SEOUL – South Korea has recorded more than 500 new coronavirus cases for the first time in about eight months.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Thursday the 583 additional cases in the past 24 hours took the national tally to 32,318 including 515 deaths.
South Korea has been experiencing a spike in new infections since it relaxed stringent social distancing rules last month. To deal with the latest resurgence, the country on Tuesday reimposed tough distancing guidelines in Seoul and some other areas.
Government records show that 402 of the 583 newly reported cases were found in the Seoul metropolitan area, where half of the country’s 51 million people reside. Most other parts of the country also registered new cases.
South Korea’s caseload peaked in February and March with the world’s largest number of cases after mainland China, most of them tied to a religious sect. Last summer, the country suffered a second major outbreak, mostly in the greater Seoul area.
Officials say the latest bout is more worrisome because many clusters are linked to schools, private tutoring academics, offices, hospitals and family gatherings.
In other developments in Asia and the Pacific:
— China on Thursday reported nine new coronavirus cases in the vast Inner Mongolia region, where authorities have closed schools, suspended flights, shuttered public venues and banned banquets and other gatherings. The cluster has been centered on Manzhouli, a city of more than 200,000 along the border with Russia. Authorities ordered testing of all residents after the outbreak emerged late last week. Ground transport to and from the city has been largely cut off and movement around the city restricted. Local infections have also been reported in the financial hub of Shanghai and the northern port of Tianjin, although the National Health Administration on Thursday listed no new cases in those cities. It said 12 other cases had been reported among people arriving from overseas. China has largely ended transmission within the country through tough containment measures, case tracing and the near-universal wearing of masks. At present, 306 people are listed as being ill with COVID-19 while another 321 are under observation for having tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms. China has reported a total of 86,490 cases and 4,634 deaths.
— Six members of the Pakistan cricket squad in New Zealand have tested positive for COVID-19 and have been moved from managed isolation into quarantine. Two of the cases are deemed historical and four are new but all six players will move to the quarantine arm of their isolation facility. The Pakistan team’s exemption to train while in managed isolation will be withheld until an investigation has been completed. All players were tested four times before their departure from Lahore to New Zealand and were negative on each occasion. Separately, the West Indies squad was also found to have breached protocols while in managed isolation earlier this month. Close circuit television footage showed players mixing in hotel corridors and sharing food, beaching the requirements of their internal bubbles. New Zealand Cricket said that some members of the Pakistani team had contravened protocols on the first day of managed isolation.
— India has extended its restrictions on international flights until the end of the year as coronavirus cases surge in some states and its capital, New Delhi. India’s aviation authority on Thursday said the restrictions will not apply to international cargo flights and those approved under “air bubble” pacts with some countries. Scheduled international passenger services have been suspended in India since March 23. India’s new overall infections have declined steadily after peaking in mid-September. On Thursday, it reported 44,489 new infections, bringing its total confirmed cases to 9.26 million, second behind the United States. Deaths rose by 524 to 135,223. The situation in the capital, however, remains worrying. It recorded 5,246 new cases on Thursday. In an effort to slow the virus, the home ministry has allowed states to impose local restrictions such as night curfews but has asked them to consult before imposing lockdowns at state, district, or city levels.
— Sri Lankan police say 1,123 officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 2,800 others have been quarantined amid a surge in cases in the capital and its suburbs. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said Thursday that the 2,800 have been quarantined at their quarters and in quarantine centers. Health authorities have linked the police infections to a cluster of cases centered at the country’s main fish market near Colombo. Sri Lanka has seen an upsurge in the disease since last month, when two clusters emerged — one at a garment factory and the other at the fish market. The confirmed cases from the two clusters grew to 17,934 on Thursday. Sri Lanka’s total confirmed cases reached 21,468 on Thursday, including 96 fatalities.
— Hong Kong on Thursday reported its third straight day of over 80 new coronavirus infections, a day after its leader declared a goal of “zero infections” in an annual policy address. Authorities reported 81 coronavirus infections, 13 of which were not traceable. Daily cases in the past week have surged to a three-month high, resulting in the cancellation of a planned air travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore. Many of the cases in the recent surge have been linked to outbreaks in dance studios across the city, with Hong Kong ordering those who have visited the venues to undergo mandatory testing. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in her annual policy address on Wednesday that the city is aiming for “zero infections,” and that it might implement another round of mass testing of its residents. The increase in locally transmitted cases has prompted concern that a new wave has begun in the city. Authorities have tightened social distancing measures, ordering bars and nightclubs to close, in an attempt to stem the transmission.
— Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that the next three weeks will be critical in stopping a further upsurge in infections in the country that experts warn is putting medical systems on the verge of collapse. Suga urged people to wear face masks, wash their hands frequently and avoid risks. His government has been criticized for being too slow to suspend campaigns to stimulate the economy by encouraging domestic tourism, shopping and eating out. Experts on a government taskforce said the number of elderly patients is rising, with infections increasingly being brought into homes from offices and elsewhere. They urged the government to take action urgently to avoid an explosion in infections as in the U.S. and Europe. Suga said the government has dispatched 1,200 public health experts to assist infection tracing and other efforts around the country, while securing more beds for seriously ill patients. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Wednesday requested that places that serve alcohol close early starting Saturday until Dec. 17 and urged residents to avoid non-essential outings. Sapporo, Osaka and Nagoya issued similar requests. Japan survived an initial wave of infections in the spring without compulsory lockdowns. The number of cases has since gradually climbed as the government tries to balance disease prevention and the economy. Japan has reported 137,261 cases, including 2,201 deaths.