World

S. Korea bans year-end parties, some music lessons as cases soar

Public saunas, steam-bath rooms must also close as cases soar

SEOUL: South Korean authorities announced a ban on year-end parties and some music lessons yesterday and said public saunas and some cafes must also close after coronavirus infections surged at their fastest pace since the early days of the pandemic.

South Korea has been one of the world's coronavirus mitigation success stories, but spikes in infections have reappeared relentlessly, triggering alarm in Asia's four-largest economy.

The authorities reported 450 new infections yesterday after more than 500 cases were recorded for three days in a row, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

What the authorities are calling a third wave of infections is spreading at the fastest rate in nearly nine months, driven by outbreaks at military facilities, a sauna, a high school and churches.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said restrictions would be tightened on gatherings and activities seen as prone to virus transmission, especially in the capital Seoul and surrounding urban areas.

"Year-end events and parties hosted by hotels, party rooms, guest houses and other accommodation facilities will be banned outright," Mr Chung said.

Saunas and steam-bath rooms with a high risk of mass infection would also be banned as would the teaching of wind musical instruments and singing, he said.

For rest of the country, social distancing rules would also be tightened from tomorrow, he said.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, reported 115 new infections yesterday, including 109 locally transmitted, the highest in nearly four months, as the authorities battle a renewed wave.

The figure was up from Saturday's 84 and the highest since Aug 1, when 125 cases were reported. It compares with the July 30 record of 149.

Authorities said they will halt in-person classes at all kindergartens, primary and secondary schools from Wednesday until the beginning of the schools' Christmas break.

Since late January, 6,239 people in Hong Kong have been infected, of whom 109 have died of the disease.

Indonesia reported its record daily rise in infections yesterday with 6,267 cases, bringing the total to 534,266, data showed. The data showed 169 new deaths, taking the total fatalities to 16,815.

A Chinese factory owned by South Korean semiconductor giant SK Hynix halted operations yesterday after a plant worker was found to have an asymptomatic infection, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

The Korean worker based at the plant in Chongqing city since February had left on Thursday for South Korea, the report said.

He was tested at Incheon airport in Seoul and confirmed positive on Saturday, it reported.

China reported 11 new cases for Saturday, compared with six cases a day earlier, the health authority said earlier yesterday.

All of the new infections were imported, the National Health Commission said in a statement. - REUTERS

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