Asia Pacific on virus alert as cases rise

A number of countries across the Asia Pacific region are once again on high alert as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

South Korea posted its second-highest daily number of cases on Saturday (December 26) as outbreaks at a prison, nursing homes and churches continued to grow, prompting authorities to call for a halt to all year-end gatherings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said there were 1,132 new coronavirus cases on Friday (December 25), not far off the record 1,241 logged just a day earlier.

The government plans to hold a meeting on Sunday (December 27) to discuss whether it will tighten distancing rules to the toughest level for the greater Seoul area.

Coronavirus infections in Tokyo also hit a record daily high of 949 cases on Saturday as Japan heads into the New Year holiday.

With New Year celebrations centered around family gatherings and visits to temples and shrines, experts have warned moderation will be essential to prevent infection rates from rising further.

Meantime in Australia, Sydney residents were urged not to head to the shops for Boxing Day bargains, as those in some northern beachside suburbs prepared to re-enter a strict lockdown for three days from Sunday as the city seeks to stamp out a new outbreak.

The state of New South Wales recorded nine new coronavirus cases, eight of them directly linked to the northern beaches outbreak, which now stands at 116 confirmed cases.

Lockdown measures for some suburbs were first imposed on Dec. 19 but were eased slightly for the Christmas break.