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Asia Today: India adds 96K virus cases, orders some retests

NEW DELHI – India edged closer to recording nearly 100,000 coronavirus cases in 24 hours as it ordered retesting of many people whose first results were from the less reliable rapid antigen tests being widely used.

There were a total of 96,551 confirmed cases, taking the tally to over 4.56 million. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported another 1,209 deaths for a total of 76,271.

India has the second-highest caseload behind the United States, where more than 6.39 million people have been confirmed as infected.

The Health Ministry has asked states to allow testing on demand without a doctor’s prescription. It also said some negative rapid antigen tests should be redone through the more reliable RT-PCR method, the gold standard of coronavirus tests that looks for the genetic code of the virus.

The retesting order applied to people who had negative results but had fever, coughing or breathlessness, or those who developed the COVID-19 symptoms within three days of their negative test results.

The order was meant to ensure that infected people did not go undetected and to help check the spread the disease among their contacts.

Using the rapid antigen, or viral protein, tests has allowed India to dramatically increase its testing capacity to more than 1.1 million a day, but the quicker, cheaper test is less reliable and retesting is often recommended.

The directive came as 60% of India's cases have been reported from only five of the country's 28 states. However, experts caution that India’s outbreak is entering a more dangerous phase as the virus spreads to smaller towns and villages.

With the economy contracting by a record 23.9% in the April-June quarter leaving millions jobless, the Indian government is continuing with relaxing lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Health officials in Thailand said Friday that a 29-year-old player from Uzbekistan on the Buriram United Football Club has tested positive for the coronavirus. There is a high chance that the player, whose name was not released, contracted the disease outside of Thailand, said Dr. Yong Poosvorawan, an expert from Chalulongkorn University. The incubation period for the disease can sometimes be longer than 14 days, he said. Dr. Sophon Iamsirithaworn, director of the Communicable Disease Control Department, said the team’s 44 players and staff have been placed under a 14-day quarantine. The player, who has shown no symptoms, was admitted to a Bangkok hospital. He arrived in Thailand a month ago and tested negative three times during his initial 14-day quarantine period in Bangkok ending Aug. 27. He traveled to the northeastern province of Buriram and then tested positive on Sept. 8 ahead of the planned season opener. The other Buriram personnel tested negative, but the team’s match for this Sunday was postponed, as were the matches of two teams with which they warmed up. A prison inmate earlier became Thailand’s first local coronavirus case shortly after the country marked 100 days without any confirmed local transmissions.

— South Korea’s new coronavirus cases stayed below 200 for a ninth consecutive day. South Korea’s caseload once surpassed 400 in late August, but the outbreak has since gradually slowed after elevated social distancing rules in the Seoul area. The 176 new cases reported Friday are more than reported in the last few days. But health official Yoon Taeho told reporters that the government believes the caseload is in general on a downward trajectory though he urged citizens to keep trying to reduce face-to-face contacts with others and follow social distancing guidelines.

— Myanmar on Friday reimposed its toughest measures so far to control the spread of the coronavirus, banning travel out of the country’s biggest city, Yangon, and grounding all domestic flights. Both measures, announced just hours before taking effect, will be in place until Oct. 1. An upsurge in coronavirus cases that began in August in the western state of Rakhine has since spread to other parts of the country. Until the latest outbreak, Myanmar appeared to have largely been spared from the pandemic. Health authorities had already ordered partial lockdowns in 29 of Yangon’s 44 townships, including 20 on Thursday. New roadblocks were set up Friday in parts of the city, with some smaller streets closed while main roads remained open. The Health Ministry announced 115 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 2,265, including 14 dead.

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