Asia Today: South Korea to curb social gatherings nationwide

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea will ban private social gatherings of five or more people and close nationwide ski resorts and major tourist attractions from Christmas Eve as it struggles with increasing coronavirus infections.
The restrictions uncovered by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Tuesday expand similar plans announced by authorities in the Seoul metropolitan area to the national level and are the most serious move the government has taken to date to end social distancing after months of complacency restore.
Chung said the measures will be in effect until at least January 3rd.
The capital area has been the center of a viral resurgence in recent weeks that overwhelmed hospitals, increased the death toll and raised questions about how the government is handling the outbreak.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported another 869 new infections, mostly from the capital, on Tuesday, bringing the number of cases in the country to 51,460. Forty-eight COVID-19 patients have died in the past 48 hours, the deadliest two days since the pandemic began. The death toll could rise as 281 of 14,810 active patients were in serious or critical condition, the agency said.
The virus resurgence has put pressure on the government to maximize social distancing restrictions, something policymakers have opposed for weeks on economic grounds.
Visitors are also banned in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where residents and workers are tested every one to two weeks. Churches and other religious establishments are closed, and restaurants are fined for receiving large groups and keeping social distance between those who dine there.
"It will be crucial to prevent the next two holidays from triggering the spread of COVID-19," Chung said during a virus meeting, referring to Christmas and New Years.
Around 180 ski, toboggan and skate sites across the country will be closed, which officials deemed necessary after a series of outbreaks as winter sports venues in recent weeks. National parks and coastal tourist attractions, where thousands travel each year to watch the sunrise in the New Year, are closing. Hotels are not allowed to sell more than 50% of their rooms.
For other developments in the Asia Pacific region:
Health officials in Thailand reported 427 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, most of them from a cluster involving migrant workers in Samut Sakhon province, near Bangkok. The mass outbreak in Samut Sakhon became known over the weekend as authorities reported more than 500 new cases, by far the largest increase in the country in one day. The combined increase of 1,385 cases in recent days brings the country's total to 5,716, including 60 deaths. The exact origin of the Samut Sakhon outbreak is not yet known, although the first of the recently confirmed cases was a 67-year-old shrimp seller at a large fish market. After his fall, mass tests were done and many of those who tested positive showed no symptoms. The affected market has been cordoned off and a night curfew and travel restrictions for the province have been imposed until January 3rd. Many public places including shopping malls, schools, cinemas, spas and sports stadiums have been closed.
- The spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney's northern beachfront suburbs appeared to slow further on Tuesday, raising hopes that the lockdown will be eased by Christmas. Only eight new infections have been reported in the past 24 hours, according to New South Wales authorities. Head of State Gladys Berejiklian said she would announce on Wednesday whether a lockdown of more than 250,000 people on northern beaches, in force since Saturday, would be eased. She said while the numbers were lower, more places with links to cases were identified. Previously, the cases had centered on two live music venues. One new case, however, was a nurse transferring infected arrivals from the airport.

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