Asia Today: Seoul area curbing public gatherings

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A medical worker wearing protective gears prepares to take sample in the sub-zero temperatures at a coronavirus testing site in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

MELBOURNE – Gatherings of more than five people will be banned in South Korea’s capital region as an elevated step to suppress what authorities call an “explosive” surge in coronavirus infections.

The Seoul region is home to half of South Korea’s 51 million people and has been at the center of a recent viral resurgence. The country averaged about 960 new virus cases each day in the past week, more than 70% of them in the Seoul metropolitan area.

Acting Seoul mayor Seo Jung-hyup said Monday the ban will apply to any type of meetings including year-end parties, office dinners, birthday parties and picnics. Only weddings and funerals can follow the current rule of not more than 50 people.

He says the new restrictions will take effect from Wednesday and last until Jan. 3 in Seoul, Gyeonggi province that surrounds Seoul and Incheon city, just west of Seoul.

Seo says he knows the ban is “harsh” but stresses the current viral spread cannot be slowed without preventing transmissions among relatives and company colleagues. He says Seoul could face a lockdown if the current “explosive” surge isn’t contained.

Earlier Monday, South Korea has reported 24 more virus-related deaths in the country’s highest daily fatalities since the pandemic began. The government added a total of 926 new cases, taking the country’s total to 50,591 including 698 deaths.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has asked all residents to celebrate Christmas and New Year's at home just with their families. Daily coronavirus cases have been steadily on the rise across Japan, with Tokyo hitting a new daily high at 822 on Friday. On Monday, the capital reported 392 new cases for a prefectural total of 51,838. “Christmas and New Year's holidays are coming up, but this year I would like everyone to put life before anything else,” Koike told a special news conference, “Please spend the holiday season just with your family and stay home.” Koike said organizers of Tokyo’s Christmas illumination events have agreed to close at 8 p.m. every night, and subway companies will not operate overnight trains on New Year’s Eve to discourage people from gathering for annual countdown events. City-operated parks and zoos will also be closed until Jan. 11.