Asia Today: Bangkok shuts schools, entertainment venues

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Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil Hindu devotees decorate the entrance to their house in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

BEIJING – Thailand's capital is shutting down venues including schools and entertainment areas as coronavirus cases continue to spread.

Thailand reported 279 new cases on Friday including two deaths.

Seven provinces including Bangkok have been designated red zones where places including entertainment venues, boxing rings, gyms and flea markets are ordered closed. Restaurants are allowed to serve only takeout food. The restrictions are in place until mid-January.

A new outbreak has spread from the country’s largest wholesale seafood market in Samut Sakhon south of Bangkok and from a gambling den in Rayong, and both places continue to log the highest number of infections. Bangkok reported 180 cases in the last 24 hours.

A spokesman for the COVID-19 center, Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, said the Health Ministry has contacted Oxford-AstraZeneca to purchase a second batch of 26 million doses of their vaccine. The deal would double the number of doses to be supplied by the British vaccine manufacturer.

The first 2 million doses are expected in February and March and will be given to medical staff.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers show a negative coronavirus test taken over the previous 72 hours before they can board planes. The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian airports come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located in Liaoning province just north of the capital Beijing. Four new cases were announced Friday in Liaoning, along with five cases in Beijing, where emergency testing was ordered for more than a million people following the detection of a small cluster in the northeastern suburbs. Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s annual Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world’s largest annual human migration. School classes are also being dismissed a week earlier than usual and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays. China on Friday reported a total of 19 new virus cases, including 10 that were brought from outside the country. Since the coronavirus was detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, China has reported a total of 87,071 cases and 4,634 deaths, although some question whether those figures underreport the extent of the outbreak.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito expressed gratitude to medical professionals and acknowledged the hardship caused by the coronavirus in a New Year’s Day message. Naruhito also offered empathy to those who lost loved ones, lost their jobs or were struggling with loneliness. Japan has had more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19. Worries are growing about another surge in cases, reaching a daily record of 1,337 new infections for the capital Tokyo on Thursday.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen hailed the island’s progress in containing the coronavirus pandemic and growing the economy. In her annual New Year’s Day address, Tsai said Taiwan had effectively conquered the virus through “believing in professionalism, trusting one another and unifying as a society,” without lockdowns or serious disruptions to business and education. Taiwan has been applauded for its swift and sustained efforts to contain COVID-19, with just seven deaths and fewer than 800 confirmed cases, despite its close proximity to China, where the pandemic began.

— Sri Lankan police are seeking help in finding four prisoners infected with the coronavirus who are missing after escaping from a treatment center, as cases in prisons surge to more than 4,000. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said Friday that five inmates escaped the previous day and one was later captured. “We need to trace the other four as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said. The coronavirus has been spreading in Sri Lanka’s crowded prisons. As of Friday, 3,894 inmates and 122 guards have tested positive. Cases have been detected in five prisons in different parts of the country. The disease has surged in Sri Lanka since October, when two clusters emerged in the capital area, one at a garment factory and other at a fish market. Confirmed cases have risen to 43,298, including 204 fatalities.