Asia Today: Governor of hotspot Thai province infected

BANGKOK (AP) — The governor of a province at the center of an expanding COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand has been confirmed infected with the coronavirus after meeting with public health officials including the deputy prime minister.

The meeting Sunday attended by the Samut Sakhon governor, Deputy PM Anutin Charnvirakul and others was considered a low risk of spreading the virus because everyone wore masks, said Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyotin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 response center.

The governor, Weerasak Wijitsaengsri, did not have symptoms but would be treated at a hospital, Taweesilp said.

Anutin, who is also Thailand's public health minister, wrote on Facebook that he has tested negative for the virus and is isolating at home for 14 days.

Thailand reported 144 new cases Monday, most of them locally transmitted, and its total has reached 6,285.

The Southeast Asian country had virtually no cases beyond quarantined travelers for months, but its totals have surged since an outbreak among migrant workers at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon was detected in mid-December.

The province was put under lockdown on Dec. 19. Confirmed cases related to the seafood market have been found in 43 other provinces, including the capital, Bangkok.

Taweesilp said every province has to work hard to control the virus situation and the number of new infections could reach the thousands daily if nothing was done to prevent the spread. "The best way is to avoid travelling and meetings.”

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— Authorities have banned New Year’s Eve revelers from congregating in Sydney’s downtown harborside to see the celebrated fireworks due to the pandemic risk. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday people who live in the city center can invite up to 10 guests to their homes to celebrate. The guests will have to apply for permits to enter the area. Australia’s largest city recorded five new cases of COVID-19 connected to a cluster in the northern beaches region, bringing the total to 126 infections since Dec. 10. Around 1 million people usually congregate on the harbor foreshore to see the annual fireworks that center on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

— Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he plans to submit legislation that will make coronavirus measures legally binding for businesses, punish violators and include economic compensation as his government struggles to slow the ongoing upsurge. Japan had a state of emergency in April and May with non-binding requests for people to stay home and business to close, but people have complacent about the pandemic and store owners have become less cooperative due to the economic impact. Suga said experts are discussing the legislation to make coronavirus more effectively enforced and hoped to submit the bill for parliamentary approval “as soon as possible” next year.

— South Korea has confirmed its first cases of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday the cases are a family of three people who came to South Korea on Dec. 22. They arrived a day before South Korea halted air travel from Britain until Dec. 31 to guard against the new version of the virus. The three people, who reside in the U.K., are under quarantine in South Korea. South Korea on Monday registered 808 new coronavirus cases, raising its national caseload to 57,680 with 819 deaths.

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