Asia Today: S. Korea counts 397 new cases as virus rebounds

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A couple wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus walks along on a nearly empty shopping street in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL – South Korea has added 397 new cases to its coronavirus caseload in a 10th day of triple-digit increases, as the speed of viral spread nears the levels last seen during the worst of the outbreak in spring.

The resurgence, which began in the densely populated capital area before spreading to practically every major city and provincial town over the past week, is a major setback for the country that had been eager to tout its hard-won gains against the virus.

After avoiding stringent social distancing measures because of concerns over hurting the economy, officials have now banned large gatherings, closed nightspots, beaches and churches and removed fans from professional sports.

Sunday’s jump in infections marked the third consecutive day they've crossed 300. Most of the new cases come from the Seoul area, home to half of the country’s 51 million population where health workers have struggled to trace contacts tied to places likes churches, schools, restaurants and work.

Cases were also reported in other major cities such as Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon and Daegu, the epicenter of the previous major outbreak in late February and March.

The country managed to stabilize the situation in the Daegu area by April through aggressive testing and contact tracing. That approach worked because much of the infections had been tied to a single church congregation with thousands of members.

But it’s unclear the formula would be as effective now, with the virus spreading nationwide and new clusters popping up from unpredictable places and groups as people increasingly venture out in public.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India’s coronavirus caseload topped 3 million on Sunday, with the country leading the world in new infections as the disease marched through impoverished rural areas in the north and the wealthier but older populations of the south. Health authorities reported 69,239 new cases and 912 deaths, bringing the total to 3,044,940. Cases have leveled off in India’s two largest cities, with serological surveys showing widespread prevalence among the residents of the capital, New Delhi, and financial center Mumbai. New hot spots continue to feed surges in cases in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states in India’s north, and in the southern states of Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. India has the third-highest caseload after the United States and Brazil, and its 56,706 fatalities are the fourth-highest in the world.

— New cases of COVID-19 in Australia’s Victoria state ticked over 200 for the first time in three days with 17 deaths. Victoria reported 208 new cases Sunday. The latest fatalities took Australia’s national toll to 502 and Victoria’s to 415. Victoria Chief Health Officer Professor Peter Sutton said the overall trend in the state is positive. “Next week, if we carry on like this, we’ll see numbers below 150,” he said. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said more than 20,000 people were tested Saturday despite it being Melbourne’s wettest August day in 20 years. Melbourne residents have been told they will have to wear masks in public, even when strict lockdown regulations are eased next month. Sutton said the mask mandate would not be lifted until community transmission has been eradicated. Queensland state recorded two new cases Sunday, including a baby boy. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the boy, whose age and other details have not been released, is doing "very well.” The baby is a family member of one of the cases linked to the outbreak at the Brisbane Youth Detention Center, where six were confirmed infected. Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, reported four new cases Sunday. Australia’s central bank expects the national accounts, to be released on Sept. 2, will show the nation has suffered its first recession in nearly 30 years with two quarters of negative growth. The Reserve Bank expects the economy to have contracted about 7% in the June quarter.

— China on Sunday reported 12 new confirmed coronavirus cases and no additional deaths. The National Health Commission said 422 patients were being treated, including 16 in critical condition. The death toll in China, where the outbreak began in December, stands at 4,634.


This story corrects the number of new cases in India.


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