Asia Today: More businesses reopen in Philippine capital

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Fitness gyms, barber shops and internet cafes were allowed to reopen partly in the Philippine capital Tuesday as the government further eased quarantine restrictions despite the country having the most coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, placed the southern city of Iligan under a mild lockdown after a rise in community infections, underscoring how COVID-19 cases have spread away from metropolitan Manila, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak.

Nighttime curfews have been shortened in most cities in the capital area and outlying provinces under the new arrangements, which will last for a month.

Duterte also said medical personnel would get free food and lodging if they would otherwise be ejected by landlords and dormitory owners fearing they were virus carriers. If the landlords get sick “don’t let them into hospitals too, maybe that’s better, tit-for-tat,” the tough-talking president said, but later added he was joking.

More than 220,000 COVID-19 cases, including about 3,500 deaths, have been reported in the Philippines, which has struggled to balance public restrictions and economic concerns.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India added nearly 70,000 new coronavirus cases, its lowest daily increase in the last six days, driving its total near 3.7 million. The Health Ministry on Tuesday also reported 819 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 65,288. India’s increases have been the highest in the world almost daily for nearly three weeks. It is conducting nearly 1 million tests every day. The federal government also announced Parliament will resume from Sept. 14 with strict social distancing. It had adjourned, with no set date for resumption, in March just before a nationwide lockdown was imposed to halt the spread of the virus.

— Hong Kong began voluntary mass-testing for coronavirus to try to break the chain of transmission for COVID-19. More than half a million residents registered in advance for the effort taking place at more than 100 testing centers in the city. The virus-testing program is aimed at identifying silent carriers without symptoms who could be spreading the disease. It has become a flashpoint of political debate in Hong Kong. Many are distrustful over resources and staff provided by China’s central government and fear that their DNA could be collected during the exercise.

— Chinese students began a full return to regular classes Tuesday following two weeks without new cases of local transmission in the country. About 75% of students had already returned to school. Temperature checks, social distancing and masks were reportedly used, but rules varied by region. Çhina’s National Health Commission reported 10 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, all of them brought from outside the country. Those returning to class included students in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the global coronavirus epidemic that underwent months of lockdown but has not reported new cases of local transmission for weeks. Life has largely returned to normal in Wuhan. After what critics called an attempt to ignore the outbreak, the city underwent a 76-day lockdown during which residents were confined to their homes and field hospitals were opened to assist an overwhelmed medical system. Wuhan marked a milestone on Sunday when its last confirmed case, who brought the virus from overseas, was released from a city hospital.

— The Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar has reported its highest single-day total of COVID-19 cases since its first cases were confirmed in late March. The Health Ministry announced 95 new cases, bringing the country’s total to 882. Of that total, 354 have recovered and six have died. Myanmar has seen a surge over the past week, mostly in the western state of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh and hosts several major camps for people displaced by years of civil conflict. A stay-home program has been instituted in Rakhine, with unnecessary and unauthorized travel banned. Northwestern Myanmar borders India, which has the third-highest caseload in the world.

— South Korea reported 235 new cases, mostly from the greater capital area, where officials have restricted dining at restaurants and shut down churches, nightspots, fitness centers and after-school academies to fight a viral resurgence. South Korea has added 5,412 cases during a 19-day streak in triple-digit daily jumps, accounting for more than a quarter of the nation’s caseload. The spike of infections in recent weeks have raised fears about overwhelmed hospital systems and rising death tolls as more senior citizens get infected. South Korea’s professional baseball league, which is proceeding without fans, halted some minor league games after a pitcher tested positive Monday night.

— Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state on Tuesday reported its lowest daily tally of new COVID-19 cases since June as a lockdown continues to slow infections. The health department reported 70 new infections and five deaths in the latest 24-hour period. A six-week statewide lockdown is due to end on Sept. 13. The government will outline its plans to reopen the economy next Sunday. The infection rate is not expected to fall to low double digits by Sept. 13. Health authorities have said such a reduction in infections would be required before they could safely lift restrictions.

— Sri Lankan authorities have decided to release 444 prisoners serving time for minor offenses with the aim of easing overcrowding and ensure safety from COVID 19. Prisoners who have served half of their sentence, are unable to pay fines and are older than 65 are to be released under a presidential pardon, according to the prison department. Sri Lanka’s prisons are highly overcrowded with about 33,000 prisoners in facilities designed to hold fewer than 12,000. Sri Lanka has counted 3,049 patients with COVID-19 and says it has no community spread of the virus, with the only new cases being identified among two known clusters.

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