SKorea advises clubs to close, may delay schools



BANGKOK – South Korea on Friday advised nightclubs and similar entertainment venues to close for a month and may delay the reopening of schools after linking more than a dozen new coronavirus infections to clubgoers in the capital.

Schools were supposed to begin reopening next week, but the fears of a resurgence came after Friday’s disclosure of 25 new cases, South Korea’s first jump above 10 in five days.

“At this moment, it’s too early to say whether we need to postpone the opening of schools, but we will monitor the spread of the virus and review information” from investigations of the new cases, Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a virus briefing.

A slowing caseload in previous weeks had allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and schedule a phased reopening of schools, starting with high school seniors returning next Wednesday.

The government also advised nightclubs, hostess bars and similar entertainment venues around the country to close for a month after officials detected at least 15 infections linked to a 29-year-old patient who visited three clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon district on Saturday before testing positive on Wednesday.

Jeong said the patient did not wear a mask inside the clubs and that the number of infections will likely rise as health workers trace and test contacts. The clubs’ visitor lists show they received more than 1,500 customers combined on Saturday.

The central government’s advisory doesn’t require clubs to close, but if they become a source of infections after failing to enforce anti-virus measures they could be shut down.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said 13 of the new cases were an office colleague of the patient and a dozen fellow clubgoers, including three foreigners and a soldier.

“A drop of ink in clear water spreads swiftly,” Kim said during a briefing, urging vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the virus. “Anyone can become that drop of ink that spreads COVID-19.”

South Korea has reported more than 10,800 cases and 256 deaths from COVID-19.

South Korea has not reported a daily jump above 100 since April 1, which allowed officials to ease social distancing guidelines, schedule the reopening of schools and allow professional sports to return without fans in the stands. South Korea’s professional soccer league began its new season on Friday, following Tuesday’s baseball openers. Earlier this week, South Korean troops were allowed to resume leaves after two months of restrictions.

Health officials urged people to reconsider visiting their elderly parents on Friday, which is national parents’ day, and over the weekend.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— INDIA CROSSES 56,000: India recorded 3,390 new infections and 103 deaths, pushing its case total past 56,000 with 1,886 fatalities, according to health ministry data Friday. Of those infected, 16,539 have recovered. The coastal state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, continues to remain worst affected with almost 20,000 cases and 651 deaths. India has also began returning its citizens stranded overseas when it suspended all international travel in March. More than 340 Indians returned home in the first two flights from the United Arab Emirates. Officials say at least 200,000 Indians abroad have registered for repatriation. They must pay their own fares and be quarantined upon their return.

— KIM PRAISES XI: North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un sent a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping praising what he described as China’s success in getting its coronavirus epidemic under control. The report by North Korea’s state media followed an assessment by South Korea’s spy agency that the pandemic is hurting the North’s economy, already crippled by policy failures and U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear program. China is North Korea’s most significant ally and economic lifeline, accounting for about 90% of the country’s external trade. With China’s caseload easing, some experts say the North could reach out to China to reinvigorate cross-border trade that had been significantly reduced in past months.

— ABE, TRUMP DISCUSS COOPERATION: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump have agreed to closely cooperate in developing vaccines and drugs for COVID-19. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the leaders exchanged views on the COVID-19 situation, measures to prevent further spread of the virus, development of drugs and vaccines and steps for reopening the economies in their countries. He said Abe initiated the phone call. The Japanese Health Ministry, in a rare fast-track process, approved Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral drug remdesivir on Thursday to treat COVID-19 patients.

— CHINA CENSORS EU OP-ED: The European Union delegation to China says Beijing allowed a Chinese state newspaper to publish an op-ed from the delegation only after a reference to the Chinese origins and spread of the coronavirus was removed. “The EU Delegation to China made known its objections to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in no uncertain terms,” the delegation said in a statement Friday. However, it said it decided to proceed with publication to convey key messages on climate change and sustainability, human rights, the importance of multilateralism and debt relief for highly indebted countries. Only the English-language China Daily published the editorial.

— NO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA JUST YET: Australia plans to reopen the economy in stages by July, but there are no plans to open to general international travelers in the foreseeable future. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the states will set their own pace in easing coronavirus restrictions and details of the second and third stages of the plan had yet to be finalized. Most of Australia hasn’t seen new cases for multiple days but its most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, are continuing to record new cases daily. Morrison was open to international students returning to Australian universities but said general international travel was some time away. The first stage of a national plan agreed upon Friday would let small cafes and restaurants open with customers spaced apart. Children will return to classrooms and groups of 10 people will be allowed to gather outdoors. Playgrounds, golf courses, swimming pools and libraries will reopen.

— LOW-KEY VESAK IN SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists celebrated Vesak — the most important religious festival of the year — in low key because of the COVID-19 outbreak, as the government released 228 prisoners to mark the event. The Health Ministry has canceled all celebrations and mass gatherings. Buddhist temples were deserted on Friday and Thursday as monks requested devotees to observe the holiday at home. Vesak marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha.

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