Asia virus latest: Trump doubts China figures, Australia cruise standoff

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Medical staff wearing protective clothing take test samples for the COVID-19 coronavirus from a foreign passenger at a virus testing booth outside Incheon international airport near Seoul

Medical staff wearing protective clothing take test samples for the COVID-19 coronavirus from a foreign passenger at a virus testing booth outside Incheon international airport near Seoul (AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-je)

Singapore (AFP) - Here are the latest developments in Asia related to the novel coronavirus pandemic:

- Trump casts doubt on China virus figures -

President Donald Trump cast doubt on the accuracy of official Chinese figures on its coronavirus outbreak after US lawmakers, citing an intelligence report, accused Beijing of a cover-up.

The controversy around Beijing's transparency has strained ties, adding to tensions triggered by a conspiracy theory in China that the US military was to blame for the virus.

At a press briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying didn't directly address Trump's comments but said that politicians who accused China of concealing information were "shameless and without morality".

- Australia seeks to end cruise standoffs -

Australian police and military will soon begin taking doctors on helicopters to several cruise ships stranded near Sydney to assess nearly 9,000 crew for COVID-19, officials said.

The military-style operation, due to begin by the weekend, is aimed at resolving a standoff between cruise line operators and authorities who fear a wave of new imported coronavirus cases would overwhelm local hospitals.

- China county shut down as fears grow of second wave -

Jia county in China's central Henan province, home to about 600,000 people, has gone into lockdown after a woman who visited the area tested positive for the virus, underscoring concerns over a second wave of domestic infections.

China, where the virus emerged late last year, has largely managed to bring its outbreak under control and is now reporting only a small number of new infections a day.

- Fiji's capital ordered into lockdown -

The Fijian capital Suva was ordered into lockdown from Friday after two people from one of the city's crowded squatter settlements tested positive, bringing the Pacific nation's confirmed cases to seven.

"There is a high risk these patients have infected others," Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warned.

- Australian scientists test vaccines -

Tests have begun in Australia of two potential vaccines on ferrets, as scientists worldwide race to develop one at record speed.

One from the University of Oxford would deliver a bit of defective virus that is unable to replicate, but would be enough to provoke an immune response.

Another from drugmaker Inovio would be an injection of genetic material from the virus. Results from the tests are expected within two to three months, although it is expected to take much longer to develop a proven vaccine.

- North Korea insists it is coronavirus-free -

North Korea remains totally free of the coronavirus, a senior health official in Pyongyang has insisted, despite mounting scepticism overseas as confirmed global infections near one million.

The already isolated, nuclear-armed North quickly shut down its borders in January after the virus was first detected in neighbouring China, and imposed strict containment measures.

Experts have said North Korea is particularly vulnerable to the virus because of its weak medical system, and defectors have accused Pyongyang of covering up an outbreak.

- Duterte tells Philippine police to shoot dead troublemakers -

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has told security forces they should shoot dead anyone causing "trouble" in areas locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hours earlier, nearly two dozen people from a slum community in the capital Manila were arrested for holding a protest that accused the government of failing to provide food aid to the poor.

- Indonesia releases prisoners -

Indonesia has released some 18,000 inmates in a desperate bid to stop coronavirus from rampaging through its notoriously overcrowded prison system, authorities said.

- Oil soars -

Oil prices soared 10 percent on hopes for a US intervention to end a Saudi-Russia price war, with President Donald Trump saying he expected the two to resolve the row, while dealers were also cheered after China called on authorities to buy up the battered commodity.

- Japan's two-mask pledge ridiculed online -

A pledge by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to send two reusable cloth face masks to every household as the country battles the coronavirus outbreak has been met online with derision and humour.

Within hours of the announcement, the hashtag "Abenomasks", a play on the prime minister's signature "Abenomics" economic policy, was trending on Japanese Twitter.