Asia Today: Beijing's daily cases drop, India's rise sharply

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A resident wearing a mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus waits near government propaganda with the words "Democracy" and "People first" on the street of Beijing on Thursday, June 18, 2020. China's capital Beijing reported a decline in newly confirmed cases of coronavirus Thursday as the city continued to press stricter measures to contain a new outbreak. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING – China’s capital reported a decline in newly confirmed cases of coronavirus Thursday, with a public health expert saying a recent outbreak in the city was under control and the number of new cases should drop in the coming days.

Authorities have confirmed 158 cases in Beijing in the past week. Most if not all have been linked to the city’s largest wholesale food market, where thousands of people work.

Wu Zunyou from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said such outbreaks are inevitable but that this one was larger than expected because it happened in a major market.

Nevertheless, the city continued to press stricter measures to contain the outbreak.

Anyone who has been near the market since May 30, along with their close contacts, will be quarantined at home for 14 days and tested at least twice, city government official Zhang Ge said.

The city has closed its borders to all confirmed cases, suspected cases, patients with fever and close contacts from abroad and other provinces, Zhang said. China already has barred most foreigners from entering the country and even foreign diplomats arriving from abroad must under two weeks of isolation at home, he said.

All indoor public venues, including club houses and party rooms in apartment complexes, will remain closed, Zhang said. Offices, restaurants and hotels in high risk area will be shut down, he said. Flights at the city’s two airports have already been cut by half.

Officials said bus service between Beijing and other provinces would be suspended starting Friday to try to prevent the outbreak’s spread.

Beijing reported 21 cases on Thursday, down from 31 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged China to reveal all it knows about the coronavirus outbreak that is believed to have originated in the country. Pompeo with the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Hawaii on Wednesday.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India recorded its the highest one-day increase of 12,281 coronavirus cases, raising the total caseload to 366,946, but the government rules out reimposing a countrywide lockdown. India’s total deaths reached 12,237, a rise of 334 in the past 24 hours, according to a Health Ministry statement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected a new lockdown, saying the country has to think about further unlocking and minimizing all possibilities of harm to people. The lockdown that was imposed nationwide on March 25 is now restricted to high-risk areas.

— Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government is discussing possible resumption of mutual visits with Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand — all nations where coronavirus infections are largely under control. Japan has imposed entry bans on nationals of more than 110 countries. Once visits restart there would be ample precautions, including virus tests, Abe said. Abe said Japan is also lifting domestic travel restrictions, allowing residents to travel outside of their own prefectures. Domestic tourism will gradually restart, and events of up to 1,000 people can also resume, he said.

— South Korea reported 59 cases as infections continue to steadily rise in the greater capital area. The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the national caseload to 12,257, including 280 deaths. It said 39 of the new cases came from Seoul and its metropolitan area, where health authorities have been scrambling to stem transmissions amid increased economic activity and eased attitudes on social distancing. Eight of the new cases were linked to international arrivals.

— New Zealand reported one new infection, in a traveler who was quarantined after arriving from Pakistan. New Zealand appears to have eliminated community transmission of the virus but three recent arrivals have tested positive. New Zealand’s economy shrank by 1.6% during the first three months of the year, although that drop is likely to be dwarfed in the second quarter. Figures released by Statistics New Zealand capture the first week of the virus lockdown, which lasted more than two months. Nevertheless, the drop in GDP was the largest in 29 years and confirmed the nation is in a recession.

— Two universities in Australia's capital plan plan to fly in 350 foreign students as Australia’s lucrative international education sector reopens after a lockdown. Australian National University and Canberra University expect the chartered aircraft to fly the students from Singapore in late July. The students would go into hotel quarantine on arrival and would likely be the first foreign students to return to Australian campuses. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said it’s “more likely” that Australia won’t allow general international travel before next year.

— Hong Kong Disneyland on Thursday opened its doors to visitors for the first time in nearly five months, at a reduced capacity and with social distancing measures in place. The theme park is the second Disney-themed park to re-open worldwide, after Shanghai Disneyland. Small groups of visitors had lined up before the park's opening hours, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters drove by in a large taxicab and waved at the crowd waiting to enter.

— Dozens of protesters called on Thailand’s government to scrap an emergency decree it enacted in March to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. The protesters believe the government no longer needs emergency powers to control the coronavirus, and instead is using them to harass its political opponents. Chotisak Onsoong, a leader of Thursday’s protest, used a megaphone to accuse Prayuth’s government of using the powers “not to control the outbreak, but to suppress opposition groups.” The government enacted a state of emergency on March 26, allowing it to implement curfews, censor the media, disperse gatherings and deploy the military for enforcement if needed. Thailand has had no cases of local origin for more than three weeks and has rolled back many measures, including a curfew.