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Beijing tightens Covid-19 curbs as local transmissions continue

Shunyi district has declared wartime mode and testing for 800,000 people, with two villages sealed off

BEIJING: Beijing has tightened Covid-19 curbs over concerns that China's mass travel during the holiday period could cause cases to spike in the capital, as it reported locally transmitted cases for a fourth straight day yesterday.

Of the 12 locally transmitted cases yesterday, five were in Beijing's Shunyi district.

A meeting led by the capital's Communist party boss, Mr Cai Qi, urged all districts in Beijing to enter an "emergency" mode, sealing off residential compounds and villages where infections are found.

China's southern technology hub of Shenzhen reported one asymptomatic case yesterday, a patient who made two business trips to Beijing this month.

Shunyi has declared a wartime mode and testing for all its 800,000 people. All the cases reported on Saturday were close contacts of previous cases. Two villages in Shunyi have been sealed off.

The Chinese authorities plan to vaccinate 50 million people in high-risk groups before the Chinese New Year holidays from Feb 11, said state media Global Times.

Beijing has asked its civil servants to stay in the city from Jan 1 until the holidays and asked the public to avoid unnecessary travel during the period.

Public venues such as theme parks and churches have scaled back operating hours. Some Catholic churches in Beijing have stopped admitting churchgoers and halted group activities.

Commercial performances have been banned from Jan 1 until the holidays.

Meanwhile, South Korea said yesterday that it will extend social distancing measures introduced to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus for another six days, to Jan 3, even as it continues to report near-record numbers of new cases each day.

For the run-up to Christmas and New Year holidays, the government banned gatherings of more than four people in greater Seoul and closed down ski resorts and other tourist spots.

Beyond that temporary restriction, gatherings of more than 50 people are banned in greater Seoul and indoor restaurant dining is prohibited after 9pm local time.

"We will observe the situation over the next week and decide whether to adjust the social distancing measures before Jan 3 when the special quarantine measures for the year-end holidays terminate," Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said at a briefing.

The country reported 970 new coronavirus cases for Saturday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said earlier yesterday, bringing the national tally to 56,872 cases, with 808 deaths.

That is the smallest in five days but still not far off the record 1,241 infections logged on Friday.

In Australia, Sydney's outbreak continued yesterday with more than a quarter million people in lockdown as the country's largest city awaited word on whether any public New Year's Eve celebrations will be allowed.

Seven cases of the new coronavirus were reported in the New South Wales state, six linked directly to the outbreak in Sydney's northern beach suburbs, which are under a stay-at-home order until Wednesday. Infections have passed 120. - REUTERS

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