Asia Today: Surf's up, coffee's ready as New Zealand reopens

BANGKOK (AP) — Surfers greeted a spectacular sunrise in Christchurch, construction workers purchased their favorite espresso coffees and some lawmakers returned to Parliament in New Zealand's capital, Wellington, on Tuesday as some aspects of life began returning to normal.

The country had been in a strict lockdown for over a month to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but those conditions were eased a little on Tuesday to allow some parts of the economy to restart as new infections wane.

Among those places to reopen were construction sites, as well as cafes and restaurants that sell takeaway coffees and food. People are still required to maintain social distancing and work from home if they can.

New Zealand recorded three new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing its confirmed total to 1,472, including 19 deaths.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— HUNDREDS HIT THE BEACH: Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach reopened to swimmers and surfers on Tuesday despite the local area having Australia’s highest concentration of COVID-19 cases. People can only enter during daylight hours, cannot linger on the sand and are counted to ensure social distancing. Hundreds braved cool autumn weather to return to the water soon after the gates opened. A virus testing tent is nearby due to the high rate of infections, particularly among backpackers who often live in crowded conditions. The municipality that includes Bondi says it continues to have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Australia.

— VACCINE NEEDED BEFORE OLYMPICS: The head of Japan’s medical association said it will be difficult to hold the Olympics without coronavirus vaccines. “I hope vaccines and drugs will be developed as soon as possible," Japan Medical Association President Yoshitake Yokokura told a video news conference in Tokyo. The Tokyo 2020 Games have been rescheduled to July next year. Experts have said it could take a couple of years or longer to develop vaccines that are safe and effective for clinical use.

— S. KOREA URGES COOPERATION WITH N. KOREA: South Korea has repeated calls for joint efforts with North Korea to fight the coronavirus. A South Korean presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing protocol, said Tuesday that Seoul doesn’t expect possible efforts to clash with sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said earlier that joint anti-virus efforts could provide a “new opportunity” for inter-Korean engagement. But the North has ignored the calls, saying there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, a claim that is questioned by many outside experts. — AP writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul

— JAPAN TO APPROVE ANTIVIRAL DRUG: Japan said it will approve remdecivir, a closely watched antiviral drug made by Gillead Sciences Inc., for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the country. The drug is expected to be the first approved COVID-19 drug in Japan. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday that Japan has been part of multinational testing of remdecivir and that it was moving ahead overseas. Japan has a fast-track permit for emergency use of drugs approved overseas. Remdecivir was originally developed to treat Ebola and has been also used for SARS and MERS, but is still under investigation for COVID-19.

— SOUTH KOREA SHIFTING FOCUS: South Korea reported 14 new cases and one more death, bringing its totals to 10,752 cases and 244 fatalities. Its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said four of the fresh cases were from Seoul and two from hardest-hit Daegu. With its caseload slowing, South Korea has shifted its focus to easing the economic shock. President Moon Jae-in said the pandemic has hurt major industries including airlines, marine transport and shipbuilding while calling for “all-out efforts” to protect companies and jobs.

— CHINA STATS DROP: The Chinese city of Wuhan, which was the original epicenter of the pandemic, again reported no new coronavirus cases or deaths Tuesday and its hospitals remained empty of virus patients for a second straight day. China's six new cases were three imported from overseas and three in Heilongjiang province bordering Russia. No new deaths were reported nationwide and just 648 current confirmed cases remained registered. China has reported 4,633 deaths among 82,836 cases.

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