Coronavirus: Thailand seafood market cluster widens; cases linked to UK strain rise in Japan

© XINHUA People wait to receive Covid-19 tests in Samut Sakhon province. Photo: Xinhua

Thailand on Saturday confirmed 110 new coronavirus infections, of which 64 were local infections, connected to an outbreak in a seafood centre in the southwest province of Samut Sakhon.

More than 1,500 infections have been linked to the seafood centre outbreak since last week, the majority of those migrant workers from Myanmar, making it the country’s coronavirus worst outbreak yet.

Of the new infections, 30 were among migrant workers and 16 were imported cases, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the country’s Covid-19 task force, told a briefing.

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Thai protesters demonstrated on Saturday to demand more action to help seafood sellers hit by the outbreak as the government urged people to eat more shellfish.

Seafood sellers say business has fallen in a country whose economy had already been badly hit by a collapse in tourism.

“We want the government to create confidence in shrimp consumption,” said Piyarat Chongthep, among the scores of protesters at Government House, some of whom briefly scuffled with police.

A major shrimp exporter, Thailand sold 36 billion baht (US$1.2 billion) worth in the first 10 months of 2020, industry association data showed.

“The problem now is there is no market,” said one shrimp seller at Government House.

Thailand has a total of 6,020 confirmed cases and 60 deaths.

© Provided by South China Morning Post People wait in a line to take Covid-19 tests in Seoul. Photo: Reuters

South Korea’s outbreaks in prisons, nursing homes widen

South Korea posted its second-highest daily number of coronavirus cases on Saturday as outbreaks at a prison, nursing homes and churches continued to grow, prompting authorities to plead for a halt to all year-end gatherings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said there were 1,132 new cases on Friday, not too far off the record of 1,241 logged a day earlier.

“The virus is spreading whenever and wherever it wants,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told an intra-agency meeting, adding that people were also being infected at small gatherings with friends and acquaintances. “As we stand at the crossroads of the third wave, how we stop the spread hinges on how we spend this year-end and New Year period.”

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The government plans to hold a meeting on Sunday to discuss whether it will tighten distancing rules to the toughest level for the greater Seoul area.

That would shut another 1.2 million stores and allow only essential workers into offices. Curbs currently in place have closed night clubs, karaoke bars and other night entertainment venues as well as banned on-site dining after 9pm.

The current largest cluster is at a prison in eastern Seoul, where 514 inmates and workers have been infected, prompting health authorities to test all people there. The virus likely spread easily as the prison consists of five, high-rise buildings and suffers from overcapacity, a health official said.

South Korea’s total infections now stand at 54,770, with 773 deaths, KDCA data showed.

Tokyo cases hit record

Tokyo reported a record rise in coronavirus cases on Saturday, as Japan experiences a surge that now includes a new, fast-spreading strain while the government urges people to stay home.

Covid-19 infections hit a record 949 in the capital just as Japan heads into New Year holidays that normally see people stream from the capital into the provinces. Serious cases were unchanged from a day earlier at 81.

On Friday, the government said five people – four males and one female all aged under 70 – had been confirmed as infected with the new variant following their arrival from Britain, where it is spreading.

Two more people – a man in his 30s with a history of travelling to the UK and one of his family members in Tokyo – have been confirmed as infected with the new strain, sources familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

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Tokyo transport hubs were subdued, local media said, a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, under pressure as cases continue to climb, urged the nation to stay home and avoid social mixing.

The spread of the virus in Tokyo contrasts with another hot spot, the northern island of Hokkaido, where case numbers have fallen from a November peak.

Lockdown on Sydney’s northern beaches extended

Australian authorities extended a lockdown for Sydney’s Northern Beaches until at least December 30 and urged the rest of the city to avoid crowds as a cluster of Covid-19 infections continues to grow.

Nine new cases were recorded overnight, taking the cluster’s total size to 116. Health officials remain concerned that the virus spread across the city in the days leading to Christmas, and have urged Sydneysiders to limit their activities in coming days and avoid Boxing Day shopping sales in the central business district.

“There are still concerns about the CBD and still concerns about people in the Northern Beaches who may unintentionally have spread the virus,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters Saturday. “Our strategy is to nip this in the bud as soon as we can.”

© Provided by South China Morning Post People in Sydney walk in front of an electronic board with a message urging residents to stay at home. Photo: AAP/dpa

The outbreak is a blow to Australia, which had largely suppressed community transmission through rigorous testing and contact tracing, and by shuttering the international border – with all returned overseas travellers made to isolate for 14 days in quarantine hotels.

Some 250,000 people in the Northern Beaches have been told to remain at home except for essential medical care and provisions and not to allow visitors. Groups of up to five or 10 people will be able to gather outside for exercise, depending on whether they are in the worst-affected areas.

Authorities are still trying to pinpoint the source of the cluster that’s seen Sydney’s 5 million residents barred from travelling to other states and territories in the peak summer holiday season. Prior outbreaks in the states of Victoria and South Australia were linked to breaches at quarantine hotels that saw the virus leak into the community.

Reporting by dpa, Reuters, Bloomberg and Kyodo

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