Asia Today: S. Korea reports 279 cases, highest in 5 months
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 279 new coronavirus cases in the highest daily jump since early March, as fears grow about a massive outbreak in the greater capital region.
The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sunday brought the national caseload to 15,318, including 305 deaths.
The number of new cases is the highest since 367 on March 8, when the country was concentrating public health tools and personnel nationwide to bring an outbreak in the less populated southern region under control.
The KCDC said 253 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to 26 million people, where health authorities have been struggling to stem transmissions linked to churches, nursing homes, schools, restaurants and door-to-door salespeople.
Infections were also reported in other major cities such as Busan and Daegu, which was the epicenter of the previous crisis in late February and March when hundreds of new cases were reported each day.
The COVID-19 resurgence in a region with 10 times more people than Daegu is a rude awakening for a country that has been eager to tout its hard-won gains against the virus.
There are concerns that the spread could worsen after thousands of anti-government protesters rallied in Seoul on Saturday despite official pleas to stay home. It appears the protests organized by conservative activist and church groups mainly involved people over 60, who are considered at higher risk for complications linked to COVID-19.
After resisting calls to strengthen social distancing for months over concerns about further hurting the economy, the government of President Moon Jae-in announced stronger measures for the Seoul area.
The two-week measures beginning Sunday advise high-risk facilities like nightclubs, karaoke bars, gyms and buffet restaurants to close or otherwise enforce distancing, temperature checks, keeping customer lists and mask wearing.
Fans are banned once again from professional baseball and soccer games, which had just begun to slowly bring back spectators in late July.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Australia’s Victoria state on Sunday reported 16 deaths from COVID-19 and 279 new infections, continuing a downward trend over the past week. State Premier Daniel Andrews says the latest deaths included people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, 11 of whom in aged care. Andrews says he feels “cautious optimism” that the strict lockdown in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, and in rural Victoria is flattening the curve. He says the numbers are heading in the right direction. “I am and always was very cautious but there is on my part at least a cautious optimism and a sense of real hope that this strategy is working and that we are seeing numbers fall now."
— Health authorities reported 13 new cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand on Sunday, including 12 linked to an outbreak in the city of Auckland and one returning traveler who was already in quarantine. The outbreak in Auckland, discovered Tuesday, has prompted officials to put the nation’s largest city back into a two-week lockdown. The outbreak has now grown to 49 infections, with authorities saying they believe all the cases are all connected, giving them hope the virus isn’t spreading beyond that cluster. New Zealand had gone 102 days without community spread of the disease before the latest outbreak. Officials believe the virus was reintroduced to New Zealand from abroad but haven’t yet been able to figure out how it happened.
— China reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 in the latest 24-hour period, bringing its official total to 84,827 since the pandemic started. Four cases were in the far west Xinjiang region, where a now-waning outbreak has infected more than 800 people over the past month. The other 15 were people who had arrived from overseas. China has seen a small uptick in such imported cases, reporting 144 in the past week.
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