SEOUL – South Korea has reported 599 new coronavirus cases, the highest in 10 days, as health workers scramble to slow infections at religious facilities, which have been a major source throughout the pandemic.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 112 of the new cases came from the southwestern city of Gwangju, where more than 100 have so far been linked to a missionary training school. An affiliated facility in the central city of Daejeon has been linked to more than 170 infections.
The Seoul metropolitan area reported nearly 300 cases.
South Korea has repeatedly seen big clusters emerge from religious groups, including more than 5,000 linked to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus that drove a major outbreak last spring.
The figures released by the agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 76,429, including 1,378 deaths.
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Health officials in New Zealand say all the close contacts of a woman who caught the coronavirus have tested negative, as fears of an outbreak ease. The woman became infected from another traveler just before leaving quarantine after returning from Europe. Several people have tested positive in quarantine. Meanwhile, officials have begun outlining plans for the nation’s vaccination program, which they hope will get underway in earnest by midyear. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they aim to vaccinate at least 70% of the population. He said a recent survey showed about 70% of people would embrace getting inoculated, 20% would be hesitant and up to 10% would be opposed. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week that the nation’s borders could remain closed for the rest of the year. Officials acknowledge that New Zealand’s success in eliminating the community spread of the virus means it may need to wait longer than some countries to get vaccines.
— China has given more than 22 million COVID vaccinations as it carries out a drive ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, health authorities said Wednesday. The effort, which began six weeks ago, targets key groups such as medical and transport workers. Authorities are strongly discouraging people from traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday, a time when Chinese traditionally return to their hometowns for family gatherings. About 1.6 million doses had been given over several months before the campaign began. Zeng Yixin, vice chairman of the National Health Commission, said 22.76 million doses had been administered as of Tuesday. It’s not clear how many people that represents since the vaccine is given in two doses, and some may have received their second shot. China, which largely stopped the spread of the virus last spring, has seen fresh outbreaks this winter in four northern provinces. About 1,800 new cases have been reported since mid-December, including two deaths.