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COVID-19: Romania To Extend State Of Emergency; Russian Cases Jump

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A view of beds in one of Iran's largest shopping malls, which has been turned into a center to receive patients suffering from the coronavirus, in Tehran

The global death toll is nearing 70,000 with almost 1.3 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

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

Romania

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis says he intends to extend the country's state of emergency by another 30 days as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the country exceeded 4,000.

"We need to do this again. It's an absolute necessity. People should understand that without this measure, the virus cannot be stopped," Iohannis announced in a live video address on April 6.

Romania has been under a state of emergency since March 16, and Iohannis said he will issue a decree next week prolonging the measure until May 16.

The day-to-day number of confirmed COVID-19 cases went up by 196 on April 6 to 4,057, the government crisis group announced, while 11 more fatalities brought the total death toll to 162.

Some 627 Romanians have been infected abroad and at least 26 died -- most of them in Italy, as well as in France, Spain, and Germany.

More than 4 million Romanians work in Western Europe, and hundreds of thousands have returned since the start of the outbreak there despite the government's repeated appeals that they delay coming home for the Orthodox Easter holiday.

Six Romanian counties, including Suceava, the current epicenter of the outbreak in Romania, have imposed the mandatory wearing of face coverings with fines of more than $100 for those who violate the measure.

More than 100,000 people have been placed in self-isolation, while almost 24,000 are under quarantine -- most of them having returned from abroad.

Tensions have risen in the southern Romanian town of Tandarei, which has been placed under army lockdown after those who had returned from abroad ignored self-quarantine orders and came into conflict with riot police.

Many of the town's 13,000 inhabitants are ethnic Roma who had migrated to the West but returned after the start of the pandemic.

Russia

Russia's tally of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped sharply, as regional authorities struggled to enforce restrictive lockdown measures across the sprawling country.

Nearly 1,000 new confirmed cases were announced April 6 by the government's main coronavirus task force, along with 47 confirmed deaths from the disease.

The rise amounted to an 11 percent jump, which was a lower increase than in past days, bringing the official number of infections to 6,343.

The official tally has been doubted by critics in Russia and abroad, who suspect the number is being undercounted by health authorities.

President Vladimir Putin has advised Russians to stay home for the rest of the month and only go outside when necessary. Among the restrictions was limiting people walking their dogs to just 100 meters from their homes.

Most of the country's nearly 90 regions have imposed lockdown measures, though it's unclear how rigorously they were being enforced, particularly in regions distant from Moscow.

Some regions, however, have gone further than others. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov last week announced that the southern region would close its borders entirely.

That drew a veiled rebuke from Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on April 6.

"The government's signals about the unacceptability of this were heard," Mishustin said. “I would like once again to address the leaders of the regions: do not confuse regional powers with federal [powers]."

Several hours later, Kadyrov responded, writing on social media that the region had not restricted the entry of transport or cargo.

Still, he said, Chechnya would not allow entry to anyone not registered as living there.

Putin himself has been working remotely since a doctor at one of Russia's leading infectious-disease hospitals, whom Putin met personally during a visit, tested positive for the coronavirus.

The government has also been working to repatriate Russian citizens who were stranded in recent weeks as governments shut down borders and enacted new travel restrictions.

On April 6, Russian officials said some international flights to repatriate citizens had resumed after having suspended all flights last week.

The government task force monitoring the outbreak said two flights carrying Russian nationals -- one from Kyrgyzstan and one from Bangladesh -- would take place on April 6.

The Foreign Ministry has said that 25,000 Russians abroad had appealed for help getting home.

Russia is temporarily halting passenger train service between its two largest cities and the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad as it tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

State-owned Russian Railroads will halt service from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad effective April 6, state media reported. The rail trips take 20 and 26 hours, respectively, and pass through Belarus and Lithuania.

Passenger train service will also be halted from the exclave to mainland Russia.

Russian Railroads did not say when service would be resumed.

Kaliningrad is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania with an opening to the Baltic Sea.

Iran

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the United States to ease sanctions on Iran’s economy and expand the licensing of sanctions-exempt items to ensure the country has access to essential humanitarian resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

HRW made the call on April 6 as Tehran, as well as several other countries, the United Nations, and some U.S. lawmakers voiced similar pleas to ease sanctions, which have cut off oil revenue and devastated the Iranian economy.

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U.S. President Donald Trump has offered Iran humanitarian assistance, but Iranian officials have rejected the offer, saying Washington should instead lift the “unjust” and “illegal” sanctions imposed after Washington unilaterally withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers in 2018.

The situation has added to the difficulty of dealing with the pandemic in one of the world's hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus. The outbreak has officially infected almost 60,000 people and killed over 3,600 in Iran, though many experts and critics of Tehran have said the actual figures may be much higher due to underreporting by officials.

“As the burden on the country’s debilitated health-care system has dramatically increased, the broad U.S. economic sanctions resulting in severe international banking restrictions have drastically constrained the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines and medical equipment,” HRW said in its statement.

Kenneth Roth, executive director at HRW, also criticized Iran’s “brutal, self-serving” government for refusing to release wrongfully detained people in crowded prisons despite the risk of the coronavirus,” but added that "it is wrong and callous for the [U.S.] administration to compound Iranians’ misery by depriving them of access to the critical medical resources they urgently need,” he added.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi reiterated Tehran’s message refusing U.S. aid on April 6, saying that "Iran has never asked and will not ask America to help Tehran in its fight against the outbreak."

Iranian authorities have been criticized for their slow initial response to the pandemic, and experts have been skeptical about the veracity of official figures released by the Iranian authorities, who keep a tight lid on local and foreign media.

On April 5, President Hassan Rohani announced that "low-risk economic activities" would resume starting April 11.

Rohani told officials at a televised meeting that two-thirds of government employees will return to working from their offices on the same date. He did not elaborate on what he meant by "low-risk activities."

Pakistan

Police in Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta have detained dozens of doctors and other medical personnel who were protesting the lack of proper equipment in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Personnel from the Quetta Civil Hospital and Bolan Medical College were marching toward the provincial government building on April 6 when they were stopped by officers and detained.

Pakistan Doctors Beaten, Arrested For Protest Over COVID-19 Protection
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Video from the operation shows some security forces beating the protesters during the police operation.

A police official was quoted as saying 30 demonstrators were arrested for defying a ban on public gatherings imposed during a lockdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

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The protesters said that 12 of their colleagues who were treating patients suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, had tested positive and that they would return to their duties only after the government provides them with personal protection equipment.

The government in Balochistan Province, of which Quetta is the capital, says hospitals in the province have been fully equipped with all of the necessary items needed to battle the outbreak.

Amnesty International’s South Asia section called for the immediate release of the detained health workers and said "police must stop using excessive force.”

“Their arrests in Balochistan today are an attack on their right to peaceful protest and an affront to the risks they face,” the watchdog said.

Pakistani authorities have almost 3,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, including 50 deaths.

Tajikistan

Tajik authorities say 13 people, including several health workers, have been ordered into quarantine after a patient at a rural hospital in the country’s north died from what officials said was pneumonia.

Health officials said that the group, which includes a top doctor at the Jabbor Rasulov hospital, had tested negative for COVID-19, as had the original patient whose relatives said fell ill after traveling to neighboring Kyrgyzstan for a wedding.

However, the confusion about conditions at Jabbor Rasulov hospital in Sughd Province added to mounting concern over the coronavirus situation in Tajikistan, one of the poorest countries in Central Asia.

Government authorities have said there are no registered cases in the nation, and last week, the in-country representative for the World Health Organization backed up that claim.

But Tajikistan’s health-care system is rickety and underfunded, and the country is surrounded by neighbors where coronavirus cases have been reported and increasing.

Tajikistan’s authoritarian government has also long suppressed independent media and nongovernmental civil-society groups. That’s only added to concern that authorities are either hiding the true scope of infections, or are unable to test widely in the population.

The 13 people were ordered into quarantine on April 5 and taken from the Jabbor Rasulov hospital to the Khujand regional infectious-disease facility.

Marufjon Hojiboev, the deputy head of the Sughd Provincial Health Department, told reporters on April 6 that the national laboratory in Dushanbe found negative results for COVID-19 among the 13 individuals.

Three of those under quarantine “had high fever that has since returned to normal,” Hojiboev said, and further tests would be conducted “as a routine procedure.”

Bibikhonum Darveszoda, a spokeswoman for the Tajik Health Ministry, told RFE/RL that all those put in quarantine were recovering and their lives are not in danger. She did not explain what exactly the group was recovering from, though one doctor at the Jabbor Rasulov hospital told RFE/RL that all reported fevers, and some had pain in their throats.

The patient, whose death on March 31 initially sparked concern, was identified as a 60-year-old man who lived in a village near the border with Kyrgyzstan.

Relatives of the man told RFE/RL that the man had attended a wedding in Kyrgyzstan sometime before March 21 and felt unwell after returning home to Tajikistan the same day.

Kyrgyzstan had 216 confirmed coronavirus infections as of April 6, according to official figures.

Deputy Tajik Health Minister Mirhamuddin Kamolzoda told RFE/RL that tests on the man who died were negative for the coronavirus. He added that the ministry was prepared to release those results publicly to allay any concerns.

Tajik officials came under criticism last month for celebrating Norouz, the Persian New Year, with parades and concerts, ignoring warnings by the World Health Organization against mass gatherings.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan says it is pardoning inmates older than 65 to slow the progress of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on the measure on April 6.

According to the decree, 176 inmates, including one Russian citizen, will be released in the coming days.

Aliyev also extended until at least April 20 the quarantine rules imposed late last month.

"The next steps will be taken in accordance with the situation," Aliyev said at the opening of a medical mask factory in Baku.

As of April 6, there were 641 coronavirus cases officially registered in Azerbaijan, including seven deaths and 44 patients who have recovered.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, Reuters, Interfax, TASS, RFE/RL's Romanian Service, digi24.ro, g4media.ro, hotnews.ro, and adevarul.ro
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