Asia Today: Speed of viral spread causes concern in S. Korea

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

People wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus watch Christmas decorations at a store in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. South Korea's daily virus tally hovered above 500 for the second straight day, as the country's prime minister urged the public to stay home this weekend to contain a viral resurgence. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL – South Korea reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases for the third straight day on Saturday, the fastest spread of infections the country has seen since the early days of the pandemic.

The 504 cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention brought the total number of infections since the pandemic began to 33,375, including 522 deaths.

Around 330 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of the country’s 51 million people, where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions linked to hospitals, schools, saunas, gyms and army units.

Infections were also reported in other major cities including Daegu, which was the epicenter of the country’s previous major outbreak in late February and March.

The recent spike in infections came after the government eased social distancing restrictions to the lowest levels in October to support a weak economy, allowing high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bars to reopen and spectators to return to sports.

Officials reimposed some of the restrictions this week and could be forced to clamp down on economic activities further if transmissions don’t slow.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Health authorities in northern Thailand have traced and tested more than 300 people who were in contact with a Thai women who returned from Myanmar and tested positive for the coronavirus after somehow avoiding a mandatory quarantine. The director-general of the Department of Disease Control said Saturday it was the 10th case in the last two months where it could not be ascertained with certainty where the patient caught the virus. The 29-year-old woman had been in Myanmar for a month during a coronavirus surge before entering Thailand on Nov. 24. She then spent three days in Chiang Mai, including visits to a nightclub and department store, before going to a hospital. Health officials traced and tested 326 people who had been in contact with her and quarantined the 105 judged most at risk. Thailand since January has had 3,966 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 60 deaths.