Asia Today: Rules return in Hong Kong, India, ease in China

Renewed restrictions have taken effect in Hong Kong as it battles a virus resurgence

Mask-wearing has been made compulsory on public transport for the first time, with fines of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($650). Public gatherings are once again restricted to four people, after the limit was eased last month to allow up to 50.

The semi-autonomous Chinese territory has seen a return of locally transmitted cases in the past 10 days after a long spell without them. About 300 new cases have been reported since July 6, including more than 220 non-imported ones.

The city reversed plans to allow major public events, postponing a highly popular annual book fair slated to open Wednesday. Hong Kong Disneyland, which had reopened last month, shuttered again in accordance with the renewed restrictions.

Gyms and beauty salons have been ordered closed, and eateries are not allowed to offer dine-in services from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Schools had already been reclosed from Monday.

The city of 7.5 million people has recorded 1,569 confirmed cases and eight deaths since the outbreak began.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— China is further easing restrictions on domestic tourism after reporting no new local cases of COVID-19 in nine days. A directive from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism dated Tuesday said tourist sites could allow 50% of their daily visitor capacity, up from 30%, and that interprovince group tours can resume. The National Health Commission said six new cases were recorded Tuesday, all in people who had arrived from overseas. It has not reported any domestic cases since an outbreak in Beijing that infected more than 330 people before it faded early this month. China has reported 83,611 confirmed cases and 4,634 deaths since the outbreak began. It does not include people who test positive but show no symptoms in its case count.

— India’s coronavirus cases surged by 29,429, and authorities are reimposing lockdowns in high-risk areas. The new cases took the national total to 936,181. The Health Ministry also reported another 582 deaths, taking total fatalities up to 24,309. A two-week lockdown was imposed Wednesday in eastern Bihar state and its population of nearly 128 million. Nearly 2.5 million poor migrant workers have returned to the state after losing jobs in other parts of the country. India’s key southern technology hub, Bangalore, was also put under a weeklong lockdown on Wednesday. About a dozen states, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam, have put high-risk areas under lockdowns, only allowing essential food supplies and health services.

— The leader of Australia’s worst-hit state said police were cracking down on a coronavirus lockdown in the nation’s second-largest city. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews warned that restrictions would be increased unless the spread was contained in Melbourne. The Australian military is bolstering police numbers at checkpoints. Police were scanning license plates to determine drivers’ addresses and whether they were subjected to stay-at-home orders. Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said 238 new cases detected in the latest 24-hours could be the start of a stabilization in the spread of the virus in Melbourne, more than a week into a new lockdown in the city and part of its surrounds.

— New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined her government plans to contain future community outbreaks in the South Pacific nation that has not recorded a locally spread case in 75 days. Its two new cases recorded Wednesday and all 27 of its active cases are people quarantined after foreign travel. Ardern said a system of local or regional lockdowns would be used and a national lockdown would be a last resort. Local lockdowns might involve buildings, suburbs or a city. “Our priority will be to control any cases with the least intrusive measures and over the smallest area we can,” Ardern said.

— South Korea has reported 39 new cases of the coronavirus, most of them tied to international arrivals as the virus continues to spread in Asia, the United States and elsewhere. The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday brought national totals to 13,551 cases, including 289 deaths. The KCDC said at least 28 of the new cases were linked to arrivals from abroad, but it didn’t immediately disclose where they were from. South Korea requires two-week quarantines on all passengers arriving from overseas. Foreign nationals arriving from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan beginning this week must provide health certificates proving they had tested negative for COVID-19 amid widening outbreaks in Southern and Central Asia.

— The number of travelers who entered and left the Philippines dropped 95% under its coronavirus quarantine. Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente predicted the travel slump would remain dire. “We do not foresee these statistics to rise in the near future while the entire world is still fighting to defeat this coronavirus,” Morente said. The government was forced to ease a lockdown in the capital and quarantine restrictions elsewhere last month to reopen the faltering economy despite infection spikes. Nearly 60,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the country, including more than 1,600 deaths.

— Members of Tokyo’s coronavirus task force raised caution levels in the Japanese capital to the highest on a scale of four and urged officials to secure more hospital beds, increase testing and raise awareness about the situation's urgency. Gov. Yuriko Koike asked residents to avoid non-essential out-of-town trips, but stopped short of requesting business closures. Norio Ohmagari, a member of the task force, said infections appear to be expanding, with the number of untraceable cases on the rise. He said infections are no longer concentrated in nightlife districts and are spreading in workplaces, restaurants, households, nursing homes and childcare facilities. Tokyo reported 8,189 cases including 325 deaths as of Tuesday.