BANGKOK (AP) — South Korea on Saturday reported 23 fresh coronavirus cases, mostly from the densely populated Seoul area where authorities shut down thousands of nightclubs, bars and karaoke rooms to stem transmissions.
Meanwhile, China, where the pandemic began in December, reported no new confirmed cases for the first day since it began announcing infections in January.
The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,165 cases and 266 deaths. Thirteen of the new cases came from Gyeonggi province surrounding Seoul, which on Saturday ordered the closure of an additional 2,629 bars and karaoke rooms, bringing the number of shut entertainment venues to 8,363.
South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March before using aggressive tracing and testing to stabilize its outbreak. But there’s growing concern over the steady rise of infections in the greater capital area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. It came after health authorities relaxed social distancing guidelines and allowed a phased reopening of schools, starting with high-school seniors on Wednesday.
More than 200 of the recent infections have been linked to clubgoers in the Seoul metropolitan area.
At least 1,204 cases have been traced to international arrivals, although such infections have slowed after the country strengthened border controls in April, enforcing two-week quarantines on all overseas passengers.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— NO NEW CASES FOR 1ST TIME IN CHINA: China reported no new confirmed infections or deaths and only two suspected cases in last the 24 hours. That added to evidence the country has largely overcome the epidemic that began in the central industrial city of Wuhan. The National Health Commission said 79 patients still were being treated as of Friday 376 others are in isolation and being monitored as either suspected cases or for testing positive without showing symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths and 82,971 cases.
— JAPAN NIGHTCLUBS GET COVID INSTRUCTIONS: The Japanese association representing workers at nightclubs and hostess bars is instructing people to wear masks and to disinfect doorknobs and tables every 30 minutes. The guidelines, issued by the Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai, said karaoke microphones must be cleaned after each use, and workers should wash their hands and gargle every 30 minutes. A customer and worker can sit together, but one empty seat must be kept in between another customer. Visitors from abroad, who didn’t undergo a 14-day quarantine, will be refused at the door. The women should not touch their hair or face, and must report health problems to authorities, according to the checklist. More than a million women are estimated to work at cabarets, with more at the cheaper joints. Their income has plunged amid the outbreak, as major companies instruct employees to work from home. The government’s stay-home request has been lifted in much of Japan but remains in Tokyo. Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 777 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.