demand equity or warrants in return for the grant portion, as they seek to ensure carriers take the funds and pay workers.

"We need to get this done quickly," Mnuchin said. "We'll make sure that we strike the right balance ... taxpayers get compensated."

"We want to keep our airlines intact."