23 new cases in South Korea, zero in China

BANGKOK (AP) — South Korea yesterday reported 23 fresh coronavirus cases, mostly from the densely populated Seoul area where authorities shut down thousands of establishments 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 yesterday 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 stabilise 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 a cluster 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.

China reported no new confirmed infections or deaths and only two suspected cases in the last 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 while 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.

People crossing a road are seen through the window of a tram in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP