Asia Today: Virus sets off new school closures in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia’s Victoria state has recorded 17 new cases of COVID-19, resulting in the closing of two primary schools in Melbourne. State Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be “significant community transmission” among the new cases.

Andrews said one of the new cases was from a person in hotel quarantine, two were from known outbreaks, three were from routine testing and 11 were under investigation.

The two schools have been closed for thorough cleaning after students from both schools tested positive for the coronavirus.

The suburbs where the schools are located are two of six local government hot spots in recent weeks.

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Last weekend, Andrews said large family gatherings had been the catalyst for the virus taking off again in some areas after lockdown rules were eased.

“We have seen many families, large families, that have gathered in numbers beyond the rules,” he said. “I know and understand that all Victorians want this to be over but we simply can’t pretend the virus is gone.”

In the national capital Canberra, Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia’s borders will remain closed for “a very significant” amount of time.

Hunt says coronavirus infection rates were accelerating around the world.

“For the time being we are an island sanctuary,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

There have been 102 deaths due to COVID-19 in Australia and more than 7,400 infected.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— India added nearly 15,000 new infections as states less affected by the initial surge of the virus considered new lockdowns. India’s health ministry said Tuesday the nationwide tally has reached 440,215 confirmed cases, including 14,011 deaths. The state of Delhi, which includes the capital of New Delhi, has reported 62,655 cases with the rate of new infections rapidly expanding in recent weeks as a nationwide lockdown has eased. States far from the capital including Assam in the northeast that initially reported few cases have plans to reimpose stringent lockdowns in certain districts. Sonia Gandhi, president of the main opposition Congress party, has asked the government to extend a three-month free food distribution program that is due to expire soon to address a “hunger crisis.”

— A colorful Hindu chariot festival in India normally attended by hundreds of thousands of people began Tuesday, but without the devotees because of spiraling coronavirus infections in the country. A 41-hour curfew was imposed in the eastern temple town of Puri and all entry points were sealed as the Jagannath chariot festival began after the Supreme Court reversed an earlier order and allowed the annual ritual to be held but with the stipulation that there be no public participation. Hundreds of priests who were allowed to take part were tested for the coronavirus, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. They pull three massive chariots as tall as 45 feet (13 meters) during the seven-day festival.

— Officials in Bangladesh reported 43 new virus deaths and 3,412 new infections on Tuesday. Bangladesh’s has now seen 119,198 infections and 1,545 fatalities since the first positive case was reported on March 8. Officials say 47,635 people have recovered from the illness.

— South Korea says it’s testing 176 workers at the southern port of Busan following a coronavirus outbreak on a Russian cargo ship that has so far sickened 16. National Institute of Health director Kwon Jun-wook said all 21 crewmembers were tested after the ship arrived Sunday carrying frozen seafood. He said the captain failed to properly inform port authorities that three crewmembers had high fever. The people being tested included cargo handlers, customs officials, repair workers and interpreters who made contact with the infected crewmembers. South Korea reported 46 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including 30 linked to international arrivals. The country has been struggling to stem a resurgence of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area.

— China reported 22 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, including 13 in Beijing, a day after a city government spokesperson said containment measures had slowed the momentum of an outbreak in the capital that has infected more than 200 people. Another nine cases were brought by Chinese travelers from outside the country, seven of them on board a flight from Saudi Arabia that arrived in Gansu province, according to a notice from the provincial government. While the situation in Beijing is headed in the right direction, “the prevention situation remains grave and complex,” city spokesperson Xu Hejian said. The Beijing outbreak took hold in a huge wholesale food market crowded with workers and buyers. Additional cases traced to the same outbreak have been found in neighboring Hebei province and nearby Tianjin city.

— Hundreds of visitors rushed to see a popular panda cub as Tokyo’s Ueno zoo reopened Tuesday for the first time since February when it closed due to the coronavirus. An avid fan of the cub named Xiang Xiang who used to visit the zoo every week to see the panda showed up with a handmade mask with panda prints for the occasion. “I was so happy to see Xiang Xiang got so much bigger,” Masumi Tsunoda said. Entry to the zoo is now limited to 4,000 visitors per day. The zoo said the shutdown was the longest closure since it opened in 1882.

— Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, closed for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, will reopen on July 1, but there will be no hugging or touching Mickey Mouse or other characters, their operator said Tuesday. Oriental Land Co. said the two theme parks near Tokyo said the number of visitors will be reduced and they will be asked to have their temperatures checked, wear face masks, disinfect their hands and practice physical distancing. Some rides and facilities will be closed and performances such as fireworks will be canceled. Other theme parks have gradually reopened, including Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.

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