Asia Today: S. Korean students take exams amid viral spike

Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 41 confirmed COVID-19 patients, have taken the highly competitive university entrance exam despite a viral resurgence that forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules

SEOUL, South Korea -- Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 41 confirmed COVID-19 patients, took the highly competitive university entrance exam Thursday despite a viral resurgence that forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules.

The Education Ministry said about 426,340 students were taking the one-day exam at about 1,380 sites across the nation. They include hospitals and other medical facilities with the 41 virus patients and hundreds of others placed under self-quarantine.

This year’s exams had been originally scheduled for November but were delayed due to the virus outbreak.

South Korea on Thursday reported 540 new cases. Last week it reimposed stringent distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area and other places to try to suppress a spike in new infections.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Taiwanese carrier EVA Airways has fired three flight attendants for violating the island’s quarantine rules. Taiwan has since March required that all flight crew isolate themselves at home for five days after arriving from overseas. During those flights, crew members must wear full personal protective equipment. The airline said the three had left to visit acquaintances, family members and locations outside their homes. Two were sacked last month and the third on Wednesday, the airline said. According to Taiwanese regulations, they will not be fined or face criminal penalties. Taiwan has been praised for its early and aggressive approach to controlling the coronavirus, largely through mask requirements, social distancing and case tracing. The island of 23 million has reported just 686 cases, including that of a woman in her 30s who was confirmed after returning earlier this week from abroad. Taiwan has reported seven deaths from COVID-19 and says 107 people are currently hospitalized.

— Health authorities in Thailand have reported 13 new coronavirus cases, including six Thai women who crossed the border illegally as they returned from a nightclub in Myanmar. Earlier, four other women who had been at the same nightclub also tested positive after returning illegally. The seven other new cases announced Thursday were people who had been quarantined after arriving from other countries. The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration said the 10 Thai women had been at the nightclub in Tachileik, Myanmar, and did not go through proper immigration procedures or undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from abroad, prompting widespread concern that they may have spread the coronavirus. Thailand has been able to largely control the virus and has had few cases of local transmission in recent months. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the women's actions make the possibility of opening the country more difficult. “I beg those who came back from Tachileik illegally to show up and get a test at a hospital. We have no intention of putting them in jail. But we want to minimize the risk of the virus spreading,” he said. Health officials are tracing about 700-800 people who were in contact with the women. Those at high risk will be tested twice and quarantined for 14 days, the center said. Thailand has had 4,039 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 60 deaths.

— Indonesia set another daily record for COVID-19 cases on Thursday with 8,369 new infections, prompting the government of the world’s fourth most populous nation to shorten yearend holidays. The increase brings the country’s confirmed total to 557,877 cases, the most in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India's 9.5 million confirmed cases. The Health Ministry reported a total of 17,355 deaths from the coronavirus. The country's previous record was set Sunday with 6,267 new cases. President Joko Widodo instructed his ministers to cut the 2020 yearend holiday short to curb COVID-19 transmission. The holidays will be reduced by three days, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said.

— India reported less than 40,000 new daily coronavirus cases for a fourth straight day as it awaits a vaccine rollout for its vast population. With 35,551 new infections, India’s confirmed tally crossed 9.5 million on Thursday. For more than three weeks, India’s single-day cases have remained below 50,000. The Health Ministry also reported 526 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 138,648. India doesn’t have any advance purchase agreement with any vaccine manufacturer. The Serum Institute of India, which has been testing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, says it will apply for emergency approval by Indian authorities in two weeks. The institute is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. India’s Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories also is conducting tests on the Russian vaccine Sputnik V.

— The Japanese prefecture of Osaka has issued a COVID-19 alert, urging residents to stay home as much as possible until mid-December as it faces a surge in cases that have put health systems on the verge of collapse. “Our medical systems are in an emergency,” Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said Thursday. “We have to act now or we won’t be able to save lives that can be saved.” Osaka reported 386 new cases Thursday for a prefectural total of 21,404, including 341 deaths. Serious cases are on the rise, Yoshimura said. With hospital beds running out, some patients have had to be sent to neighboring prefectures for treatment. Cases have been expanding rapidly across the country, including the Tokyo region, Aichi in central Japan and Hokkaido in the north. Those areas have asked places that serve alcohol to close early in exchange for compensation. Japan has managed to keep infections from exploding without imposing mandatory lockdowns. However, the government has been criticized for being slow in taking measures that would reduce business activity as it tries to avoid further hurting the economy. Nationwide, Japan had about 153,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,200 deaths as of Wednesday, the health ministry said.

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