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Asia Today: Philippine capital's virus lockdown being eased

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to ease a mild lockdown in the capital and four outlying provinces to further reopen the country’s battered economy despite having the most coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia.

Duterte would allow most businesses, including shopping malls and dine-in restaurants, and Roman Catholic church services to partially resume on Wednesday with restrictions, including masks and social distancing.

Duterte shifted metropolitan Manila and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, a region of about 25 million people, back to a mild lockdown two weeks ago after leading groups of doctors warned hospitals were being overwhelmed again by COVID-19 patients and pleaded for a “time out.” They also asked the government to recalibrate its response to the pandemic.

The Philippines has reported more than 164,000 virus cases, including 2,681 deaths.

Duterte’s administration has been under intense pressure to revive the economy, which fell into a recession in the second quarter as millions of people lost their jobs.

Duterte, 75, used his televised appearance to deny rumors that he has fallen ill and was flown out of the country over the weekend for treatment. “Stop this nonsense about me going to Singapore,” he said.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— South Korea reported 246 new cases as the virus continues to spread in the greater capital area where churches have emerged as major clusters. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 959 cases have been reported in five days. A northern Seoul church led by a bitter critic of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has emerged as a major cluster of infections, with health workers detecting more than 300 infections linked to its members. The pastor, Jun Kwang-hun, was hospitalized after testing positive on Monday. KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong raised concern that the number of virus carriers could be higher because some church members and protesters were refusing to come forward for testing.

— Australia’s coronavirus hot spot Victoria state on Tuesday reported its lowest tally of new infections in a month. Victoria’s Health Department reported 222 new cases, the lowest daily tally since 217 were recorded on July 18. The state also reported 17 deaths following a daily record of 25 fatalities on Monday. Infections have been trending down after a second lockdown came into force in the state capital Melbourne in early August that included a curfew and mandatory mask-wearing.

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