Asia Today: Hong Kong testing more airport, care home staff

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BANGKOK (AP) – Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam says the territory is ramping up testing, especially for workers at the busy international airport and caregivers at homes for the elderly and disabled.

Lam said Tuesday that tests would be increased from 4,500 to 7,000 daily with both the government health department and university laboratories taking part.

Hong Kong has gone several days without new local infections, but a recent family cluster has increased concerns about those who show no symptoms passing the virus on to others, something the authorities hope can be remedied by increased testing.

Speaking to reporters at a routine morning briefing, Lam said a decision would soon be made on whether to extend social distancing rules set to expire on Thursday. If they are maintained for another two weeks, they would be in effect during the annual commemoration of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on prod-democracy protests in Beijing that is routinely marked with a rally and march in Hong Kong.

A Mother’s Day march by the opposition camp was banned last week with critics saying the government was seeking to use social distancing measures to squelch political gatherings and free speech.

“There is no political consideration at all related to certain anniversaries or political gatherings. Our only only consideration is related to public safety and public health,” Lam said.

A densely populated city of more than 7 million people just across the border from mainland China, Hong Kong has recorded just 1,055 COVID-19 cases and four deaths.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

Australia’s trade minister has described as “deeply disappointing” China’s imposition of tariffs of around 80% on Australian barley in a dispute that has been linked to Australian support for a coronavirus inquiry. The tariffs come a week after China banned beef imports from Australia’s four largest abattoirs over labeling issues. Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says Australia could appeal to the World Trade Organization to resolve both disputes. In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian says China is looking into trade issues between the sides in accordance with related laws and WTO rules. Australian barley farmer Andrew Weidemann says China has been investigating Australian barley for 18 months, but Australia’s call for a coronavirus inquiry “didn’t help.”

– SOUTH KOREA SCHOOLS TO REOPEN: South Korea has reported 13 fresh cases, a possible sign that a recent outbreak in the capital area is stabilizing, as officials prepare to reopen schools. Nine of the new cases were from Seoul and nearby regions, where dozens of infections have been linked to clubgoers who went out in early May as the country began relaxing social distancing measures. Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip urged vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the virus and called for education officials to double check preventive measures with high-school seniors returning to school on Wednesday.

– SIX NEW CHINA CASES: China reported six new cases Tuesday, a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his country would provide $2 billion to help respond to the outbreak and its economic fallout. Three of the new cases were listed as imported. Two were registered as local infections in Jilin province, and another local case was identified in Hubei province, where China’s outbreak was centered. Authorities in Hubei carried out nucleic acid tests on more than 1.5 million people between May 11 and May 17. More than 72.5% of tests were administered in Wuhan, where authorities plan to eventually test all 11 million residents as part of safeguards against a second wave of virus cases. Wuhan and surrounding cities in Hubei accounted for the bulk of China’s reported 82,690 cases and 4,634 deaths from COVID-19. Xi’s appearance via video link at the World Health Assembly on Monday came amid finger-pointing between the U.S. and China over the pandemic, and the World Health Organization bowing to calls from most of its member states to launch an independent inquiry into how it managed the response to the coronavirus.

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The version corrects that China reported six new cases Tuesday, not seven.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporter’s question during a press conference in Hong Kong, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Hong Kong’s leader Lam said the territory is ramping-up testing, especially for workers at the busy international airport and carers at homes for the elderly and disabled.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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