Asia Today: Australian hot spot, South Korea hit new lows

A health worker conducts COVID-19 test at a government hospital as others wait for their turn in New Delhi, India, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.India’s confirmed coronavirus tally has reached 6 million cases, keeping the country second to the United States in number of reported cases since the pandemic began. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Australia’s coronavirus hot spot, Victoria state, on Monday recorded its lowest number of new infections in more than three months as the nation’s second-largest city, Melbourne, further eased its lockdown restrictions.

The easing of restrictions in Melbourne, the state capital, will allow most children to return to school from mid-October and send more than 125,000 people back to work.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters that his state was “so close to being able to take a really big step … towards that COVID-normal,” after only five new cases were recorded in the latest 24-hour period, the lowest number since June 12.

“We are so, so close, and what’s important now is that everyone keeps following the rules, keeps doing the right thing, keeps making that profound and critical contribution to these numbers getting low and staying low,” Andrews said.

The state also recorded three deaths on Monday, Andrews said.

Melbourne and surrounding parts of rural Victoria were placed under strict lockdown measures on Aug. 2, shuttering schools and non-essential businesses, imposing a nighttime curfew and prohibiting public gatherings.

The 9 p.m.- 5.a.m curfew was lifted from Monday, although residents still cannot travel more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) from home.

Public gatherings of up to five people from a maximum of two households will be allowed, and daycare centers for children will also reopen.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— Myanmar health authorities reported 743 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the country’s total over the 10,000 mark. The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Monday that the Health Ministry announced a total of 10,734 cases, including 226 deaths. There were 28 new deaths recorded Sunday. The surge in new cases and deaths began last month with an outbreak in the western state of Rakhine. Last week, Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, imposed a tightened lockdown which generally bans residents from traveling outside their officially designated wards. There is also a ban on leaving Yangon. Employees of most businesses must work from home and many factories are closed. There are exemptions for services deemed essential, including banks, gasoline stations and food production. Authorities say there is a pressing need to increase the capacity of quarantine centers and hospitals and to upgrade hospital staffing and equipment.

— South Korea has reported 50 new cases of the coronavirus, its lowest daily increase in nearly 50 days, a possible effect of strengthened social distancing measures that were employed to slow a major outbreak surrounding the capital region. Monday’s increase reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency was the lowest since Aug. 11. The country reported around 200 to 300 cases a day from mid-August to early September, a resurgence that forced officials to tighten social distancing restrictions in the Seoul area and elsewhere. Officials have called for vigilance ahead of the Chuseok harvest festival that begins Wednesday. They are pleading for people to stay home during a holiday when South Koreans typically travel to visit relatives, and nightclubs, bars and other establishments deemed “high-risk” will be shut in Seoul during the holiday period.

— India’s confirmed coronavirus tally reached 6 million cases, keeping the country second to the United States in number of reported cases since the pandemic began. The Health Ministry on Monday reported 82,170 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, driving the overall tally to 6,074,703. At least 1,039 deaths were also recorded in the same period, taking total fatalities up to 95,542 since the pandemic began. New infections in India are currently being reported faster than anywhere else in the world. The world’s second-most populous country is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country in coming weeks, surpassing the U.S., where more than 7 million infections have been reported.

— Thailand’s agency for fighting COVID-19 says a state of emergency first declared in March will be extended for another month to help control the disease. The spokesman for the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration said Monday that although Thailand has been successful in limiting the spread of the virus, risks are still high because of new outbreaks in other countries, especially Myanmar, which borders 10 Thai provinces. The Cabinet is virtually certain to approve the agency’s proposal at a meeting Tuesday. Some critics say the government has used the state of emergency against political activists who have held anti-government rallies. Despite concerns about the virus coming from abroad, the center also announced it has approved proposals to allow more groups of foreign visitors into the country, including athletes and holders of non-immigrant visas, especially for business-related purposes, who have at least 500,000 baht ($15,770) in their bank accounts. Thailand on Monday reported 22 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 3,545, including 59 deaths. All of the new cases were people quarantined after arriving from abroad.