BANGKOK – South Korea reported 23 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, mostly from the densely populated Seoul area where authorities shut down thousands of nightclubs, bars and karaoke rooms to stem transmissions.
Meanwhile, China, where the pandemic began late last year, reported no new confirmed cases for the first time since it began announcing infections in January.
South Korea has now confirmed 11,165 cases, including 266 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Thirteen of the new cases came from Gyeonggi province surrounding Seoul, which on Saturday ordered the closure of an additional 2,629 bars and karaoke rooms, bringing the number of shut entertainment venues to 8,363.
South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March before using aggressive tracing and testing to stabilize its outbreak. But there’s growing concern over the steady rise of infections in the greater capital area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. It came after health authorities relaxed social distancing guidelines and allowed a phased reopening of schools, starting with high school seniors on Wednesday.
More than 200 of the recent infections have been linked to club-goers in the Seoul metropolitan area.
At least 1,204 cases have been traced to international arrivals, although such infections have slowed after the country strengthened border controls in April, enforcing two-week quarantines on all overseas passengers.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— NO NEW CASES IN CHINA: China reported no new confirmed infections or deaths and only two suspected cases in last the 24 hours. That added to evidence that the country has largely overcome the epidemic that began in the central industrial city of Wuhan. The National Health Commission said 79 patients were still being treated as of Friday. Some 376 others are in isolation and being monitored as either suspected cases or for testing positive without showing symptoms. China has reported a total of 82,971 cases, including 4,634 deaths.
— INDIA CASES TOP 6,000 AGAIN: New cases of the coronavirus in India topped 6,000 for a second consecutive day, marking another record jump for the country in a 24-hour period. India reported 6,654 new cases on Saturday, bringing the nationwide total to 125,102, including 3,720 deaths. The rate of infection in the country of 1.3 billion has risen as a two-month lockdown that has crippled the economy has started to ease. States with relatively few cases have seen spikes in recent days with increased mobility and as residents, including migrant workers traveling on special trains, have returned home. Authorities in the northeastern border state of Assam introduced on Saturday criminal charges for quarantine violators after more than 100 people in state quarantine facilities tested positive for the virus.
— NEARLY 1,000 NEW CASES IN INDONESIA: Indonesia announced 949 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, bringing its total to 21,745 cases, including 1,351 deaths. East Java province had the highest spike, with 466 new cases, raising its total to 3,595. East Java Gov. Khofifah Indar Parawansa said that the number of infected people in the province who show no symptoms has increased, and that the virus is spreading rapidly there. She urged people not to come to East Java to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan and which starts Sunday.
— SRI LANKA TO EASE CURFEW: Sri Lanka announced that it will ease curfew restrictions starting Tuesday. The curfew will be in effect throughout the island nation from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., according to a statement Saturday from the president’s office. The two hardest-hit areas — the capital, Colombo, and Gampaha district — have been under a 24-hour curfew since March, with residents allowed to leave home once a week. In the rest of the island nation, the curfew has been in force from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. on working days and all day long on other days. Sri Lanka has reported 1,085 coronavirus cases, including nine deaths.
— JAPAN NIGHTCLUBS GET COVID INSTRUCTIONS: The Japanese association representing workers at nightclubs and hostess bars is instructing people to wear masks and disinfect doorknobs and tables every 30 minutes. The guidelines said karaoke microphones must be cleaned after each use, and workers should wash their hands and gargle every 30 minutes. A customer and worker can sit together, but one empty seat must be kept in between another customer. Visitors from abroad who didn’t undergo a 14-day quarantine will be refused at the door. More than a million women are estimated to work at cabarets, with more at the cheaper places. Their income has plunged amid the outbreak, as major companies instruct employees to work from home. The government’s stay-home request has been lifted in much of Japan but remains in Tokyo. Japan has more than 16,500 confirmed virus cases, including 796 deaths.
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