SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 17 new cases of COVID-19, the first time its daily jump came down to the teens in nearly a month, as health authorities scramble to contain a resurgence of the virus centered around the capital.
The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday brought the national caseload to 12,438 cases, including 280 deaths.
The country over the past two weeks have been reporting 40 to 50 new cases per day amid increased public activity and eased attitudes on social distancing. There has also been an uptick in imported cases, mostly from passengers arriving from southwest Asia, prompting authorities to halt providing new visas for travelers from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Twelve of the new cases reported Monday were from the Seoul metropolitan area where authorities have struggled to keep track of hundreds of transmissions linked to nightspots, restaurants, church gatherings and workers such as door-to-door salespeople and warehouse employees. Six of the new cases, including five in the capital area, were linked to international arrivals.
The monthlong rise of infections in the densely populated capital area have raised concerns that the country is sleepwalking into another crisis after containing its first wave centered around the southeastern city of Daegu. As that outbreak abated, authorities eased social distancing guidelines and reopened schools in phases.
Seoul National University doctor Bang Ji-hwan, a member of South Korea’s central clinical committee on new infectious diseases, said during a news conference Sunday afternoon that the country must brace for a possibility of a “massive explosion” of infections in the capital area that might overwhelm the region’s hospital capacities.
He suggested that the country should ease its criteria for deciding when COVID-19 patients can be safely discharged from hospitals to help avoid a possible shortage in beds and manage workloads of medical staff.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— The chairman of a chain of pharmacies in Beijing has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for selling more than 500,000 counterfeit 3M Corp. masks during the coronavirus epidemic, news reports said Monday. Two people who colluded with Li Dong, chairman of Kang Baixin Pharmacy, also were sentenced to prison by the Chaoyang District Court, the Beijing News and other outlets reported, citing unidentified sources. There was no announcement from the court and phone calls to its press office weren’t answered. Li and co-defendants Li Yuzhang and Luo Hanyi were convicted of buying fake 3M masks and re-selling them to pharmacies or individuals, the news reports said. They said the defendants all denied the charges and said they would appeal their conviction.
— China reported 18 new cases of the coronavirus, including nine in Beijing and two in neighboring Hebei province. It was the first time in more than a week that the number fell to single digits in an outbreak in the Chinese capital. Previously, the city had reported more than 20 cases every day for eight straight days. The total number of cases since the first one was confirmed on June 11 rose to 236. The fall in numbers comes after China strengthened measures to eradicate the virus in Beijing, including cancelling school classes and public events. The other seven new cases in China were brought from outside the country. The National Health Commission said 89 people remain in treatment with COVID-19 and 129 people are in isolation as suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths among 83,396 cases of the virus.
— Philippine officials say Saudi Arabia has asked the Manila government to bring home the remains of 282 Filipino workers, a repatriation delayed because of coronavirus restrictions. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III says Saudi King Salman made the urgent request himself. The workers died mostly of various illnesses, including COVID-19, in Saudi Arabia, where more than 800,000 Filipinos work. The Philippines asked that the three-day deadline be extended and that the bodies of about 50 Filipinos who died of COVID-19 disease be buried in Saudi Arabia, Bello said. He told The Associated Press Monday that the requests would likely be granted. The Philippines is a leading source of global labor and has been struggling to help bring home Filipinos who lost their jobs abroad while also dealing with the high number of infections within the country. Philippine officials have reported more than 30,000 infections, including 1,169 deaths, among the highest in Southeast Asia.
— New Zealand reported two new cases of the coronavirus on Monday as a trickle of infected people continue to arrive at the border. The country of 5 million people now has nine active cases after having none at all earlier this month. Health officials say all those cases involve people who have recently arrived and are in quarantine, and there’s no evidence of community transmission. Still, many remain anxious community transmission could return, especially after health officials admitted making a mistake by allowing two women who had arrived from London to leave quarantine before they had been tested because a parent was dying. The women later tested positive and have isolated themselves. The latest two cases involve people returning from India and Pakistan.