South Korea has posted its second-highest daily number of coronavirus cases, as outbreaks in a prison, nursing homes and churches continued to grow, prompting the health minister to say the country was at a “crossroads of the third wave”. It comes as more countries restricted entry from the UK and South Africa amid fears over new variants of Covid.
Korea’s Disease Prevention and Control Agency said there were 1,132 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, not far from the record 1,241 recorded on Christmas Eve.
“The virus is spreading whenever and wherever it wants,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said at an intra-agency meeting, adding that people were also getting infected in small gatherings with friends and acquaintances.
“Now that we are at the crossroads of the third wave, how we stop the spread depends on how we spend this end of the year and the New Year period,” he said.
The government is expected to meet on Sunday to discuss whether it will tighten the distancing rules to the strictest level for the Seoul metropolitan area.
That would close another 1.2 million stores and allow only essential workers to enter offices. The curbs currently in place have closed nightclubs, karaoke bars, and other nightly entertainment venues, as well as a ban on eating on site after 9pm.
Before the Christmas and New Year holidays, the government also banned gatherings of more than four people in the Seoul metropolitan area and closed ski resorts and other tourist spots.
South Korea had largely managed to control the first major outbreaks with aggressive testing and contact tracing. But critics have blamed the authorities for being overconfident and not adequately preparing for the third and biggest wave.
Japan tightened its rules for travelers from South Africa, rejecting arrivals from Saturday over concerns of a new variant of Covid. Japanese citizens and residents will be allowed in, but will have to self-quarantine for 14 days, NHK reported.
Japan had already banned travelers from the UK in addition to Japanese nationals and residents who return due to fears of the new variant there. On Friday, Tokyo confirmed that five UK arrivals had tested positive for the variant, entering Japan between December 18 and December 21.
In the UK, millions faced stricter coronavirus restrictions from Saturday, when a Christmas reprieve at meetings ended. In England, 6 million more people entered the stricter Level 4 restrictions, while new closures began in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Wales, restrictions that were relaxed for Christmas Day were reimposed on Saturday.
On Christmas Day, the UK recorded 570 new deaths within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, taking the UK’s total deaths. within 28 days of a positive test at 70,195.
Concerns around the world rose over the new UK variant, with Norway extending its ban on flights from Britain until December 29. The ban was first imposed on December 21. “It is still possible for flights to be suspended until after the New Year,” the health ministry said.
In France, a man with the new Covid variant in the UK came home on December 19. He was asymptomatic and isolating himself at his home in Tours, central France, the ministry said late Friday. The man was examined at a hospital on December 21 and later tested positive for the strain.
Italian authorities detected the new strain in a patient in Rome. Italy reported just over 19,000 new infections on Friday and 459 deaths, the Health Ministry said. The country’s infections took more than 2 million, only the eighth country to exceed that total.
The World Health Organization reported that nine cases of the new strain had been detected in Denmark and one each in the Netherlands and Australia
TurkeyHealth Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday that starting next Monday all passengers entering the country must present proof of negative tests for coronavirus carried out within 72 hours of arrival.
Koca said that passengers who do not provide a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) result will not be allowed to board planes bound for Turkey. He also said that passengers flying from Great Britain, South Africa and Denmark will be subject to quarantine upon arrival, in addition to a negative test result upon departure.
In AustraliaAnother 39,000 tests on Christmas Day found just nine infections, six of which were household contacts of people already diagnosed in the group on the city’s north beaches, and which had already been isolated.
Thailand confirmed 110 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, of which 64 were local infections, connected to an outbreak in the southwestern province of Samut Sakhon, the country’s worst Covid outbreak to date.
Of the new infections, 30 were among migrant workers and 16 were imported cases, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesperson for the country’s Covid task force.
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