Seoul, April 16
The ruling liberal party secured a resounding victory in South Korea’s parliamentary elections, which had the highest turnout in nearly three decades despite the coronavirus sickening thousands and forcing social distancing at polling places.
The ruling Democratic Party and a satellite party it created to win proportional representative seats combined to win 180 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly, election officials said with vote-counting nearly complete Thursday.
Meanwhile, conservatives suffered their worst showing in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area in years.
The comfortable majority will likely embolden President Moon Jae-in’s government to pursue its key domestic and foreign objectives, such as reviving diplomacy with nuclear-armed rival North Korea, while it grapples with a historic public health crisis that is shuttering businesses and threatening livelihoods.
“We feel heavy responsibility, which outweighs our joy of winning the election,” Democratic Party leader Lee Hae-chan said in a party meeting.
“We will make preemptive and aggressive efforts to overcome the novel coronavirus crisis and the threat it poses to livelihoods and the national economy.”
Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the conservative United Future Party, who lost to a Democratic Party candidate at a key Seoul district, apologized to his supporters for “failing to prevent the country from going in a wrong direction at an important time.”
More than 17 million South Koreans voted on Wednesday. When combined with the 11.8 million early and mailed-in votes, turnout was 66.2%, the highest since 71.9% turnout in a 1992 general election, the National Election Commission said.
Analysts struggled to explain the surprisingly high turnout. Some said fear and alertness over the pandemic may have driven voters to support Moon’s government so it could fight the virus and its impact with more political stability.
Before the virus began absorbing public attention, Moon’s support was faltering over a decaying job market, corruption scandals surrounding key political allies and troubled ties with rival North Korea.
But surveys ahead of the polls indicated growing support, reflecting public approval of an aggressive test-and-quarantine program credited with lowering fatality rates for COVID-19 compared to China and some places in Europe and North America. As of Thursday, South Korea had more than 10,600 people infected with 229 confirmed deaths.
It drew contrasts with upended election cycles in the United States and Europe and possibly set an example for how democratic elections can be handled during a pandemic.
South Korean election and health officials had prepared safeguards to reduce the risk of the virus being spread.
Masks were worn by voters and poll workers. A meter (3 feet) of social distancing space was marked from nearby streets all the way to the ballot booths. Voters who passed a fever screening were given sanitizing gel and disposable plastic gloves before entering booths.
Anyone with a fever was whisked to a separate area to vote. People formally quarantined in their homes were escorted or monitored through tracking apps while they cast their ballots later than other voters. Those hospitalized or in isolation or quarantine could vote by mail or at temporary shelters during early voting last week. mdash; AP
Nearly 4,500 coronavirus deaths in US in 24 hours, highest spike: Report
Washington, April 17
A record number of 4,591 Americans have died in the last 24 hours due to the deadly novel coronavirus in the US, which has the highest number of COVID-19 casualties in the world.
According to the Johns Hopkins University data, by 8 pm on Thursday, as many as 4,591 Americans have died in the last 24 hours, The Wall Street Journal said.
The previous highest was 2,569 on Wednesday.
By Thursday, more than 662,000 Americans tested positive with the coronavirus.
The dreaded disease, which originated in Wuhan city in China in December last year, has so far claimed more than 144,000 lives and infected over 2.1 million people.
The virus has infected over 671,000 people and claimed more than 33,000 lives, the highest for any country in the world.
New York City and its adjoining areas, including New Jersey and Connecticut have emerged as the epicenter of the virus in the US.
New York alone accounts for 226,000 cases of infections and 16,106 deaths.
In New Jersey, as many as 3,518 people have died of the disease and 75,317 have tested positive.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, till April 14, four per cent of the Americans infected with COVID-19 were of Asian origin and nearly one-third (30 per cent) were African Americans.
US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that experts and scientists report that his strategy to slow the spread of the virus has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
“Models predicted between 1.5 million and 2.2 million US deaths. If there was no mitigation, it could have even been higher than that and between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths with mitigation. It is looking like we will come far under even these lowest numbers,” he said.
Noting that experts say the curve of the virus has flattened, and the peak in the new cases has passed, Trump said that nationwide, more than 850 counties or nearly 30 per cent of the country have reported no new cases in the last seven days.
“Because of our early and aggressive action, we have avoided the tragedy of health care rationing and deadly shortfalls that have befallen in many other nations, nations which wherever possible we are helping,” he said.
According to Trump, at least 35 clinical trials are already underway, including antiviral therapies, immune therapies, and blood therapies in the form of convalescent plasma. So far, more than 3.5 million tests have been carried out. PTI
Spain coronavirus death toll nears 19,500: Govt
Madrid, April 17
Spain’s death toll increased to nearly 19,500, government figures showed on Friday.
The country reported 585 new fatalities in the past 24 hours, but said it had revised its counting mechanism, making the figures hard to compare to previous daily tolls.
The total number of deaths in Spain now stands at 19,478, the third highest in the world after the United States and Italy. mdash; AFP
Trump proposes 3-phased country re-opening plan
New York, April 17
US President Donald Trump has proposed a three-phase, locally targeted plan for opening the coronavirus-battered nation, but will leave the decision on implementing it in the hands of the state Governors.
“We are opening up our great country,” Trump declared on Thursday with his two highly regarded medical advisers, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx at his side.
“America wants to be open, and Americans want to be open,” he said.
The plan requires states to meet basic criteria called “gating” before Governors can move them into the three phases of opening that takes into account the diversity of the country.
Any setback will push them back into the more rigorous earlier phase.
Trump unveiled the guidelines after a teleconference with state Governors where he told them: “You’re going to call your own shots.” By leaving the decision to the Governors after having asserted that he has to the authority to end the restrictions nationwide, Trump is avoiding a show-down with recalcitrant governors and also making them face the consequences.
Trump’s plans to restart economic and social activities in a nation facing serious economic and social setbacks have met with opposition from Democrats and some public health experts who think it is premature and could lead to coronavirus flare-ups.
Even a phased, geographically targeted plan may not mollify them.
New York’s Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he had told Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that the restrictions should be kept everywhere because the areas with low infections now could end up like his city.
Before Trump’s announcement, New York’s Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the state’s Stay-at-Home orders shutting down educational institutions and non-essential businesses till May 15.
Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told her legislators to rely on scientists and not on Trump and warned that Americans cannot return to work safely unless there is adequate testing.
Fauci, who is widely respected by the nation and so far by Democrats, backed Trump calling the plan “a rather robust program for re-entering into normality”.
He gave the assurance that for the physicians, scientists, or public health experts involved in developing the plan “the predominant and completely driving element that we put into this was the safety and the health of the American public”.
“We are a very large country and we have different dynamics in the country,” he said explaining the phased and targeted reopening.
But he also warned: “There may be some setbacks that we may have to pull back a little. And then go forward.” Trump initially wanted to loosen the restrictions on April 12, Easter Sunday, but on the advice of his medical experts, he held off. His next target date was May 1 and he may be able to partially meet it.
There have been public protests in some places against the lockdown.
The US has so far managed keep the infections and deaths far below the predictions of deaths that ranged from 2.2 million to 240,000 to 80,000 according to different models and scenarios of mitigation.
So far there have been only 671,151 infections and 33,268 deaths in the pandemic.
Some states have very few cases like Wyoming, a mostly rural state that has recorded only 296 cases and two deaths, while the pandemic’s epicentre New York has had 293,661 cases with 14,832 deaths as of Wednesday evening.
Because of this, Trump leaves it to the Governors to decide how to proceed based on the guidelines developed by the medical experts in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Trump said that some states already meet the gating criteria and can start the first phase “tomorrow”.
Birx, a respected physician and epidemiologist who won her spurs in the battle against AIDS, is the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and she outlined the plan in detail.
To be gated in order to begin the phases, a state will have to have a downward trajectory of people with both influenza and COVID-19 symptoms as well those testing positive for the disease, in addition to having adequate testing for health care workers.
In the first phase, some of the workers can return to work in phases, with special accommodation for vulnerable people and social distancing, but telecommuting will be the preferred method.
Vulnerable people will be under Stay-at-Home rules and others will have to observe social distancing and groups of more than ten will not be allowed to socialised.
Religious meetings and events like sports can take place under social distancing norms.
If there is no rebound and the states again meet the gating requirement like cases going down further over 14 days, they can move to the second phase, where restrictions are further loosened to allow socialise in groups of up to 50, permit non-essential travel, and reopen schools and gyms, allow elective surgery.
After again meeting the gating criteria, states can move to the third phase, which will allow vulnerable people to resume public activities, drop workplace restrictions to allow full staffing and permit sports and other such events with limited physical distancing requirements. IANS
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