SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 599 new coronavirus cases, the highest in 10 days, as health workers scramble to slow infections at religious facilities, which have been a major source throughout the pandemic.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 112 of the new cases came from the southwestern city of Gwangju, where more than 100 have so far been linked to a missionary training school. An affiliated facility in the central city of Daejeon has been linked to more than 170 infections.
The Seoul metropolitan area reported nearly 300 cases.
South Korea has repeatedly seen big clusters emerge from religious groups, including more than 5,000 linked to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus that drove a major outbreak last spring.
The figures released by the agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 76,429, including 1,378 deaths.
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Health officials in New Zealand say all the close contacts of a woman who caught the coronavirus have tested negative, as fears of an outbreak ease. The woman became infected from another traveler just before leaving quarantine after returning from Europe. Several people have tested positive in quarantine. Meanwhile, officials have begun outlining plans for the nation’s vaccination program, which they hope will get underway in earnest by midyear. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they aim to vaccinate at least 70% of the population. He said a recent survey showed about 70% of people would embrace getting inoculated, 20% would be hesitant and up to 10% would be opposed. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week that the nation’s borders could remain closed for the rest of the year. Officials acknowledge that New Zealand’s success in eliminating the community spread of the virus means it may need to wait longer than some countries to get vaccines.
— China has given more than 22 million COVID vaccinations as it carries out a drive ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, health authorities said Wednesday. The effort, which began six weeks ago, targets key groups such as medical and transport workers. Authorities are strongly discouraging people from traveling during the Lunar New Year holiday, a time when Chinese traditionally return to their hometowns for family gatherings. About 1.6 million doses had been given over several months before the campaign began. Zeng Yixin, vice chairman of the National Health Commission, said 22.76 million doses had been administered as of Tuesday. It’s not clear how many people that represents since the vaccine is given in two doses, and some may have received their second shot. China, which largely stopped the spread of the virus last spring, has seen fresh outbreaks this winter in four northern provinces. About 1,800 new cases have been reported since mid-December, including two deaths.
— Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the second dose of the Chinese coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, two weeks after the first injection. Indonesia has given priority to health workers and public officers after authorizing the emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine. Several top military, police and health officials also received their second shots at the Presidential Palace, as well as a celebrity who is a social media influencer. The Health Ministry data showed about 245,685 people have been vaccinated so far, most of them health workers. On Tuesday, Indonesia's confirmed cases surpassed 1 million with 28,468 deaths.
— India has vaccinated 2 million health workers in less than two weeks and recorded 12,689 new cases. COVID-19 fatalities are also dropping with 137 in the past 24 hours. India started its massive vaccination campaign on Jan. 16 and aims to inoculate 300 million people, including 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers. India on Jan. 4 approved emergency use of two vaccines — AstraZeneca and home-made Bharat Biotech.
— Health workers on Wednesday became the first people in Myanmar to be vaccinated against COVID-19, five days after the first vaccines were delivered from India. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, announced last week that front-line health workers would get priority for inoculations with the vaccine developed by Oxford University and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. India, which manufactures the vaccine under license, donated 1.5 million doses to Myanmar, enough to inoculate 750,000 people. Suu Kyi, 75, is expected to be vaccinated Thursday. Myanmar health authorities on Tuesday announced 411 new coronavirus cases, bringing the confirmed total to 138,368. The death toll increased by 13 to 3,082.
— Thousands of health workers lined up across Nepal to get the coronavirus vaccine Wednesday as the Himalayan nation began a three-month vaccination campaign. Nepal received a gift from neighboring India of 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine manufactured under license by the Serum Institute of India. It’s aiming to get 72% of its 30 million people vaccinated within three months and is making the two-dose vaccine free to citizens. Nepal has reported 270,092 coronavirus cases and 2,017 deaths.
— Bangladesh began coronavirus vaccinations in its capital on Wednesday, the first of a planned 30 million doses to be administered in the South Asian nation over next few months. Runu Beronica Costa, a senior nurse at Kurmitola General Hospital, was the first recipient of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. She was followed by a doctor, a military official, a traffic policeman and a senior health official. Their vaccinations were broadcast live as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina watched virtually from her official residence. Hasina thanked them for their courage and urged everyone to receive their shots. Bangladesh has received 7 million vaccine doses from India since Thursday. Of that, 2 million doses were a gift from the Indian government and the rest was purchased from the Serum Institute of India. Bangladesh plans to buy 30 million doses from the Serum Institute in phases. It has recorded 532,916 coronavirus cases, including 8,055 deaths.