Asia Today: Australian outbreak attributed to sick workers


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state on Monday posted a new daily record of 532 new COVID-19 cases, and the government leader warned that a lockdown in the city of Melbourne would continue while infected people continued to go to work.

Melbourne is almost half way through a six-week lockdown aimed at curbing community spread of coronavirus. Mask-wearing in Australia’s second-largest city became compulsory last week.

The new cases and six deaths reported on Monday surpasses a previous record of 484 new infections reported on Wednesday last week.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the biggest driver of the new infections was people continuing to go to work after showing symptoms.

“This is what is driving these numbers up and the lockdown will not end until people stop going to work with symptoms and instead go and get tested,” Andrews said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for patience in Victoria.

“There has been significant community transmission in Victoria. That will take some time to get on top of,” Morrison said.

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said New South Wales was the only other state or territory to record new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported 17 new cases.

Of the 259 COVID-19 patients in Australian hospitals, 245 were in Victoria.

Australia’s death toll has risen to 161 with six deaths in Victoria, mostly in aged care. There were more than 600 cases of COVID-19 cases among residents and staff at Melbourne aged care homes, Kidd said.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

– As India recorded nearly 50,000 new cases of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepared to launch facilities in three major cities to significantly ramp up testing capacity. The 49,931 cases reported on Monday brought India’s nationwide tally to beyond 1.4 million. India has the world’s third-highest caseload after the United States and Brazil. The 32,771 reported deaths from the disease in India, however, mark a far lower fatality rate than in the other two countries. Modi’s office says that the high-volume facilities in Noida, a suburb of New Delhi, and in the cities of Mumbai and Kolkata, each capable of analyzing as many as 10,000 tests per day, will help authorities track the virus as it continues its march across India. India’s chief medical research agency says the country tested about 515,000 samples for COVID-19 on Sunday.

– Hong Kong will ban dining in at restaurants completely and make it mandatory to wear masks in all public places, as the city battles a worsening coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 1,000 people in the last two weeks. The tightened measures will be effective for at least one week starting Wednesday. They are an extension of a previous ban on eating at restaurants after 6 p.m., as well as making it mandatory by law to wear masks on public transport. A ban on public gatherings of more than four people has also been tightened, with gatherings limited to two people.

– Vietnam has postponed its hosting of Asia’s largest security forum, which includes North Korea, and an annual meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers by a month to September due to the pandemic. Two Southeast Asian diplomats said Monday that Vietnam, which leads the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, hopes to hold face to face meetings in mid-September instead of doing them by online video due to travel restrictions if the annual gatherings were to be held as originally scheduled later this week. The 10-nation bloc hosts the ASEAN Regional Forum, which brings together its top diplomats with counterparts from the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India, the two Koreas and other Asia Pacific countries to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and other security issues. Most of about 1,300 ASEAN meetings this year have so far been shifted online due to the pandemic.

– New Zealand health authorities say they will trace and test people who came into contact with a traveler from the country who tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in South Korea last week. Health Minister Chris Hipkins says they’ve also asked for South Korean authorities to undertake a second test to make sure the passenger has the virus. It has been nearly three months since the last case of community transmission was found in New Zealand and any proof the passenger caught the virus while in New Zealand would come as a big shock to the nation of 5 million people. Health officials in New Zealand say their counterparts in South Korea suspect the traveler was infected while in transit in Singapore. “We have got our contact tracing system kicking into gear though,” Hipkins said.

– China on Monday reported 61 new cases of coronavirus, spread between its northeastern and northwestern regions. The Xinjiang region in the northwest reported 41 new cases, while Liaoning and Jilin provinces in the northeast saw a combined 16. Another four cases were brought by Chinese travelers from outside the country. China has reported 4,634 deaths among 83,891 cases of COVID-19.

– South Korea reported 25 new cases, bringing its national caseload to 14,175 infections and 299 deaths. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 16 of the new cases were tied to people arriving from abroad. The country in past days have reported dozens of cases among crew members of a Russia-flagged cargo ship docked in Busan and hundreds of South Korean construction workers airlifted from virus-ravaged Iraq. Eight of the nine local transmissions were from the Seoul metropolitan area.

People wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus walk outside Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, July 23, 2020. There were few bare faces among rush-hour commuters in Australia’s second-largest city on Thursday morning as Melbourne residents were largely complying with a new law making face coverings compulsory. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)