Asia Today: Australia outbreak slows, New Zealand cases grow

The coronavirus outbreak centered in Australia’s second-largest city showed a decline in new infections, though the state’s leader urged continued vigilance

The coronavirus outbreak centered in Australia’s second-largest city showed a decline in new infections Thursday, though the state’s leader urged continued vigilance.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were 278 new infections and eight new deaths, down from around 700 daily at the peak of the outbreak.

Daniels said the lower numbers indicate the lockdown restrictions in Melbourne are working but urged people to stay the course.

“We would just caution against any Victorian thinking that we aren’t in the midst of a real marathon,” Daniels said. “This is an endurance race, and we need to stay the course on this. We need to be as vigilant each and every day.”

Meanwhile, neighboring New South Wales state, which includes Australia’s largest city, Sydney, recorded 12 new cases and one death.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— South Korea reported 56 new cases of the coronavirus as new infection clusters continue to pop up across major cities. The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the caseload to 14,770, including 305 deaths. Forty-three of the new cases were reported in the Seoul area, while two came from Busan, the country’s second-largest city where infections have been reported at schools and among foreign cargo ship workers.

— The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has imposed its first nationwide lockdown due to a virus infection in a returning traveler who had been released from quarantine. The government issued a stay-at-home order for its approximately 750,000 people, and all schools, offices and commercial establishments were closed. It said the lockdown would be enforced from five to 21 days “to identify and isolate all positive cases, immediately breaking the chain of transmission.” The 27-year-old Bhutanese woman returning from Kuwait tested negative in mandatory quarantine for arriving travelers. But between her discharge from quarantine and her positive test result Monday, she is believed to have traveled extensively in Bhutan. The tourism-dependent country closed its borders to foreign travelers in March after an American tourist was hospitalized with COVID-19. Bhutan’s 113 reported infections were all quarantined travelers, except for one with conflicting test results.

— New local cases in China fell into the single digits, while Hong Kong saw another rise in hospitalizations and deaths. The National Health Commission said Thursday eight new cases were registered in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. Another 11 were Chinese returning from overseas. Hong Kong reported 62 new cases, up from 33 the day before, along with an additional five deaths. The semi-autonomous Chinese city has required masks be worn in public and limited restaurant dining among other measures to curb a new outbreak.

— New Zealand’s first known community outbreak in more than three months grew to 17 cases on Thursday and is expected to increase. Health officials are still working to trace where the virus came from, and a lockdown imposed in Auckland could be extended well beyond an initial three days. Before the cluster was detected this week, no case of local transmission had been reported in New Zealand in 102 days. All of its other cases were travelers quarantined after arriving from abroad.