Asia Today: South Korea mulls shorter hours for diners

South Korean officials are considering reducing working hours of restaurants and cafes as the country counted its 15th straight day of triple-digit jumps in coronavirus infections

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean officials are considering reducing working hours of restaurants and cafes as the country counted its 15th straight day of triple-digit jumps in coronavirus infections.

The 371 new cases reported by the South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday brought the national caseload to 19,077, including 316 deaths. The country has added more than 4,300 to its caseload over the past 15 days, prompting concerns about overwhelming hospitals.

KCDC said 286 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, bumping the region’s caseload to 7,200 and overtaking the southeastern city of Daegu, the epicenter of a massive outbreak in late February and March that was stabilized by April.

Health workers have found it more difficult to contain the recent transmissions centered around the more populated capital area, where clusters have been tied to churches, restaurants and schools.

While government has recently banned large gatherings and shut down nightspots and churches nationwide, there are calls for elevating social distancing measures to the highest level. It would prohibit gatherings of more than 10 and advise private companies to have employees work from home.

But Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a virus meeting Friday that the government wasn’t ready to implement Level 3 restrictions yet, citing concerns about hurting the economy that policymakers say will likely shrink for the first time in 22 years. Chung said officials will instead explore other ways to improve distancing.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state on Friday reported 113 new COVID-19 cases for a second consecutive day, with authorities warning that the infection rate will have to fall substantially if a six-week lockdown is to be relaxed on schedule on Sept. 13. The latest daily tallies are the lowest in more than eight weeks, with a peak of 725 in early August. The latest death toll dropped to 12 from 23 on Thursday. Authorities want daily infections to fall at least to low double-digits before they would consider relaxing restrictions. Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said: “We’re clearly still trending in the right direction. … It’s not gotten below 100 yet, I do expect that to happen, if not over the weekend, then by next week, if trends continue.”

— India has recorded another high of 77,266 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s total to over 3.38 million. Nearly 47% were detected this month alone. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 1,057 deaths for a total of 61,529. India has the third-highest caseload after the United States and Brazil, and its fatalities are the fourth-highest. Four of India’s 28 states — western Maharashtra and the three southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka — are the worst-hit regions, accounting for 63.8% of fatalities and 54% of active cases. New hot spots include rural areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states in the north.

— China began moving into its final weekend before a full reopening of schools amid continuing measures to prevent any further spread of the coronavirus. The country reported just nine new cases on Friday, all brought from outside. Hospitals are treating 288 people for COVID-19 and another 361 are being monitored n isolation. China has recorded 85,013 cases since the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year, with 4,634 deaths. The roughly 25% of students still out of school are due to return to classes on Monday. Lessons are being held on a staggered schedule and masks and social distancing are required. College undergraduates are also due to return to campus next week, with Beijing ordering tests for all 600,000 at the city’s institutions.

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