Asia Today: Australia records its deadliest day of pandemic

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic Monday as the government urged hot spot Victoria state to announce plans to lift a lockdown on the country’s second-largest city.

Victoria’s health department reported 41 deaths from COVID-19 and 73 new infections in the latest 24-hour period. While the deaths were a state and national high, the tally of new infections was Victoria’s lowest since 67 new cases were recorded on June 30 in the early weeks of the second wave of the pandemic, which has primarily been concentrated in the state capital, Melbourne.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said only eight of the 41 fatalities occurred in the latest 24-hour period. The other 33 fatalities occurred in aged care since late July and were reported on Sunday following a tightening of reporting obligations and a review of previous reporting, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.

A six-week lockdown in the city is due to be relaxed on Sept. 13. But the state government has not said how it will be relaxed or given any assurances that it won’t be extended.

Victoria has recorded more than 19,000 cases, almost 80% of Australia’s more than 25,000 cases, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The state also accounts for the vast majority of Australia’s more than 650 deaths.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday he disagreed with the Victorian government that it was too early to announce plans to reopen its economy.

“Business is very frustrated because they haven’t been told when can they open up, when can people get back to work,” Frydenberg told Nine Network television.

Andrews said he would announce his government’s plan to reopen the economy on Sunday, a week before the six-week lockdown is scheduled to end.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India registered 78,512 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, maintaining an upward surge. The Health Ministry on Monday also reported 948 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 64,469. Five straight increases of more than 75,000 cases a day have raised the country’s total virus tally to over 3.6 million. The virus has badly hit India’s major cities and is now fast spreading in smaller towns and rural areas. India has significantly increased testing and conducts nearly 1 million tests every day. In a further easing of virus restrictions, New Delhi’s subway will reopen gradually starting Sept. 7. Schools, colleges and movie theaters will remain closed until the end of September.

— New Zealand lifted a lockdown in the city of Auckland on Monday and is mandating masks on public transport. The nation’s largest city had been in a lockdown for more than two weeks after an outbreak of the coronavirus was discovered earlier this month, following more than three months without any community transmission. Health Minister Chris Hipkins said it was safe to reopen Auckland because all the recent infections have been linked to the same cluster through contact tracing. “We’re already seeing signs of the city getting back to normal,” he said. Anecdotally, about 90% of public transport passengers in Auckland have been wearing masks, Hipkins added. New Zealand’s nine new infections reported Monday included four in recently returned travelers who are in quarantine.

— The government in China’s Xinjiang region is imposing draconian measures to combat the coronavirus, including physically locking people in homes and arresting those who do not comply with strict quarantines of more than 40 days. Some residents are forced to swallow traditional Chinese medicine, according to government notices, social media posts and interviews with three people in quarantine, and at least one herbal remedy contains ingredients banned in other countries. A Uighur woman told The Associated Press that she and dozens of cellmates in a detention center had to strip naked once a week and sit as they and their cells were hosed down with disinfectant. “It was scalding,” she said. “My hands were ruined, my skin was peeling.”

— Nepal’s government is allowing the first foreign mountaineering team to climb a Himalayan peak this year. Information Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada said the team of 15 Bahrain nationals and three British citizens will attempt to scale Mount Lobuche and Mount Manaslu during the autumn climbing season. Nepal’s popular spring climbing season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The autumn climbing season begins this week. The government imposed a nationwide lockdown in March which was extended to July. Nepal has 39,460 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 228 deaths.

— Hong Kong authorities say nearly half a million people have registered for a free universal coronavirus testing program that is due to begin Tuesday. Residents registering online have already booked out 80 testing sites in gymnasiums and community centers for the initial day of the program, according to the government’s website. Hong Kong launched the testing effort to track down paths of infection that have consistently added to case numbers despite strict social distancing and other measures imposed on the densely populated semi-autonomous Chinese city of 7.5 million. All who wish to be tested can do so at no cost. Hong Kong has counted more than 4,800 cases and 88 deaths.

— South Korea has counted its 18th straight day of triple-digit daily jumps in coronavirus cases as its health minister warned about an increase in transmissions gone untraced and infections among senior citizens. Of the 248 new cases reported Monday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 187 were from the Seoul metropolitan area. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said epidemiological workers are having more difficulty tracking transmissions and predicting infection routes, saying they haven’t been able to trace the infection source of more than 20% of the cases found in the past two weeks. Officials also say many of those who tested positive this month were 60 years or older, an age group more likely to experience serious health complications.