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Wednesday, August 19, 2020, 22:34
S. Korea warns of nationwide risk as church outbreaks spread
By Agencies
Wednesday, August 19, 2020, 22:34 By Agencies

A baseball fan, right, is checked for his body temperature as he enters 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 / BEIRUT / JERUSALEM / BANGKOK / KUWAIT CITY / KABUL / TOKYO / ISTANBUL - South Korea reported on Wednesday its highest daily rise in novel coronavirus cases since early March as outbreaks from churches around the capital spread, prompting a warning of a nationwide wave of infections.

The 297 new infections mark the sixth straight day of triple-digit increases in a country that has managed to blunt several previous outbreaks.

The national tally rose to 16,058 infections with 306 deaths, according to data from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Nearly 90 percent of the new cases appeared in the capital, Seoul, and surrounding areas, raising concern of the rapid spread of the virus in a metropolitan area of more than 25 million people.

At least 166 of the new infections are linked to the Sarang Jeil Church, taking the number of cases from it to 623.

Authorities have mobilised some 8,500 police to trace another 600 members of the church’s congregation who should be in isolation, and they are trying to test all of its 4,000 members.

Some members of the church, which is run by a radical conservative preacher, are reluctant to come forward and get tested, or to self-isolate, officials have said.

Many of them also attended anti-government rallies in Seoul on the weekend where thousands of people gathered from across the country, raising fears infections were seeded there.

KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said 10 people at the protests with no ties to the church had been infected and urged everyone who attended to get tested.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun vowed to take legal action against the church for any attempt to disrupt tracing and testing efforts by failing to provide accurate membership lists.

Nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets and cyber cafes have been ordered to close in Seoul and surrounding regions.

In-person church services have also been banned while indoor and outdoor gatherings have been restricted to no more than 50 and 100 people, respectively.

Authorities said if the number of infections rises or continues at the current rate of spread, they will likely impose the highest level of social distancing rules, under which schools are closed, businesses advised to work from home and gatherings limited to 10 people.

Kwon said the country would be at a “crossroads” for the next few days and the government might have to impose tougher curbs if there was a spike in cases with no obvious origin.


A total of 40 new COVID-19 positive cases were reported in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of patients infected with the virus in the country to 37,759 since February, Public Health Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

According to the statement, two patients have succumbed to the virus over the period, bringing the number of COVID-19 related deaths to 1,383 since the outburst of the pandemic in February in Afghanistan.

No patient has recovered over the past 24 hours, the statement said, adding the number of recovered cases has reached 27,316.  


Kuwait on Wednesday reported 675 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths, raising the tally of infections to 78,145 and the death toll to 507, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Currently, 7,867 patients are receiving treatment, including 96 in ICU, according to the statement.

The ministry also announced the recovery of 528 more patients, raising the total recoveries in the country to 69,771.

On Aug 18, Kuwait moved into the fourth phase of its five-phase plan to return to normal life.

During this phase, salons, gyms, barbershops, tailors, and spas will reopen and restaurants will offer more services.


Nepal temporarily banned public and religious gatherings and most transportation in its capital Kathmandu and surrounding areas on Wednesday, asking residents to stay home to control the spread of the coronavirus as cases surge.

The curbs will apply to Kathmandu Valley from Wednesday for a week, but could be extended, the government said, one day after the country reported its biggest daily spike in coronavirus cases. Transgressors will be fined US$5 but could face up to three months in jail.

Nepal began to partially ease a nationwide lockdown in June, allowing some local transport to resume, but kept a ban on international and domestic travel in place while the country’s famed peaks have remained closed to climbers.

Only transport carrying essentials like food items, and security and health workers will be allowed on the streets, the government said.

On Tuesday, Health Ministry spokesman Jageswar Gautam said more than 1,000 people had tested positive for the coronavirus and seven had died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the highest single day spike in cases.

The numbers took Nepal’s total cases to 28,257 and the death toll from COVID-19 to 114.

Kathmandu Valley, which comprises the capital city and surrounding areas, recorded 205 new cases, a jump of around 10 percent jump from the previous day.


The Tokyo metropolitan government on Wednesday confirmed 186 new daily COVID-19 infections, following 207 cases reported a day earlier.

The latest figure marks the first time since Monday that new infections have dropped below 200, with the figure also falling below the seven-day average of 256.3 cases, the metropolitan government said.

The number of patients hospitalized and designated as being in a "serious condition" rose to 32 from 31 the previous day, the Tokyo metropolitan government also said.

This marks the second time the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in the capital of 14 million has topped the 30-mark since May amid concerns over the the virus' continued resurgence and contagiousness in urban areas.

A nurse tests members of the public at the Eden Park testing station on Aug 16, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

New Zealand

New Zealand is increasing the military presence at its border as it battles a new coronavirus outbreak and seeks to prevent any further security breaches.

Around 500 extra defense personnel will be deployed at managed isolation facilities, almost doubling the current number, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday. “By scaling up our Defence Force staff we’ll be able to reduce our reliance on private security guards, especially in the highest risk facilities,” she said. “Our intention is to stop using private security contractors, particularly in the riskiest places.”

Ardern first called in the military to enforce border controls in June after two women who arrived from the UK were allowed to leave managed isolation early and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. There have been more breaches since, including a man who escaped a quarantine hotel and spent an hour wandering city streets before testing positive.

Ardern cited experiences abroad for increased use of the military -- possibly a reference to Melbourne, where private security guards are thought to have played a role in spreading the virus from quarantined arrivals to the public.

At the same time, she said there are encouraging signs that a fresh community outbreak in Auckland is under control, with just five new cases reported today. The source of that outbreak, which has grown to 74 cases and put Auckland into lockdown, is unclear.

New Zealand’s border remains closed to foreigners and all returning residents are required to spend two weeks in managed isolation or quarantine, where they are also tested for the virus. Some 40,000 people have been through the 32 facilities so far.

New Zealand confirmed six new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with five of them in the community linked to the recent outbreak in Auckland, the country's largest city, the health ministry said.

One case is an imported case, a woman in her 50s who arrived in New Zealand from Qatar via Sydney on Aug. 14. She has been in managed isolation at a hotel in Rotorua, according to the ministry.

The other five cases are in the community and they have all been linked to the recent outbreak, said a ministry statement.

These six new confirmed cases bring the country's total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 1,299, which is the number reported to the World Health Organization, it said.

Medical staff prepare to take a swab at a drive-through testing clinic in Melbourne on Aug 13, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)


A fresh outbreak of infections in Australia’s coronavirus hot zone of Victoria appeared to have eased on Wednesday, as the country signed a deal to secure a potential COVID-19 vaccine that it intends to roll out free of cost to its citizens.

Australia has signed a deal with British drugmaker AstraZeneca to produce and distribute enough doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine for its population of 25 million, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said late on Tuesday.

All Australians will be offered doses but a medical panel will determine the priority list of vaccine recipients, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“Naturally you would be focusing on the most vulnerable, the elderly, health workers, people with disabilities in terms of the speed of roll out, but I think there would be widespread uptake in Australia,” Hunt told Sky News on Wednesday.

AstraZeneca last month said good data was coming in so far on its vaccine for COVID-19, already in large-scale human trials and widely seen as the front-runner in the race for a shot against the novel coronavirus.

The vaccine, called AZD1222, was developed by Britain’s University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca.

A flare up in infections in Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria forced authorities two weeks ago to impose a nightly curfew, tighten restrictions on people’s movements and order large parts of the state’s economy to close.

The southeastern state has seen a slowdown in new cases in recent days, allaying fears of a nationwide second wave of infections.

Victoria reported 216 new daily cases in the last 24 hours compared with 222 a day earlier. It reported 12 deaths compared with 17 on Tuesday.

Despite seeing a surge of new infections in the past month, Australia has largely avoided the high casualties of other nations with just under 24,000 infections and 450 deaths from the virus.


Lebanon’s interior ministry ordered businesses across the country to shut down for two weeks and enforced an overnight curfew from Friday after a rise in coronavirus infections.

Tuesday’s decision allows for clearing rubble, making repairs and giving out aid in neighbourhoods demolished by the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut. The airport will remain open, with travelers having to take a PCR test before boarding.

Lebanon has registered record numbers of daily infections that have crossed 400, with its tally on Monday standing at 9,337 cases and 105 deaths since February.

ALSO READ: Virus: S. Korea to ban worship services, confine troops to bases


Israel's Ministry of Health on Tuesday reported 1,658 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total infections in the country to 96,409.

The death toll climbed to 708 with the addition of 16 new deaths, the second-highest daily rise since the pandemic outbreak in Israel in late February.

The number of patients in serious condition increased from 399 to 404, out of 822 patients currently hospitalized.

The number of recoveries rose to 71,990, with 1,699 new recoveries, while the number of active cases dropped to 23,711.


The total number of COVID-19 cases in Yemen's government-controlled provinces increased to 1,889 on Tuesday, as seven new cases were officially reported.

The Yemeni Health Ministry said in a brief press statement that during the past 24 hours, the number of recoveries in the government-controlled areas increased to 1,052 since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus on April 10.

Also, the government announced that the death toll from the deadly respiratory disease climbed to 537 in different areas under its control, including the southern port city of Aden.


Palestine on Tuesday reported 612 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections to 23,003.

Palestinian Health Ministry said in a statement that 604 cases were reported in the West Bank, while eight cases were reported in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. 

The ministry said that three deaths were reported in the West Bank city of Hebron, bringing the death toll to 124.

It noted that the rate of recovery in Palestine reached 61.3 percent, while the fatality rate stood at 0.6 percent.

The United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday announced 365 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 64,906.

The UAE's Ministry of Health and Prevention said in a statement that the new cases are in a stable condition and receiving medical treatment.

And 115 more patients have recovered from the virus, taking the tally of recoveries in the UAE to 57,909, according to the ministry.

It also confirmed two more deaths, pushing the country's death toll to 366.


The Qatari health ministry on Tuesday announced 293 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 115,661, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 267 more people recovered from the virus, bringing the total recoveries to 112,355, while the death toll remained 193 for the third day running, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.

The ministry attributed the increase in coronavirus infections to gatherings and visits as well as ignoring the preventive measures such as staying at home and social distancing.

A total of 560,990 people in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far.


The substantial increase in the number of daily new COVID-19 cases in Turkey for the last couple of weeks has prompted authorities to consider adopting new measures and restrictions to curb the further spread of the pandemic.

Conducting more tests, scanning risk groups, such as drivers of public vehicles, waiters, cashiers, and isolating people who are tested positive with a strong enforcement mechanism, are among the items on the upcoming agenda, according to the Health Ministry's Scientific Committee.

Turkey confirmed 1,263 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, raising the total diagnosed cases to 251,805, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Meanwhile, 20 more patients died from the infectious respiratory disease in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 6,016, Koca tweeted.

Turkish health professionals conducted 82,318 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall number of tests to 5,882,406, he said.

A total of 942 patients recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours, raising the total recoveries to 232,913 in Turkey since the outbreak, Koca noted.


Armenia on Tuesday reported 145 new COVID-19 cases in the last day, bringing its total to 41,846, according to the National Center for Disease Control.

Data from the center showed that 327 more patients have recovered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 34,982.

Meanwhile, eight people died in the period, raising the death toll to 832.


The Iraqi Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 4,093 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total nationwide infections to 188,802, while a health official warned that the lockdown of districts is still an option to curb the increase of infections.

It also reported 85 fatalities during the day, raising the death toll to 6,121, while 2,529 more patients recovered in the day, bringing the total number of recoveries to 134,369.

The new cases were recorded after 20,356 testing kits were used across the country during the day, and a total of 1,345,459 tests have been carried out since the outbreak of the disease, according to the statement.

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


Singapore's Ministry of Health reported 100 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 55,938.

Of the new cases, two are imported cases, one is a community case and the rest are linked with the dormitories of foreign workers.

On Tuesday, 183 more cases of COVID-19 infection have been discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 52,533 have fully recovered, the ministry said.

There are currently 88 confirmed cases who are still in hospital. Of these, most are stable or improving, and none is in critical condition. 


Authorities in Indonesia’s capital are experimenting with some shock tactics to fight COVID-19, by displaying an empty coffin at a busy intersection as a reminder of the dangers of the highly contagious virus.

The words “COVID-19 victim” are painted red on the casket on display in one district of Jakarta, which is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia.

A manikin wearing a protective suit, mask and face-shield, stands by the faux coffin, while a board underneath displays the latest local district’s infection and death tally.

“Maybe the action taken by the leadership is a bit extreme but this is how we hope to raise awareness,” said Djaharuddin, chief of Jakarta’s Mampang Prapatan subdistrict.

Schools remain closed in Jakarta, home to at least 10 million people, but restaurants and public transport can operate at reduced capacity as part of a gradual easing of curbs in the city since June. Social distancing measures are in place nationwide, but are not always heeded.

Indonesia reported 1,902 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian country to 144,945, data from the country’s health ministry showed.

The data recorded an additional 69 deaths, taking the total to 6,346.


Thailand’s COVID-19 management subcommittee will submit its recommendation to extend the state of emergency for another month until the end of September to curb infection risks, said Natthapol Nakpanich, deputy army chief. The emergency rules were first imposed in March, and have been extended four times with the current extension set to end on Aug 31.


Myanmar reported three more local transmission cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday morning, taking the country's total to 379, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry.

Three females, one under investigation and two under quarantine in Sittwe township of Rakhine state, tested positive for COVID-19.

They reportedly did not have either recent travel history or close contact with previously confirmed patients.

As of Wednesday, a total of 137,749 samples were tested at the laboratories in the country, six deaths were reported and 331 patients have recovered, the ministry's figures showed.


India reported the biggest daily jump of 64,531 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 2,767,273, according to the latest data released by the federal health ministry.

The death toll in the country also increased to 52,889, with 1,092 new deaths reported during the past 24 hours.

According to the data, there are still 676,514 active cases across India, and 2,037,870 people have been cured and discharged from hospitals.


Mongolia reported three more COVID-19 recoveries, taking the total recoveries to 281, the country's National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Wednesday.

The recovered are servicemen of the Mongolian Armed Forces who returned home from Afghanistan on a chartered flight in July, the NCCD said in a statement.


Malaysia reported 16 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the national total to 9,235, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that four cases are imported and 12 others are local transmissions.

Another 23 cases have been released, bringing the total cured and discharged to 8,925 or 96.6 percent of all cases.

Of the remaining 185 active cases, seven are being held in intensive care and three of those are in need of assisted breathing.

The Philippines

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines surged to 173,774 after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,650 new cases on Wednesday.

The DOH said that the number of recoveries rose to 113,481 after it reported 716 more patients have survived the disease.

The death toll also increased to 2,795 after 111 more patients have succumbed to the viral disease, the DOH added.

The Philippine Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Wednesday that Metro Manila mayors will start implementing a "unified" evening curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time as an added measure to limit the movement of people in the capital, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines.

The Philippine government loosened the lockdown restrictions in Metro Manila and outlying provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal after a two-week strict lockdown due to the high rate of community transmission.

Under the new quarantine rules in Metro Manila and the other four provinces, mass gatherings of more than 10 persons are still prohibited.

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