Asia Today: Thailand confirms 745 new coronavirus cases

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People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus offer prayers for New Year at the Kanda Myojin Shrine on the first business day of the year, in Tokyo, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Kanda Myojin is known as the shrine of commerce and industry. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

BANGKOK – Thailand has registered 745 new coronavirus cases, with a new death reported in Bangkok, where a semi-lockdown went into effect.

The Center of COVID-19 Situation Administration said Monday that the new infections bring the total number since last January to 8,439, while the death toll has climbed to 65.

The agency said the number included 152 Thais and 577 migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, the province next to Bangkok that is the epicenter of the new outbreak.

Nearly all the infected workers were employed in fish markets and factories and are all housed in dormitories that have been closed off to the public since the recent outbreak began. Since the initial spike in late December, the virus has now been found in 54 of Thailand’s 73 provinces.

The government has ordered all schools closed from Monday and had taken earlier other steps to try and restrict the spread of the virus, including closing bars, massage parlors and playgrounds, and banning all public gatherings.

It has not yet closed down shopping malls or stores, while restaurants are still allowed to operate but cannot serve alcoholic beverages.

Provincial governors can also order their own, tougher, measures. Bangkok authorities have announced that all eateries can only do takeaway service from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting Monday evening.

The government has been considering tougher measures if the spread of the virus does not slow down around the country.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Mask wearing has become mandatory is some circumstances in Australia’s largest city due to the pandemic risk. People risk a 200 Australian dollar ($154) fine in Sydney if they don’t wear masks in shopping malls, on public transport and in various indoor areas. New South Wales state Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant could not say how long the measure would be in place. The state on Monday reported its first 24-hour period without a new coronavirus infection being detected since Dec. 15. A cluster that started in Sydney last month has spread to Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, where masks have been mandatory since July. Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said three new cases had been detected in Melbourne during the latest 24-hour period, bringing the national total to 28,504 cases since the pandemic began. Only 26 COVID-19 patients were in Australian hospitals on Monday, and none was in an intensive care unit, Kelly said.

— Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says vaccine approval is being speeded up to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and he promised to consider declaring a state of emergency. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and the governors of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa had asked the national government Saturday to declare the emergency after the capital saw a daily record of 1,337 cases on New Year’s Eve. The declaration carries no legal penalties but works as a strong warning for people to work from home, reduce nonessential outings and social distance, as well as having businesses close early. Suga told reporters the ruling party will push for a legal change when parliament reconvenes later this month, to allow penalties for violations. He said vaccine approval is now expected this month instead of February. Vaccinations are expected to begin next month.

— Sri Lankan authorities say schools will partially reopen next week after being shut for nearly three months because of the coronavirus. Classes in primary schools will resume in most places on Jan. 11, and grade 11 classes on Jan. 25. Students in grade 11 face a compulsory government exam in two months. However, the education ministry said it decided not to reopen schools in the capital region, where COVID-19 cases are still being detected. Schools were closed in October following outbreaks at a garment factory and a fish market. Schools in some areas reopened in November but were closed again for school holidays in December. Sri Lanka has also banned public gatherings and imposed restrictions on public transport. It has reported 44,774 cases as of Sunday, including 213 fatalities.


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