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Asia Today: 723 cases in Australia, closures in Vietnam

MELBOURNE – Australia’s coronavirus hot spot, Victoria state, will make masks compulsory statewide after reporting a record 723 new cases on Thursday.

Masks have been mandatory in the state capital, Melbourne, and a neighboring semi-rural district for the past week. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the measure will be extended starting Sunday.

Residents around the city of Geelong will not be allowed to have visitors in their homes from late Thursday.

The 723 new cases and a daily record 13 deaths exceeded the previous record of 532 cases on Monday.

“These numbers today are a reflection of increased cases in aged care,” Andrews said, referring to new infections in Melbourne’s nursing homes.

Melbourne and neighboring Mitchell Shire are halfway through a six-week shutdown, which Andrews said could be extended.

He said extending mandatory masks and banning visitors to homes are meant to keep the infection rate low in regional centers.

“All of us, as proud Victorians, if we follow the rules, if we play our part, then we can defeat this. We can drive these numbers down,” Andrews said.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— India reported more than 50,000 cases for the first time in 24 hours on Thursday, taking the national total to 1,583,792. The number of recoveries from the coronavirus also crossed 1 million as the recovery rate of 64.4% continues to improve. The Health Ministry reported another 775 deaths, driving total fatalities to 34,968. India has the world’s third-highest caseload after the United States and Brazil. The reported deaths in India, however, mark a far lower fatality rate at 2.23% than in the other two countries.

— China is stepping up testing for COVID-19 in an attempt to get a handle on new outbreaks that have defied the country’s considerable success in containing the coronavirus that was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year. In the northeastern city of Dalian, authorities issued a open letter urging all 5.6 million residents to get tested following consecutive days of new cases. As of midnight Wednesday, samples had been collected from more than 4 million people, and a second round of tests is being launched in high-risk areas. Extensive testing has also been carried out in Urumqi, where more than 100 specialists from the Centers for Disease Control are investigating the outbreak. Leading epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan also urged tests to be carried out on every one of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents following a new wave of infections that is adding around 100 new cases per day. The city’s Hospital Authority says it's planning to adapt an exhibition center into a community treatment facility.

— Vietnam on Thursday reported 14 more cases of COVID-19, as the first outbreak in over three months spread to cities while authorities say they cannot trace its source. The Health Ministry said eight of the new infections were from hot spot Da Nang, five from neighboring Quang Nam province, and one in Hanoi in a man who returned from Da Nang. The outbreak has spread to five other cities and provinces with 48 cases reported since the weekend. Dak Lak province is the latest to reimpose social distancing, close down nonessential services and ban public gatherings of more than 20 people. Quang Nam and Quang Ngai have closed their beaches and limited businesses. Meanwhile, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh cities closed bars and clubs.

— Sri Lankan authorities have decided to reopen schools on Aug. 10, nearly five months after they were shut because of the coronavirus. The Education Ministry said Thursday that all public and government-approved private schools will resume with social distancing measures. Students in grades 5, 10, 11, 12 and 13 will attend school every day because of the need to prepare for government examinations. Students in grades 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8 will attend one day per week, while those in grades 4 and 9 will attend two days a week. This arrangement will continue until Oct. 9, when school holidays begin. The reopening comes as health authorities announced that the coronavirus is now under control in Sri Lanka except for two clusters. The country has reported 2,811 cases, including 11 deaths.

— Hong Kong’s government on Thursday reversed its decision to impose a total ban on dining in at restaurants as part of anti-virus measures, after some workers were seen eating their meals outdoors. From Friday, customers will be allowed to dine in at restaurants between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m., although restaurants must operate at half their capacity and only two people will be allowed to sit at each table. The announcement came one day after the ban took effect, after workers and cleaners were seen eating outdoors in the heat and heavy rain. The ban on dining in restaurants after 6 p.m. will remain part of the measures aimed at battling the city’s third wave of coronavirus infections. The number of cases has risen steadily since the beginning of July, with most being locally transmitted. As of Wednesday, Hong Kong reported a total of 3,003 cases, including 24 deaths. Businesses such as bars, karaoke bars and amusement parks remain temporarily closed, and public gatherings are restricted to two people.

— The governor of Indonesia's capital has decided to extend social restrictions for another 14 days because coronavirus cases are continuing to rise despite aggressive tracking and treatment. “The data shows there is an increasing number of cases in Jakarta. The situation has not been getting better in the past two weeks,” Gov. Anies Baswedan said. As of Thursday, the city has recorded 20,969 cases including 817 deaths. Large-scale social restrictions were imposed in the capital on April 10. Some were lifted on June 10, including the reopening of shopping centers, offices and other public places. Baswedan said office buildings have become a leading source of new infections in the past two weeks. Occupancy of offices, shopping centers and restaurants will continue to be limited to 50%

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