Asia Today: India's cases spike with Chennai market cluster

By Associated Press 06 May 2020, 12:00AM

NEW DELHI (AP) — Health officials are rushing to contain the spread of the coronavirus in India's southern city of Chennai, where a large cluster has been identified among people at one of the country’s largest markets for fruit, vegetables and flowers.

The busy Koyambedu market, with 500 shops spread over 250 acres, is central to the food supply chain in Tamil Nadu and neighboring states. It had remained open through India’s nationwide lockdown, and hundreds of traders visited regularly until the market was shut on Monday after the viral cluster was detected.

Some 7,000 people connected to the market were being traced and quarantined, J. Radhakrishnan, the nodal officer for COVID-19 in Chennai told The Associated Press late Tuesday.

A list of those potentially infected was shared with other districts since many people exposed to the virus had returned to their homes in different districts in the region, Radhakrishnan said. “Most of them have been quarantined,” he said.

Chennai now has 2,008 cases, with 545 of them detected in two days. Tamil Nadu has confirmed 4,058 cases and many of its fresh cases were linked to the market, the state government said in a statement.

Radhakrishnan said the government was “aggressively testing” to try and ensure that customers, whose visits to the market had not been tracked by the public health machinery, would also be identified.

The market cluster contributed to India's biggest single-day increase in virus infections yet, 3,900 cases and 195 deaths from COVID-19. Those figures reported Tuesday brought India’s totals to over 46,700 cases in all and 1,583 dead. The health ministry attributed the spike to reporting delays by state governments, but experts remain worried.

They credit the strict, six-week lockdown with giving India time to prepare hospitals, equipment and personnel and to ramp up testing, but they still wonder if it will be enough to avert catastrophe in a country with limited medical care and vast poor among its 1.3 billion people.

The government eased the lockdown on Monday, allowing some movement and business to resume in areas less affected by the virus while maintaining strict measures in hard-hit areas like New Delhi and Mumbai.

The surge of people gathering at reopened liquor shops prompted authorities in Mumbai to close them since police had difficulty controlling the crowds. The city, India's financial capital, has been the worst hit by the virus, with more than 400 cases reported daily and a total of around 10,000 people infected and 387 dead.

In India's capital, New Delhi, authorities imposed a special tax of 70% on liquor purchases to dissuade crowds and raise revenue.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— INDONESIAN ELECTIONS DELAYED: The coronavirus has delayed Indonesian regional elections being decided by more than 100 million voters. President Joko Widodo signed a regulation that would move the elections from September to December or later depending on the pandemic situation, the State Secretariat website said. The vote would elect 9 governors, 37 mayors and 224 district chiefs across the archipelago. The General Election Commission already had delayed election preparations because organizers have become ill with COVID-19. The election authority said postponement was the most viable option to prevent the further spread of the virus to rural areas. Indonesia has confirmed 12,071 cases and 872 deaths.

— AUSTRALIAN CASES SPIKE: Australia recorded 26 new virus cases overnight mainly due to clusters at a Sydney nursing home and a Melbourne abattoir. Deputy Chief medical Officer Paul Kelly said the daily increase was larger than had been usual in recent weeks but he is confident health authorities are quickly getting on top of the clusters. Sixteen deaths are connected to Newmarch House in Sydney. There have been 49 infections linked to Cedar Meats in Melbourne, but no fatalities. The Australian government plans to announce on Friday a relaxation of lockdown rules to get more people back to work. Australia had recorded 6,875 cases and 97 fatalities in a population of 25.5 million.

— LOW SOUTH KOREAN CASES: South Korea reported no fresh cases in cities and towns Wednesday, with its only two new cases detected in airport screenings. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's update brought national totals to 10,806 infections and 255 deaths. With few local cases recently, the country is relaxing social distancing and preparing to reopen schoolsstarting next week. Imported cases have declined as authorities stepped up border controls, such as quarantining all arrivals. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said preventing an overwhelming of hospitals in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area would be key to prevention of a second wave of infections.

— SHANGHAI DISNEY PARK REOPENING: The Disneyland theme park in Shanghai will reopen May 11. Visits will be limited initially and must be booked in advance, and the company said it will increase cleaning and require social distancing in lines for the various attractions. With warmer weather and new virus cases and deaths falling to near-zero, China has been reopening tourist sites such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City palace complex in Beijing. Just two new cases and no deaths were reported Wednesday. China has recorded 4,633 deaths from COVID-19 among 82,883 cases of infection.

By Associated Press 06 May 2020, 12:00AM

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