Asia Today: Cases still rise in SKorea, improve in Victoria

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 323 new cases of the coronavirus as health officials prepare to tighten distancing restrictions in the greater capital area.

The 16th consecutive day of triple-digit jumps brought the national caseload to 19,400. Fatalities reached 321 after five more deaths overnight.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday that 249 of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of the country’s 51 million people live. Health workers have struggled to track infections linked to churches, restaurants, schools and apartment buildings.

The country has added 4,630 cases over the last 16 days, raising fears about overwhelming hospitals.

For eight days starting Sunday, restaurants will provide only deliveries and takeouts after 9 p.m. Franchised coffee shops like Starbucks will sell only takeout drinks and food while gyms and after-school academies will be shut to slow the viral spread.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— The Australian state of Victoria has reported 18 more COVID-19 deaths and 94 new cases -- the first time in almost two months that new infections have dropped below 100. The deaths take the state toll to 514 and the Australian COVID-19 death total to 601. Since Monday there have been no more than 150 new daily cases in Victoria, adding to speculation about an easing of lockdown restrictions across Melbourne, which include a daily 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. But state Premier Daniel Andrews says it is too soon to dramatically relax the rules. “It will have to be gradual and steady because we’ve all got to be really careful to make sure nothing we do makes it more likely that we find ourselves back here at exactly this place,” Andrews said. “We want to defeat the second wave ... that means we can avoid a third wave.”

— China’s government on Saturday reported nine new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, all in patients who are believed to have been infected abroad. The National Health Commission has tallied 85,022 cases since the start of the pandemic and 4,634 deaths. China also recorded 10 new cases of people who tested positive but have no COVID-19 symptoms. Such asymptomatic cases are not included in the nation’s total case count.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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