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Asia Today: Speed of viral spread causes concern in S. Korea

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SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — South Korea reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases for the third straight day on Saturday, the fastest spread of infections the country has seen since the early days of the pandemic.

The 504 cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention brought the total number of infections since the pandemic began to 33,375, including 522 deaths.

Around 330 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of the country’s 51 million people, where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions linked to hospitals, schools, saunas, gyms and army units.

Infections were also reported in other major cities including Daegu, which was the epicenter of the country’s previous major outbreak in late February and March.

The recent spike in infections came after the government eased social distancing restrictions to the lowest levels in October to support a weak economy, allowing high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bars to reopen and spectators to return to sports.

Officials reimposed some of the restrictions this week and could be forced to clamp down on economic activities further if transmissions don’t slow.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Health authorities in northern Thailand have traced and tested more than 300 people who were in contact with a Thai women who returned from Myanmar and tested positive for the coronavirus after somehow avoiding a mandatory quarantine. The director-general of the Department of Disease Control said Saturday it was the 10th case in the last two months where it could not be ascertained with certainty where the patient caught the virus. The 29-year-old woman had been in Myanmar for a month during a coronavirus surge before entering Thailand on Nov. 24. She then spent three days in Chiang Mai, including visits to a nightclub and department store, before going to a hospital. Health officials traced and tested 326 people who had been in contact with her and quarantined the 105 judged most at risk. Thailand since January has had 3,966 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 60 deaths.

— India’s coronavirus infections dipped further with 41,322 new cases reported in the past 24 hours, and there was no signs of a resurgence as a result of a major festival two weeks ago. The high point of new infections this week was 44,739 on Wednesday. Single-day cases have remained below the 50,000-mark for three weeks. The Indian capital also saw a drop in daily cases with 5,482 after recording an all-time high on Nov. 11. The federal government blamed state authorities’ inability to ramp up testing and enforce social distancing for the surge in New Delhi. On Saturday, India’s death toll rose by 485 to to 136,200. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited three pharmaceutical facilities on Saturday to review development of potential COVID-19 vaccines. Five vaccines are under different phases of trial in India.

— The number of people hospitalized in serious condition for COVID-19 in Japan reached a record 440 people, the Health Ministry said Saturday. New reported cases nationwide topped more than 2,600 people, according to tallies by local media. If confirmed by officials, that would be a record as well. In Tokyo, daily cases have totalled more than 500 recently, raising alarm as the number had been hovering at about half that for the last couple of months. Although Japan has never had a lockdown, restaurants and bars have periodically closed early, including in Tokyo starting Saturday. Japan has seen more than 2,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

The Associated Press