Asia Today: New Zealand to maintain current restrictions

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Friday that New Zealand would keep its current coronavirus restrictions in place until at least mid-September as a precaution.

Authorities had earlier lifted a lockdown in the city of Auckland following an outbreak there that began last month, but they continue to limit gathering sizes across the country and mandate that people wear masks on public transport.

“As with last time, a cautious approach is the best long-term strategy to get our economy open and freedoms back faster in the long term,” Ardern said.

New Zealand reported five new virus cases Friday, two among returning travelers already in quarantine and three connected to the Auckland outbreak.

Ardern also said she’d recently been talking with other world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, about the danger of people experiencing “lockdown fatigue.”

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Australian authorities on Friday added 53 historic virus deaths from aged-care homes and six new deaths to their tally, bringing the total number of virus deaths to 737. Victoria state officials said they’d been reconciling numbers from July and August. An outbreak in the city of Melbourne has raced through dozens of aged-care homes, resulting in hundreds of deaths. The outbreak appears to be slowly waning, with Victoria officials reporting 81 new cases on Friday. “This is the stubborn tail of the epidemic curve,” said Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer. Meanwhile authorities in New South Wales, home to the largest city Sydney, reported eight new cases.

— An independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization to review its coordination of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will have full access to any internal U.N. agency documents, materials and emails necessary. The panel’s co-chairs are, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. They announced the 11 other members on Thursday. They include Dr. Joanne Liu, who was an outspoken WHO critic during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Also named to the panel are a Chinese doctor who was the first to publicly confirm human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus. Clark said she and Sirleaf Johnson chose the panel members independently without any WHO influence.

— The number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea has stayed below 200 for the second consecutive day amid toughened social distancing rules. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday it has confirmed 198 additional cases over the past 24 hours The agency says 189 of the new cases were locally infected patients, about 70% of them in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area. South Korea has seen an uptick in infections since early last month, mostly linked to churches, restaurants, schools and fitness centers in the Seoul area. Authorities in the Seoul area have recently restricted dining at restaurants and ordered the shutdown of churches, night establishments and after-school academies.

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