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Tuesday, August 18, 2020, 22:23
Virus: S. Korea to ban worship services, confine troops to bases
By Agencies
Tuesday, August 18, 2020, 22:23 By Agencies

Baseball fans wait in line to enter the stadium ahead of the KBO league baseball game between Seoul-based Doosan Bears and LG Twins at Jamsil stadium in Seoul on July 26, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

SYDNEY / WELLINGTON / SEOUL- South Korea tightened social distancing rules on Tuesday as it reported a three-digit increase in novel coronavirus cases for a fifth day and authorities scrambled to trace hundreds of members of a church congregation.

From midnight tonight, worship services and large gatherings are banned in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, and high-risk facilities like bars and clubs will be closed, said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun in a hastily scheduled press conference on Tuesday. Gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors are also forbidden.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 246 new cases as of midnight on Monday, bringing its total infections to 15,761, with 306 deaths.

Two new cases were reported in the military, bringing the total number of infections on bases to 88, the defence ministry said.

Some 461 military personnel were in quarantine, and all troops have been confined to base, with leave canceled and visits halted.

Two days after re-imposing stricter social distancing in Seoul, the government expanded the curbs to include the port city of Incheon, while ordering the closure of nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets and cyber cafes.

“If we can’t get the virus under control now we’ll have to notch up social distancing to higher levels, and that would have a big impact on our economy and people’s livelihoods,” Chung told a news conference after an emergency meeting.

At least 457 infections have been linked to the Sarang Jeil Church, 10 of whom were confirmed to have attended anti-government demonstrations on the past two weekends in Seoul, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

Authorities were trying to trace some 500 other members of the congregation to tell them to self-quarantine and get tested as they posed the highest transmission risk, Kim said.

Authorities have confirmed four cases from the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the country’s biggest with 560,000 members. Officials say that it’s harder to trace and test members of religious groups, which could trigger wider transmission in the community. Religious organizations, where many people gather in large congregations, have been linked to virus hotspots around the world.

This was the second time a church was at the center of a serious outbreak in South Korea.

A man wearing a face mask walks in Melbourne's Docklands district on Aug 14, 2020 as the city battles an outbreak of the COVID-19. (PHOTO / AFP)


Australia has signed a deal with drugmaker AstraZeneca to secure a potential COVID-19 vaccine, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, joining a growing list of countries lining up supplies of the drug.

In addition to pressing ahead with securing a potential vaccine, Australia said it had also signed a A$24.7 million (US$17.9 million) deal with US medical technology company Becton Dickinson to buy 100 million needles and syringes.

Meanwhile, Australia on Tuesday recorded its lowest one-day rise in new COVID-19 infections in a month, buoying hopes that a stringent lockdown in the country’s second-most populous state has prevented a fresh wave of cases nationally.

Led by cases in Victoria state - the epicentre of Australia’s latest COVID-19 outbreak - Australia said it has detected 226 new infections in the past 24 hours, the lowest since July 18 when 212 cases were recorded.

The national figure is well below the more than 700 infections detected in a single day earlier this month, almost all of which were in Victoria.

“We have seen numbers going up and down recently, but by and large what we are seeing is a continuing downward trend,” Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters in Canberra.

Australia has now recorded nearly 24,000 cases of COVID-19, while the death toll rose to 438 after 17 people in Victoria died from the virus in the last 24 hours.

The slowdown in new infections comes two weeks after the Victorian capital Melbourne imposed a nightly curfew, tightened restrictions on movement and ordered large parts of the state’s economy to close.

Australia’s biggest biotech company CSL Ltd, meanwhile, said it was in talks with AstraZeneca to determine if the potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the British drugmaker could be manufactured locally.


Four Western business lobbies joined in protesting Japan’s travel ban to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, saying the policy is out of step with measures in other major economies and will harm investment.

Many countries have imposed travel curbs to battle the pandemic but Japan’s are among the most strict, effectively banning entry of tourists and visa holders from more than 140 countries.

“This policy is contrary to the treatment Japan receives from other G7 and other leading countries who treat long-term foreign residents equally to citizens on health matters,” the groups said in a statement released on Tuesday.

The joint letter was signed by business lobbies from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Europe. The US and European groups had issued previous complaints about the policy.

Japan allows its citizens to return to the country if they take a coronavirus test at the port of entry and observe a period of self-quarantine. Foreigners living in Japan face much higher hurdles for re-entry.

These measures “can only discourage foreign nationals, and the companies they work for, from investing in Japan,” the business groups said.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The government announced last month it would start “phased measures” to restore travel depending on infection conditions, starting with 12 Asian countries.

New Zealand

New Zealand on Tuesday ruled out the possibility that a coronavirus outbreak in its biggest city of Auckland came from frozen food items or freight, as it reported 13 new cases.

Investigations suggested the virus had not come through chilled services or material arriving from overseas at an Americold cold-storage facility in Auckland where one of the recently infected individuals worked, health officials said.

“Seems clear now that the possibility is being ruled out from that investigation,” Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told reporters.

The origin of the latest outbreak is still unknown, and transmission through the environment in the cold storage was one theory being considered.

New Zealand has fared far better than most countries during the pandemic, but an abrupt resurgence of COVID-19 last week in Auckland prompted the government to extend a lockdown for the city’s 1.7 million residents until Aug 26, while social distancing rules are in place in other towns and cities.

An additional 13 cases were reported in the community on Tuesday, taking the total number of active cases to 90, of which 69 were linked to the outbreak in Auckland.

New Zealand’s total number of coronavirus infections now stands at 1,293, with 22 deaths.

ALSO READ: Southeast Asia detects mutated virus strain sweeping the world


Lebanon must shut down for two weeks after a surge in coronavirus infections, the caretaker health minister said on Monday, as the country reels from the massive Beirut port blast.

The country’s health ministry registered a record 456 new infections on Monday, with two deaths, taking the cumulative number of cases to 9,337 since February, with 105 fatalities.

“We declare today a state of general alert and we need a brave decision to close (the country) for two weeks,” Hamad Hassan told Voice of Lebanon radio.

Lebanon, already deep in financial crisis, was struggling with a COVID-19 spike before the Aug. 4 blast that killed at least 178 people, wrecked swathes of the capital and pushed the government to resign.

The warehouse explosion damaged many hospitals and overwhelmed them with more than 6,000 wounded. It put about half of 55 medical centres across Beirut out of service, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week.

The Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday eased the strict coronavirus lockdown in and around the capital Manila as his government promised a “refreshed” approach to fighting COVID-19 that includes intensified testing.

Duterte, in a televised address, said there was a need to reopen the economy with small and medium enterprises “barely surviving”, while at the same time calling on the public to “follow the safeguards”.

The Philippines, which before the pandemic was one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, fell into recession for the first time in 29 years with a record slump in the second quarter, due to the pandemic-induced lockdown.

The quarantine measures were reimposed in the capital and nearby provinces from Aug 4-18 after a group of doctors and nurses warned that the healthcare system could collapse.

Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman said, the government used the two-week window to “refresh” and “reboot” its responses against the coronavirus pandemic, to allow for business activity to resume and let more people to go back to work.

Under the relaxed rules which take effect on Aug. 19, Roque said, most businesses, including dine-in services will be allowed to reopen. Religious services will also be permitted provided that houses of worship limit total attendance to 30 percent of a building’s capacity.

The Philippines’ health ministry on Tuesday confirmed 4,836 novel coronavirus infections, the seventh straight day of reporting more than 3,000 cases, and seven additional deaths.

In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases had increased to 169,213, while deaths had reached 2,687.


Iran reported on Monday 2,247 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, raising the total number in the country to 345,450, official IRNA news agency reported.

Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education, said during her daily update that 1,255 of the new cases have been hospitalized.

Since Sunday, 165 people died from the viral disease, taking the total fatalities over the virus to 19,804 in the country.

So far, 299,157 patients have recovered and 3,773 remain in critical condition in ICU, said the spokeswoman


India's COVID-19 tally rose to 2,702,742 and deaths surged to 51,797 on Tuesday, according to the latest data released by the health ministry.

As many as 55,079 new cases and 876 deaths were reported during the past 24 hours.

 According to the data, there are still 673,166 active cases across India, even as 1,977,779 have been successfully cured and discharged from hospitals.

India’s interior minister Amit Shah was hospitalized again on Tuesday after complaining of fatigue and body ache, four days after he said he had recovered from COVID-19.

Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the virtual number-two in his cabinet, was admitted to the government-run All India Institute for Medical Sciences in the capital New Delhi, the hospital said in a statement.


Indonesia reported 1,673 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the  nation to 143,043, data from the country’s health ministry showed.

The data recorded an additional 70 deaths, taking the total to 6,277.


Israel's Ministry of Health reported 2,071 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total cases to 94,751.

The ministry also reported a total of 692 death cases, with seven new deaths, while the number of patients in serious condition rose from 382 to 399, out of 841 patients currently hospitalized.

The number of recoveries reached 70,291, with 1,781 new recoveries, while the number of active cases rose to 23,774.


Turkey reported 1,233 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising the total diagnosed cases to 250,542, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Meanwhile, 22 people died in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 5,996, Koca tweeted.

The number of isolated active patients with the potential to spread the disease is 12,575, he noted.

Turkish health professionals conducted 74,846 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall number of tests to 5,800,088, he said.

A total of 1,002 patients recovered in the last 24 hours, raising the total recoveries to 231,971 in Turkey since the outbreak, Koca added.


Jordan on Monday said it would not impose a lockdown amid the rise of COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, 20 cases of COVID-19 were recorded, including 16 local infections, increasing the tally to 1,398, Health Minister Saad Jaber said in a press conference.

Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Adaileh said there is no need for resorting to a lockdown as it may cause severe economic and social costs, but the area where the virus is reported will be isolated.

Adaileh said that 28 establishments have been closed and 51 fines and 22 tickets issued for violations of public health regulations.


Kuwait on Tuesday reported 643 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths, raising the tally of infections to 77,470 and the death toll to 505, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Currently, 7,722 patients are receiving treatment, including 101 in ICU, according to the statement.

The ministry also announced the recovery of 610 more patients, raising the total recoveries in the country to 69,243..


Despite Thailand passing a record 80 days free from locally acquired infections of COVID-19, Thai health experts warned on Monday that the country is not immune to a second wave of infections.

"The Thais have become convinced that the country is completely free from COVID-19 cases and are now lowering their guard. By not wearing a face mask, frequently washing hands and maintaining social distancing, they have built risks," warned Professor Dr. Thiravat Hemachudha, director of the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Center.


The number of deaths caused by COVID-19 in the Maldives rose to 23 on Monday, the country's Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

According to the HPA, a 64-year-old Maldivian woman died while receiving treatment at the ICU of the HMF hospital on Monday.

Maldives has seen a spike in deaths caused by COVID-19 in the last two weeks, though the mortality rate stands at below 0.5 percent.

Maldives currently has 5,785 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are currently 2,414 active cases, out of which 146 have been hospitalized for treatment. 


The Nepali government on Tuesday reported the biggest single day spike in COVID-19 cases as the Himalayan country witnessed over 1,000 cases in the last 24 hours.

"COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours stood at 1,016," Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population said at a regular press briefing.

The previous single-day high was witnessed on July 3 with 740 cases.

READ MORE: Seoul returns to tougher virus restrictions as cases spike


Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 91 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 55,838.

Of the new cases, six are imported cases, none is community case and the rest are linked with the dormitories of foreign workers.

On Monday, 397 more cases of COVID-19 infection have been discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 52,350 have fully recovered from the infection and have been discharged from hospitals or community care facilities, the ministry said.

There are currently 82 confirmed cases who are still in hospital. Of these, most are stable or improving, and none is in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

Furthermore, 3,379 are isolated and cared for at community facilities. These are those who have mild symptoms, or are clinically well but still test positive for COVID-19.

Altogether 27 people have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection.

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