Asia Today: Some schools closed again, China opens Congress

South Korea has reported 20 new cases of the coronavirus as authorities scramble to stem transmissions while proceeding with the reopening of schools

BANGKOK — South Korea has reported 20 new cases of the coronavirus, including nine in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to stem transmissions as they proceed with a phased reopening of schools.

The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought national totals to 11,142 cases and 264 deaths. Nine other fresh cases were linked to international arrivals.

South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March but has since managed to stabilize infections with aggressive tracing and testing. Officials have eased social distancing measures and began reopening schools, beginning with high school seniors on Wednesday.

But students at dozens of schools in Incheon, near Seoul, were sent back home after some of them tested positive after visiting a karaoke room or taking private classes from a virus carrier.

On May 27, it will be high school juniors, middle school seniors, elementary first- and second-graders and kindergartners. Further reopenings are scheduled on June 3 and 8.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo during an anti-virus meeting on Friday pleaded that people avoid visiting karaoke rooms or computer gaming centers near schools to lower infection risks for students.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— CHINA CONGRESS OPENS: China reported four new confirmed cases, including two in the northeastern province of Jilin that has seen China’s latest outbreak. Another 372 people are in isolation and undergoing monitoring for being suspected cases or for testing positive without showing symptoms; 82 people remain in hospitals being treated for COVID-19. The new cases come as China opens the delayed session of its ceremonial parliament, the National People’s Congress, which is being held largely behind closed doors in Beijing to avoid cross-infections as China seeks to avoid a second-wave of cases. The country has reported a total of 4,634 deaths among 82,971 cases.

— CRUISE SHIPS BANNED: Australia has extended its ban on cruise ship visits for a further three months until Sept. 17 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Australian Border Force on Friday announced the extension of the ban, which began March 27 when 28 cruise ships were in Australian waters. Any cruise ship capable of carrying more than 100 passengers is prohibited from operating cruises in the country. Outbreaks linked to cruise ships and aged care homes have proven the most deadly in Australia. Australia has recorded 7,081 cases of COVID-19 and 100 patients have died.