70ºF

Asia Today: S. Korea sees biggest jump in cases since August

SEOUL – South Korea has recorded its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections in nearly three months as it gets set to tighten social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 313 new cases on Wednesday, raising the country’s total to 29,311, including 496 deaths.

It’s the first time the country's daily caseload exceeded 300 since late August.

South Korea is struggling to contain a spike in new infections since it eased its stringent social distancing rules last month. The new cases are tied to hospitals, nursing homes, churches, schools, offices and family gatherings.

Local health authorities said Tuesday that they would tighten distancing restrictions in the densely populated Seoul area and some parts of eastern Gangwon province. Those areas are at the center of the recent spikes.

Under the new rules, which come into effect Thursday for two weeks in those areas, gatherings of more than 100 people during rallies, festivals and concerts will be prohibited. They will also require people to sit at least one seat apart from each other in theaters, concert halls and libraries while limiting audiences at sporting events to 30% of the stadium’s capacity.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Authorities in Tokyo have announced nearly 500 new cases of the coronavirus, the biggest daily increase in the Japanese capital since the pandemic began, amid a nationwide spike in infections and as the country discusses with Olympic officials how to safely host next summer’s games. The Tokyo metropolitan government reported 493 new cases on Wednesday, surpassing the city’s previous high of 472 recorded on Aug. 1, during the peak of Japan’s earlier wave of infections. The record number of new cases came as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach ended his visit to Japan to discuss with Japanese Olympic officials how to safely host the games, which were postponed until next July due to the pandemic. Japan has seen a steady climb in new cases nationwide in recent weeks, and experts have urged officials to step up preventive measures. Japan has confirmed 120,815 cases overall, including 1,913 deaths, according to the health ministry.

— The Australian state that includes the city of Adelaide will go into a six-day lockdown starting at midnight Wednesday, with schools, universities, bars and cafes closed. Only one person from each household in South Australia will be allowed to leave home each day, and only for specific reasons. Officials announced the move on Wednesday after a cluster of new cases grew to 22. State Premier Steven Marshall says he believes the lockdown will act as a “circuit-breaker” and reduce the risk of the outbreak spreading further. Health authorities say they believe a worker at an Adelaide hotel where people arriving from abroad are being quarantined caught the virus and then infected other family members. The restrictions also require most factories to close, aged-care facilities to go into lockdown, and weddings and funerals to be put on hold. Outdoor exercise will be banned, and wearing masks will be mandatory.

— China reported one new local coronavirus infection on Wednesday as the country increasingly focuses on the possibility the virus might be spread on frozen food packaging. The National Health Commission said the new case was detected in the northern port city of Tianjin just east of Beijing. The confirmed case, along with another person who tested positive without showing symptoms, were both previously quarantined under suspicion of having the virus. Another seven cases were brought from outside the country, the commission reported, raising China’s total to 86,369 with 4,634 deaths since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Authorities in several cities and provinces have reported detecting the virus on packaging of frozen seafood and meat imported from countries ranging from Germany to India.

— India’s coronavirus caseload is holding steady, but a surge amid the festival season continues to trouble the capital, where more than 6,000 new cases were confirmed. India reported a total of 38,617 new infections on Wednesday. The country's daily caseload has been less than 50,000 for the past 11 days. But Delhi reported 6,396 new cases. Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the next two weeks in the post-Diwali festival season will be important in determining which way the virus will go. Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, said he has sought the federal government’s permission to shut down for a few days some markets that turned into hotspots during the festival season. India has confirmed more than 8.9 million cases overall, second in the world behind the U.S. It has recorded 130,993 deaths from the coronavirus.

— Authorities in Sri Lanka say they are using drones to monitor areas under lockdown in the capital and its suburbs and have arrested 117 people who gathered outside their homes. Sri Lanka is experiencing a renewed outbreak of the virus since last month and many parts of Colombo and its suburbs have been under curfew or lockdown for several weeks. People in lockdown areas have been ordered to stay at home and not to gather outside. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said police and the air force have conducted “special drone operations” to track down people who are violating the restrictions. Those arrested can face six month in prison and a fine of $54. Rohana said police began using drones because people quickly disperse when they hear police vehicles and then gather again after the vehicles leave the area. The new outbreak originated from two clusters, one centered at a garment factory and the other at a fish market. Confirmed cases from the two clusters have reached 14,567. Sri Lanka’s has reported a total of 18,705 cases, including 66 fatalities.

— Malaysia’s king has agreed to declare an emergency in a coronavirus-hit rural constituency on Borneo island in a bid to halt a by-election scheduled next month. Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said the Dec. 5 by-election in Sabah state, called because of the death of a federal lawmaker, should be postponed to protect lives amid a sharp surge in coronavirus cases. The monarch said in a statement issued by the palace that he consented to a government proposal for the emergency declaration. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the emergency is intended to halt the by-election and will not affect daily lives. Malaysia has struggled to contain a new surge in coronavirus cases linked to a Sept. 26 statewide election in Sabah. Muhyiddin said virus cases in Sabah alone have swelled from 1,547 on Sept. 26 to 24,269 now, accounting for nearly half of the country’s 50,390 cases. He said about a quarter of voters in the constituency are above age 60, raising the risk. Muhyiddin said the by-election will be postponed until the pandemic eases.