Asia Today: S. Korea has highest daily increase since March

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 297 new cases of the coronavirus, its biggest daily rise since early March, as the country began restricting gatherings in the greater capital area amid fears that transmissions are getting out of control.

The figures released by the South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 16,058, including 306 deaths. It was the sixth straight day the country reported daily increases in triple digits, with most of the cases coming from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health workers have struggled to contain transmissions linked to various sources, including churches, restaurants and workers.

Desperate to prevent the outbreak in the capital area from exploding into a nationwide crisis, officials have enforced stronger social distancing restrictions for Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province and Incheon starting Wednesday, which prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

Nightclubs, karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants, computer gaming cafes and other “high-risk” facilities will be shut, while churches will be required to entirely conduct their worship services online.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Authorities imposed a one-week lockdown in Nepal’s capital and surrounding districts Wednesday after a surge in coronavirus cases. People are prohibited from leaving their homes, offices and businesses are closed and traffic halted except for essential and emergency movement. All outdoor religious activities and ceremonies are also not allowed. Violators face one month in jail and 500 rupees ($4) in fine. Nepal's 1,016 cases recorded Tuesday was its highest daily spike. Kathmandu had 205 of the new cases. A national lockdown imposed in March lasted for 120 days before being lifted last month. The country has confirmed 28,257 cases and 114 deaths from coronavirus.

— Australia has a deal to manufacture and distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. “Under the deal, every single Australian will be able to receive the University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for free, should trials prove successful, safe and effective,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement. “If this vaccine proves successful, we will manufacture and supply vaccines straight away under our own steam and make it free for 25 million Australians,” he said. The deal came as Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state announced its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in more than five weeks. The Victoria’s Health Department on Wednesday said 216 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths were reported in the latest 24-hour period.

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