Asia Today: South Koreans urged to stay home as cases jump

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea counted its fourth straight day of triple-digit increases in new coronavirus cases Monday as the government urged people to stay home and curb travel.

The government had drawn up a special holiday on Monday with hopes of spurring domestic consumption. But as infections in the capital region increase, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo urged people to stay home and for residents in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province to avoid visiting other parts of the country for two weeks.

The 197 new cases announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the nation's total to 15,515, including 305 deaths. The 279 new cases reported Sunday was South Korea's biggest single-day jump since early May amid concerns about an outbreak in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.

The KCDC said 167 of the new cases came from the greater capital region, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. Health workers have been struggling to track infections, but churches have emerged as a major source.

More than 300 have been linked to a northern Seoul church led by a conservative pastor who has frequently led anti-government protests against liberal President Moon Jae-in, including a rally attended by thousands of demonstrators in downtown Seoul on Saturday despite official pleas for them to stay home.

The government is pressing charges against the pastor, Jun Kwang-hun, for allegedly disrupting anti-virus efforts by falsely reporting the church’s members and discouraging followers from getting tested. Health workers have so far tested 2,000 of the church’s members and plan to test 2,000 more.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India has now counted more than 50,000 deaths from COVID-19 with 941 deaths reported in the past 24 hours. With a total of 50,921 deaths, India has the fourth-most in the world, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico. It has now counted more than 2.6 million cases of infection with 57,982 new cases reported by the Health Ministry on Monday. August has seen a big spike in fatalities with more than a quarter of the country’s total deaths coming in the past 17 days.

— China reported no new locally spread cases of coronavirus for the first time in a month, as twin outbreaks on opposite sides of the country have faded. The National Health Commission did report 22 imported cases in the latest 24-hour period. China has seen a small uptick in the number of infected people arriving from abroad in the past eight days. Health authorities have confirmed 84,849 cases overall and 4,634 deaths since the start of the pandemic. China does not include people who test positive but do not show symptoms in its official case count.

— Japan's top automaker Toyota is seeing more cases among employees as coronavirus infections climb in Japan, partly because of a gradual increase in testing. Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday 20 employees were confirmed with COVID-19 so far, seven of them this month. The first cases were reported in March. Spokeswoman Kayo Doi said most have returned to work and none had been seriously ill. Toyota facilities are having office staff work from home, set up longer periods between shifts at plants and taken other social distancing measures. All plants are back up in Japan, although some production was temporarily halted. Japan's virus situation has been relatively moderate, but cases continue to rise. Japan said Monday 1,017 new cases were confirmed Sunday, and 11 deaths. The nation has had about 1,100 deaths from COVID-19.

— Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state on Monday recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic with 25 coronavirus fatalities. The death toll surpasses the previous 24-hour record of 21 set last week. Victoria’s Health Department recorded 282 new cases, slightly more than 279 new infections on Sunday but maintaining a downward trend. “We just can’t allow any sense of complacency to creep in here. This is an ultra-marathon and we just have to keep pushing forward each and every day,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said.

— Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has delayed New Zealand’s elections due to the coronavirus outbreak in Auckland. They'll now be held on Oct. 17. The virus outbreak prompted a two-week lockdown in Auckland and halted election campaigning, and as of Monday, has infected 58 people. Health authorities believe all the cases are connected and there’s no evidence of a wider outbreak. Authorities have been testing people at record levels since the outbreak was discovered last Tuesday. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says the latest outbreak has given authorities pause for thought and New Zealand might not return to quite the same levels of freedom it had enjoyed until last week. “I think we should aim to get back to life as normal as possible,” Bloomfield said. “But the new norm I think will include perhaps a little more physical distancing, more frequent and available use of hand gels, possibly even use of masks in some settings.”