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Asia Today: Australian hot spot, South Korea hit new lows

Australia’s coronavirus hot spot Victoria state on Monday recorded its lowest number of new infections in more than three months as the nation’s second-largest city, Melbourne, further eased lockdown restrictions.

The easing of restrictions in Melbourne, the state capital, will allow most children to return to school from mid-October and send more than 125,000 people back to work.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters that his state was “so close to being able to take a really big step … towards that COVID-normal,” after only five new cases were recorded in the latest 24-hour period, the lowest case number since June 12.

“We are so, so close, and what’s important now is that everyone keeps following the rules, keeps doing the right thing, keeps making that profound and critical contribution to these numbers getting low and staying low,” Andrews said.

The state also recorded three deaths on Monday, Andrews said.

Melbourne and surrounding parts of rural Victoria were placed under strict lockdown measures on Aug. 2, shuttering schools and non-essential businesses, imposing a nighttime curfew and prohibiting public gatherings.

The 9 p.m.- 5.a.m curfew was lifted from Monday, although residents still cannot travel more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) from home.

Public gatherings of up to five people from a maximum of two households will be allowed, and daycare centers for children will also reopen.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— South Korea has reported 50 new cases of the coronavirus, its lowest daily increase in nearly 50 days, a possible effect of strengthened social distancing measures that were employed to slow a major outbreak surrounding the greater capital region. Monday’s daily increase released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency was the lowest since Aug. 11. The country reported around 200 to 300 cases a day from mid-August to early September, a resurgence that forced officials to tighten social distancing restrictions in the Seoul area and elsewhere. Officials have called for vigilance ahead of the Chuseok harvest festival that begins Wednesday and continues through the weekend. They are pleading for people to stay home during an annual holiday when South Koreans typically travel to visit relatives, and nightclubs, bars and other establishments deemed “high-risk” will be shut in Seoul during the holiday period to reduce gatherings.

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