Asia Today: South Korean leader urges calm as cases rise

Health

People wear face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as they walk at an outdoor shopping area in Beijing, Saturday, May 9, 2020. North Korean state media reported on Friday that leader Kim Jong Un sent a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping to praise what he described as China’s success in getting its COVID-19 epidemic under control. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Sunday reported 34 additional cases of the coronavirus amid a spate of infections linked to club goers, as President Moon Jae-in urged calm, saying that “there’s no reason to stand still out of fear.”

Figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised the number of virus cases to 10,874, including 256 deaths.

The agency said 26 of the 34 new patients were locally transmitted cases, while the others came from overseas. It was the first time that the daily jump has been above 30 in about a month.

Most of the cases in the past few days have been linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment neighborhood. A 29-year-old man had visited three clubs before testing positive last week.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Saturday ordered more than 2,100 nightclubs, hostess bars and discos to close and urged others to enforce anti-virus measures. On Sunday, Gyeonggi province, which surrounds Seoul, and Incheon city, just west of Seoul, made similar moves.

“The infection cluster, which recently occurred in entertainment facilities, has raised awareness that even during the stabilization phase, similar situations can arise again, anytime, anywhere in an enclosed, crowded space,” Moon said.

“We must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention,” he said, adding that his country had “the right quarantine and medical systems combined with experience to respond quickly to any unexpected infection clusters that might occur.”

Moon said his government will concentrate all its capabilities on overcoming the economic damage, which he described as “colossal.”

“We cannot survive if we fail to turn this crisis into an opportunity,” he said.

Moon said South Korea’s trade balance in April recorded a deficit for the first time in 99 months, and that the service industry contraction is expanding into a manufacturing industry crisis.

He said the government will try to create jobs, boost consumption, recover tourism and promote investment.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— INDONESIA SEES SPIKE: Indonesia has seen a spike in new cases amid an improvement in testing capabilities. The Health Ministry confirmed 387 new cases on Sunday. On Saturday, Indonesia announced 533 new infections — a single-day high. The country now has 14,032 confirmed cases, including 973 deaths. Even though testing has been ramped up, it remains a major problem in the archipelago nation, which is home to about 270 million people. Indonesia has so far conducted fewer than 120,000 tests — or fewer than 500 per 1 million people.

— 14 NEW CASES IN CHINA: China reported its first double-digit rise in cases in 10 days on Sunday, saying 14 had been detected, 12 of them domestic infections and two from abroad. Eleven of the domestic cases were in the northeastern province of Jilin and one in Hubei, whose capital, Wuhan, was the initial epicenter of the global pandemic. Jilin shares a border with North Korea, where the virus situation is unclear. No new virus deaths have been reported in China for almost a month and the number of people in treatment for COVID-19 nationwide fell to 148, with another 798 under isolation. China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths and 82,901 cases.

— MALAYSIA EXTENDS RESTRICTIONS: Despite a sharp drop in infections, Malaysia’s leader said restrictions to fight the coronavirus will be extended by four more weeks until June 9. The government has already let most businesses reopen with strict conditions to help revive a hard-hit economy. But mass gatherings are still barred, with schools, cinemas and houses of worship staying shut, group sports prohibited and interstate travel banned. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said 6.6 million people, or nearly half of the country’s labor force, has returned to work, with the number expected to increase. Despite positive results since a partial lockdown started March 18, he said the remaining restrictions due to end Tuesday must continue to prevent infections from flaring up in the absence of a vaccine. Malaysia has confirmed 6,589 cases, including 108 deaths.

— MOON REACHES OUT TO NORTH KOREA: South Korea’s liberal president says his proposal to North Korea to jointly tackle infectious diseases such as COVID-19 is still on the table, though the North hasn’t responded. President Moon Jae-in told reporters Sunday that he believes the North is suffering “various difficulties” over the coronavirus pandemic. He didn’t elaborate. His spy agency recently told lawmakers that the pandemic had shrunk the North’s external trade and caused panic buying in Pyongyang. Moon said he’ll try to persuade North Korea to accept his offers for many reconciliation projects after the pandemic is stabilized.

— AUSTRALIA BACKS EU CALL FOR VIRUS PROBE: Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia’s government supports a European Union motion for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in China. Australia has called for such an inquiry for some weeks to better understand how the coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, to be able counter such pandemics in the future. The move has drawn sharp response from China, Australia’s No. 1 trading partner. “We support the EU motion which includes an independent investigation, regulatory work on wet markets and also the potential for independent inspection powers,” Hunt told Sky News on Sunday.

— INDIA BEGINS REPATRIATING NATIONALS: An Indian navy warship carrying Indians stranded in the Maldives because of the coronavirus lockdown docked Sunday in Kochi, a port city in the southernmost state of Kerala. The INS Jalashwa, with 698 returning citizens aboard, was the first vessel to arrive as part of India’s massive repatriation mission. India is also using national carrier Air India to bring back thousands of stranded citizens from elsewhere in Asia, as well as the Persian Gulf and Britain.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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