SEOUL – South Korea’s daily virus tally hovered above 500 for the second straight day, as the country’s prime minister urged the public to stay home this weekend to contain a viral resurgence.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday it’s found 569 new cases over the past 24 hours, raising the country’s total to 32,887 with 516 deaths.
South Korea on Thursday registered 583 new cases, the first time its daily tally had exceeded 500 since March. Officials say the latest outbreak is worrisome because it’s tied to a variety of sources such as schools, offices, hospitals, an army boot camp, a public sauna and family gatherings.
South Korea has seen a spike in fresh infections since it eased tough social distancing rules last month. Authorities subsequently restored distancing guidelines in Seoul and other areas earlier this week. But they say South Korea is expected to report 400-600 new cases every day until early December before the distancing restrictions could show effects.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Friday urged the public to avoid social gatherings and stay home as much as possible this weekend. He says the number of virus cases in South Korea has increased after weekends over the past two weeks.
In other developments in Asia and the Pacific:
— From nearly 8,000 active cases in August and more than 800 deaths in the Australian state of Victoria to the elimination of the coronavirus: It’s an achievement that one Melbourne doctor says he thought was unthinkable only three months ago. Friday marked four weeks without a new case of COVID-19 and 9,828 Victorians were tested in the past 24 hours. Health authorities say 28 days with no new cases means the virus has been eliminated from the community, given that the time represents two 14-day incubation periods. Victoria reached 7,880 active cases on Aug. 11. The last COVID-19 patient in a Victorian hospital was discharged on Monday, leaving the state without an active case. The resurgence had forced a lockdown in Melbourne, an overnight curfew and travel and family gathering restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews was criticized repeatedly over several months for his strict guidelines. "It is an emotional thing. My training makes me wary about ever saying we’ve reached the finish line here,” Melbourne doctor Stephen Parnis told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “But the fact that in about three months we’ve gotten to this point, no one would have been able to suggest that would even come close to this.” Australia’s death toll from the virus is 907 and 819 of them are from Victoria.
— Thailand on Friday signed a $200 million deal to procure 26 million doses of the trial coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University. It is expected to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million. Government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said officials are still considering how to prioritize vaccine recipients. “Those who work closely with COVID-19 patients, for example, doctors and nurses, should be among the first people. But this needs further discussion,” he said. Under a separate deal in October, the Health Ministry, Siam Bioscience Co. and the SCG business conglomerate signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca on the manufacturing and supply of the vaccine candidate. It would allow Siam Bioscience to produce the vaccine at its own plant, with a starting date targeted for the middle of next year. Thailand has had 3,961 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since January, including 60 deaths.
— Japanese Emperor Naruhito and his family will not offer their New Year greetings from the palace balcony due to concerns over the country’s struggles with a resurgence of coronavirus infections. The Imperial Household Agency said in a statement Friday that the annual greetings on Jan. 2 will not be held. The event traditionally draws tens of thousands of well-wishers to the palace garden. The greeting was last canceled in 1990 following the death of Naruhito’s grandfather. Emperor Naruhito and his family have rarely made public appearances since the pandemic due to cancelation of palace events. Experts have urged the government to reduce social and business activity before the holiday season because of a rise in serious coronavirus cases. Tokyo reported 570 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, a new record for Japan’s capital city. Nationwide, Japan had nearly 140,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
— India’s overall infections have maintained a steady downturn with 43,082 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. The Health Ministry says Thursday was the 20th straight day with cases below the 50,000-mark. Authorities are considering a night curfew in New Delhi, which recorded 5,475 fresh infections in the past 24 hours. The surge there started at the end of October and reached record highs this month, severely straining the city’s health care system and hospitals. India’s coronavirus tally has crossed 9.3 million, second behind the U.S. The Home Ministry has allowed states to impose local restrictions like night curfews but has asked them to consult before imposing lockdowns at state, district or city levels.
— Hong Kong on Friday reported 92 coronavirus infections as the city struggles to contain outbreaks linked to dance studios and a private hospital. Of the infections reported on Friday, 17 were not traceable. Hong Kong has reported 411 infections since Monday, with officials warning of a new virus outbreak in the city. Friday’s infections were the highest daily number of cases reported since Aug. 6. Most of the cases this week have been linked to dance studios, with officials ordering those who have visited those venues to undergo mandatory testing. The cluster is the city’s largest so far with 367 infections. This week, authorities tightened social distancing measures, ordering bars and nightclubs to close. Hong Kong has recorded 6,040 cases, including 108 deaths.