Asia Today: South Koreans urged to stay home as cases jump

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Women wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus talk to each other at the Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. South Korea counted its fourth straight day of triple-digit increases in new coronavirus cases Monday as the government urged people to stay home and curb travel. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL – South Korea counted its fourth straight day of triple-digit increases in new coronavirus cases Monday as the government urged people to stay home and curb travel.

The government had drawn up a special holiday on Monday with hopes of spurring domestic consumption. But as infections in the capital region increase, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo urged people to stay home and for residents in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province to avoid visiting other parts of the country for two weeks.

The 197 new cases announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the nation's total to 15,515, including 305 deaths. The 279 new cases reported Sunday was South Korea's biggest single-day jump since early May amid concerns about an outbreak in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.

The KCDC said 167 of the new cases came from the greater capital region, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. Health workers have been struggling to track infections, but churches have emerged as a major source.

More than 300 have been linked to a northern Seoul church led by a conservative pastor who has frequently led anti-government protests against liberal President Moon Jae-in, including a rally attended by thousands of demonstrators in downtown Seoul on Saturday despite official pleas for them to stay home.

The government is pressing charges against the pastor, Jun Kwang-hun, for allegedly disrupting anti-virus efforts by falsely reporting the church’s members and discouraging followers from getting tested. Health workers have so far tested 2,000 of the church’s members and plan to test 2,000 more.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India has now counted more than 50,000 deaths from COVID-19 with 941 deaths reported in the past 24 hours. With a total of 50,921 deaths, India has the fourth-most in the world, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico. It has now counted more than 2.6 million cases of infection with 57,982 new cases reported by the Health Ministry on Monday. August has seen a big spike in fatalities with more than a quarter of the country’s total deaths coming in the past 17 days.