BANGKOK -- A New Zealand woman has been reunited with her dying sister in Australia after gaining an exemption from pandemic travel restrictions on compassionate grounds.
Australia had rejected Christine Archer’s request for permission to fly from New Zealand four times before her story attracted media attention.
Her only sister, Gail Baker, was diagnosed with incurable ovarian cancer in late March after both countries stopped international travel.
Archer was eventually allowed to fly to Sydney and spent only a week in hotel quarantine before testing negative for the coronavirus. International travelers are usually quarantined for two weeks.
Family friends drove the retired nurse 490 kilometers (300 miles) from Sydney to the New South Wales state coastal town of Bowraville, where her younger sibling greeted her with a hug on Wednesday.
Archer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview aired Thursday: "I'm just so happy that I finally got to be here and be with her. The last two weeks have been the hardest or the longest two weeks of my life.”
Australia relented on Archer’s travel application after it allowed the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team to relocate from Auckland in preparation for the Australian football competition restarting next week.
Both countries have had success in controlling the spread of the virus.
Australia has recorded 7,079 virus cases and 100 deaths.
In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:
— WILDLIFE CONSUMPTION BAN IN WUHAN: The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the global coronavirus pandemic originated last year, has issued a total ban on the hunting, breeding and human consumption of wild animals. That is an apparent response to research showing the virus most likely originated among bats and was transmitted to people via an intermediary wild species sold at a food market in the city. The regulation issued Wednesday seeks to carry out measures passed at the national level covering protected land animals as well as sea life, promising financial relief to help dealers move into other lines of business. However, it contains numerous exceptions, including for animals used for traditional Chinese medicine, as long as they are not consumed as food for humans. That left it unclear whether the ban would cover pangolins, small mammals whose scales are used for traditional Chinese medicine but which are thought to have been the intermediary carrier of the virus. The regulation will be enforced immediately and will be in effect for five years.
— G-7 SUMMIT BACK ON AGENDA? Japan’s government spokesman said Thursday that the country is considering whether to attend the Group of Seven summit. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was responding to a question about President Donald Trump’s tweet Wednesday that he is considering rescheduling a meeting in the U.S. with world leaders because it would be a “great sign to all” of things returning to normal. Trump had scheduled the G-7 summit for June 10-12 at Camp David but canceled it in March because of the pandemic, saying the leaders would confer by video conference instead. Suga said he interpreted Trump’s tweet as “an expression of the president’s intention to normalize the global economy quickly.” He said his understanding is that details such as the dates and format of the meeting are still being studied by the host nation.
— JAPAN EMERGENCY EASES: Japan has lifted the coronavirus state of emergency in Osaka and the two neighboring prefectures of Kyoto and Hyogo while keeping the measure in place in the Tokyo region and the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the announcement on Thursday. Last week, Abe lifted the emergency measures in all but eight of Japan's 47 prefectures. The state of emergency does not mandate lockdowns. Japan has has 16,424 confirmed cases and 777 deaths as of Wednesday.
— INDONESIA REPORTS RECORD NUMBER OF CASES: Indonesia reported a record 973 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, taking its total to 20,162, as the world’s most populous Muslim nation enters a critical period during the Eid-al Fitr Islamic holiday. The previous record, set Wednesday, was 693 new cases. The country has recorded 1,278 deaths. COVID-19 Task Force chief Doni Monardo said the country is entering a critical time before and after the Eid-al Fitr celebration marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, when social distancing will come under a real test. Ramadan travel has been banned to contain the disease, but Monardo said some people have managed to leave big cities.
— LONGER WEEKENDS? New Zealand’s prime minister wants employers to consider switching to a four-day work week as a way to promote tourism, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. Jacinda Ardern said on Facebook Live that people learned a lot about work flexibility during the lockdown, which was eased last week. The nation’s borders remain closed but Ardern said more flexible working arrangements could allow New Zealanders to travel more within their own country. “I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day week. Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees,” Ardern said. She added that "it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”
— 3 KILLED IN SRI LANKA AID STAMPEDE: Sri Lanka police say three women died in a stampede Thursday when residents of a Colombo neighborhood scrambled to receive aid distributed to people who lost their livelihoods because of the coronavirus. They said several others were hospitalized. Six people who organized the aid distribution as alms during the Ramadan season were arrested. Many people in the crowded neighborhood are day laborers and have been unable to work during the virus lockdown. Sri Lanka has reported 1,028 cases including nine deaths.
— NEW FACILITIES AT ROHINGYA CAMPS: The U.N. refugee agency, its partners and the government inaugurated two facilities on Thursday to isolate and treat up to 200 coronavirus patients in Cox’s Bazar, where more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar are living in crowded refugee camps. The UNHCR said the facilities will be used to treat both refugees and Bangladeshis. It plans to establish 12 facilities with a capacity of 1,900 beds in Cox’s Bazar. At least 10 refugees have already tested positive in the camps.
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