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Asia Today: India adds 87K cases, New Zealand easing rules

WELLINGTON – India recorded nearly 87,000 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours as it edged closer to the United States in having the most reported cases in the world.

The Health Ministry also Monday reported 1,130 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the total reported fatalities to 87,882.

India now has over 5.4 million reported cases, and the nation of 1.3 billion people is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States, which has 6.8 million.

Over 60% of the active cases are concentrated in five of 28 Indian states, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh and experts are worried about surges in smaller cities and villages, where access to healthcare is patchy.

India’s economy contracted nearly 24% in the second quarter, the worst among the world’s top economies. To offset the economic crisis, the government has been relaxing virus restrictions despite the surging cases.

The 17th century, white marble Taj Mahal reopened for national and international tourists Monday after a gap of six months. Wearing masks is compulsory, and thermal screening and physical distancing are among other virus restrictions being used.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— All remaining virus restrictions will be lifted across much of New Zealand from late Monday with the exception of the largest city, Auckland, which will continue to have some restrictions for at least another 16 days. The nation of 5 million people reimposed some restrictions last month because of the Auckland outbreak, which now appears to be under control. Under the plan, maximum gathering sizes in Auckland will be increased from 10 to 100 on Wednesday and then caps removed two weeks after that. “Whilst we have reasonable confidence we are on the right track, there is still a need in Auckland for that cautious approach,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. Health authorities reported no new cases on Monday. The number of active COVID-19 cases is 62, with 33 of those from community spread and 29 among quarantined returning travelers.

— Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, on Monday began its first day under a tightened lockdown, but initial enforcement measures appeared lax. The government is attempting to stem a rising number of coronavirus cases that began last month with an outbreak in the western state of Rakhine. The new restrictions allow only essential businesses such as banks, gasoline stations, food stores, pharmacies, drinking water businesses and factories producing daily hygiene products to stay open. But many other businesses and shops were operating as usual on Monday. Office buildings were closed to comply with instructions that staff must work from home. City residents are not supposed to travel outside their officially designated wards, but checkpoints were operating in only a few areas heavily affected by the virus, and street vendors could be seen traveling freely in and out of the different wards. Households may send just one person outside for shopping and two for medical care. Myanmar health officials have reported 5,805 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 97 deaths.

— South Korea’s daily virus tally has stayed below 100 for a second consecutive day, maintaining a slowing trend in fresh infections. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday the 70 new cases added in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 23,045 with 385 deaths. The drop to double digits on Sunday was the first in about 40 days. South Korea conducts fewer tests on weekends. But its recent virus resurgence has been on a downward trajectory amid strong social distancing rules since its daily tally surpassed 400 in late August.