Wed, 27 May 2020

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach have agreed to put off the Tokyo 2020 Games for one year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move, unprecedented in peacetime, was requested 'taking into consideration the current circumstances' Abe said, noting that all parties want a secure and safe environment for the athletes and crowds.

The Olympics, which have been held every four years since 1948, is to date the highest-profile event affected by the virus, which has killed more than 17,000 and infected over 380,000 people, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try and slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of other coronavirus developments in RFE/RL's broadcast countries.


Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the coronavirus, has rejected an offer from a Geneva-based medical charity to set up a 50-bed inflatable hospital in the central city of Isfahan to deal with the epidemic.

The total number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by 1,762 during the previous 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on March 24, raising the total figure to 24,811.

The ministry also announced 122 new deaths from the virus, putting the official toll at 1,934.

'We are surprised to learn that the deployment of our treatment unit is canceled,' Michel-Olivier Lacharite, who is in charge of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) crisis-response team, said in a statement on March 24.

Lacharite said the organization had been ready to set up the unit at the end of the week after being given prior approval from the authorities.

Alireza Vahabzadeh, adviser to Iran's health minister, tweeted that 'it is not necessary for now for hospital beds to be set up by foreign forces, and their presence is ruled out.'

Vahabzadeh cited Iran's 'national mobilization against the virus and the full use of the medical capacity of the armed forces' as the reasons for the refusal.

On March 22, MSF said it was sending a 50-bed inflatable hospital and an emergency team to Isfahan to treat patients critically ill with COVID-19.

An MSF team comprised of nine emergency and intensive-care unit doctors and logisticians was to run the unit to be set up in the compound of the city's Amin hospital, the organization said.

The announcement stirred opposition from Iranian hard-liners, who alleged that MSF staff would serve as 'spies.'

Iranian officials have previously rejected the United States' offer of humanitarian assistance, saying that Washington should lift sanctions if it wants to help Tehran fight the epidemic.

Iran has been under crippling U.S. sanctions in connection with its nuclear and missile program.

On March 24, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran to be 'urgently reevaluated' to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.

'At this crucial time, both for global public-health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,' Bachelet said.

More than 50 Iranian medics have died since the first coronavirus case was detected in the country five weeks ago, according to her office.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani on March 24 announced that about half of all government employees were staying at home in a bid to slow the coronavirus outbreak.

Rohani also said the temporary release of prisoners will be extended until the end of the current Iranian month of Farvardin, about April 18.

Iranian authorities say they have temporarily released tens of thousands of prisoners because of the epidemic.


Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has warned President Vladimir Putin that the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Russia is likely to rise sharply in the days ahead as health officials dramatically increase the number of tests they are carrying out.

Sobyanin, who heads a coronavirus task force at Russia's State Council, told Putin on March 24 that the number of tests performed in Moscow will increase from about 3,000 a day to 13,000 per day by the end of this week.

'The problem is that the volume of testing is very low and no one has a clear picture' of the situation in Russia and the world, Sobyanin told Putin.

'The picture that is unfolding is serious,' he said, warning that the number of infected people in Russia was 'significantly' higher than official figures.

Russia has registered 495 cases of the coronavirus and maintains that there have not been any deaths from the disease in the country.

One patient with coronavirus died in a Russian hospital, but the authorities are not counting the woman's death as part of its coronavirus toll -- saying she died from a blood clot.

However, a global database maintained by Johns Hopkins University is including that patient in its coronavirus death toll.

Some experts say Russia's relatively low number of confirmed coronavirus infections could be attributed to its slow pace of screening.

Until recently, just one lab in Novosibirsk was analyzing tests from all over Russia.

Russia is now taking steps to open new labs and increase the number of tests being carried out for coronavirus.

Putin, meanwhile, visited a Moscow hospital for coronavirus patients on March 24 -- donning a yellow hazmat suit with a protective mask within an area where patients were being treated.

During his visit to a hospital in the Moscow suburb of Kommunarka, Putin praised doctors for their efforts in treating infected patients, saying they were working 'like clockwork, a well-oiled machine.'

'I could see how well the seriously ill patients are being cared for with three specialists working on one patient at once,' Putin said in comments published on the Kremlin website.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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