South Korea’s capital eyes stronger restrictions as coronavirus cases climb.

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South Korea has reported 42 new infections of COVID-19 as infections steadily climb in the greater capital area, forcing authorities to consider stronger social restrictions.

The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday brought the national caseload to 12,757, including 282 deaths.

Twenty-four of the new cases were reported from capital Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas, which have been at the centre of a virus resurgence since late May. At least 12 of the new cases were linked to international arrivals as the virus continues to strengthen its hold elsewhere around the world.

South Korea was reporting hundreds of new cases a day in late February and early March following a major surge surrounding the southeast city of Daegu, where the majority of infections were linked to a single church congregation with thousands of members.

But while health authorities had used aggressive testing and contact tracing to contain the outbreak in that region, they are having a much harder time tracking recent transmissions in the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of the country’s 51 million people live.

With people increasingly venturing out in public, new clusters are tied to a variety of places.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo during a briefing Sunday afternoon announced that the government is prepared to implement stronger social distancing measures if the epidemic continues to grow.

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He said the strongest measures — including banning all gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting schools, halting professional sports, and restricting operations of non-essential businesses — will be enforced if the daily increase in infections doubles more than two times during a span of a week.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

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Health authorities are using a saliva test while working against a coronavirus outbreak in Australia’s second-largest city. The test appears to be less accurate than the nasal swab but is a more comfortable option.

Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the situation in Melbourne was “a genuine challenge now,” in part because the better situation elsewhere in Australia made it harder to tell people to stay vigilant.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said on Monday that 75 people had tested positive in the state in the latest 24 hours. She said the saliva test was first used in a Melbourne suburban hot spot on Sunday.

The saliva tests in research were only 87 per cent as accurate as the nasal swab because saliva contained less virus than the throat, said Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, which developed the saliva test being used.

China reported a further decline in new cases, with just 12. Seven of those were locally spread cases in Beijing, where nearly 8.3 million people have been tested in recent weeks. The number of new cases in the city was down by half from the day before, the National Health Commission reported.

Beijing temporarily shut a huge wholesale food market where the virus spread widely earlier this month, reclosed schools and locked down some neighbourhoods. Anyone leaving Beijing is required to have a negative virus test result procured within the previous seven days.

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© 2020 The Canadian Press

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