South Korea has announced a series of new lockdown measures in Seoul, including a ban on indoor gatherings of at least 50 people and closures of entertainment venues, after reporting 166 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, its highest daily total since March 11.
Of the new cases, 155 were locally transmitted – a significant increase from 85 on Friday.
“The spread of Covid-19 in the Seoul metropolitan area is very serious,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said. “We are now at a critical juncture where we may enter a second wave of infections, as is the case in the rest of the world, if we fail to overcome this crisis.”
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The stricter Level 2 social-distancing measures will come into effect for two weeks on Sunday. Locations deemed “high-risk”, such as bars, health clubs, buffet restaurants and private tutoring institutes known as hakwons will be closed.
Earlier this month, South Korea appeared to have contained the coronavirus pandemic, reporting between 20 and 40 new cases daily.
However those numbers have increased steadily over the past week, with many infections linked to churches, as well as workplaces, schools and markets.
President Moon Jae-in on Friday warned the lack of cooperation from some churches could cause the efforts to safeguard public health to “collapse at one fell swoop”.
“As the situation is serious, the government should step up quarantine measures at churches while respecting freedom of religion,” Moon said.
Seoul’s metropolitan government has ordered about 4,000 followers of the Sarang Jeil church to be tested following reports a pastor warned against testing for fear the church would be blamed for the spread of the virus.
There have been 43 cases traced to the church and many followers joined a recent anti-government rally in Seoul despite warnings from authorities about the risk of infection.
Authorities have so far avoided widespread lockdowns although schools and entertainment venues in Seoul and some major cities were temporarily closed.
The government has instead relied on aggressive testing and contact tracing, including measures such as requiring visitors to potential hotspots to register via smartphone QR codes.
Meanwhile, New Zealand on Saturday reported seven new coronavirus cases as a lockdown in the country’s biggest city, Auckland, was extended on Friday in response to the country’s first coronavirus outbreak in months.
Six of the seven new cases have been linked to a cluster responsible for all the previous community cases, said Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health.
Officials had moved 54 people linked to the known cluster to quarantine facilities in an attempt to control the outbreak. Almost 24,000 tests were processed in the previous 24-hours, Bloomfield said.
The lockdown in Auckland, home to 1.7 million people, was extended for nearly two weeks, after New Zealand reported 12 confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Friday.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to decide by Monday whether a general election will go ahead on September 19, with most analysts expecting her to resist opposition calls for a delay amid the new flare-up.
In Australia, hard-hit Victoria state continues to struggle after it last month became the centre of the country’s biggest coronavirus outbreak. Its capital, Melbourne, is under a strict six-week lockdown and the rest of the state has limited public movement.
On Saturday, Victoria recorded 303 new cases and four deaths, following 372 new infections and 14 deaths on Friday.
Although the numbers were well below the peak of 725 new cases seen on August 5, state authorities urged vigilance.
“The signs are encouraging, but it is not over,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said. “There is a long way to go, and the only thing that wins if we get fatigued ... is the coronavirus.”
Japan on Saturday reported more than 1,200 new coronavirus cases, topping the 1,000 mark for the third day, with cluster outbreaks occurring at the height of the summer holiday season.
Patients in their 20s accounted for 40 per cent of the new cases, and about a quarter of the new cases were in their 30s.
The national infections tally rose to more than 55,830, while the death toll stood at 1,106 after seven more deaths were confirmed on Saturday.
Tokyo saw the country’s highest number of 385 new cases, above 380 for the second straight day.
An official at the Tokyo metropolitan government said such infections likely occurred “as families are spending more time together due to the summer holidays”.
The official called for thorough precautionary measures especially when living with elderly people.
India is ready to mass produce Covid-19 vaccines when scientists give the go-ahead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday in an Independence Day speech, where he also launched a national project to roll out health identities for each citizen.
Modi identified health and economic self-reliance as the key priorities for his government.
“Not one, not two, as many as three coronavirus vaccines are being tested in India,” he said in Delhi.
“Along with mass-production, the roadmap for distribution of vaccine to every single Indian in the least possible time is also ready,” Modi said. “The country is also ready for mass production of those vaccines.”
Launching a National Digital Health Mission for the country of 1.3 billion, Modi said in his seventh Independence Day speech that records of every health test, disease, medication and other details would be kept under a health ID.
“Technology will be judiciously used to reduce challenges in treatments,” he said. “Whether it is making a doctor’s appointment, depositing money or running around for documents in the hospital, the mission will help remove all such challenges.”
India is among the worst-affected nations globally. More than 2.5 million infections and some 49,000 deaths have been reported, making the death toll the fourth-highest in the world.
Additional reporting by Reuters, dpa, AP
Did you know that China supplies 40% of the world’s active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) for drug manufacturing? Learn what other ways local healthcare players are expanding their global footprint from the China Healthcare Report, brought to you by SCMP Research, and get a comprehensive industry review and insights on Covid-19 induced market shifts. Purchase now and get a 30% discount before 30 September 2020. You will also receive access to 6 closed-door webinars led by China healthcare’s most influential C-suite executives.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Coronavirus: South Korea hit with resurgence of church-linked infection clusters
- How two South Korean Covid-19 survivors repaid medical staff – in blood
- Coronavirus: South Korea arrests Shincheonji church leader for stalling virus containment efforts
- Are Asian countries choosing US or China for the Covid-19 vaccine?
This article Coronavirus latest: South Korea tightens restrictions in Seoul; Japan records 1,200 new cases first appeared on South China Morning Post