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Asia Today: Australian state’s cases spike, borders to shut

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The hard-hit Australian state of Victoria recorded a death and its highest-ever daily increase in coronavirus cases on Monday as authorities prepare to close its border with New South Wales.

The death of a man in his 90s brings the national death toll from COVID-19 to 105.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said of the 127 new cases, 53 were among 3,000 people who have been confined by police to their apartments in nine public housing blocks since Saturday.

Australia’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has described the high-rises as “vertical cruise ships” because of the high risk of virus spread.

Andrews said the high number of cases reflected a daily record number of tests exceeding 24,500.

Andrews also announced that the state border with New South Wales will be closed from late Tuesday night in an agreement between the two state premiers and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Morrison had previously opposed states closing their borders.

It will be the first time Australia’s two most populous states have closed their border since the pandemic began.

New South Wales had previously banned travel from dozens of Melbourne suburbs that were locked down last week for a month due to high rates of infection.

The leader of Australia’s most populous state said her government’s decision to close its border with hard-hit Victoria marked a new phase in the country’s outbreak.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian had criticized states that closed their borders to New South Wales residents when Sydney, the state capital and Australia’s largest city, had most of the country’s COVID-19 cases.

She noted the overwhelming majority of new cases in Melbourne in recent weeks were from community transmission. Everywhere else in Australia, the vast majority of cases were people infected overseas or by a returned traveler, Berejiklian said.

“What is occurring in Victoria has not yet occurred anywhere else in Australia,” she said. “It’s a new part of the pandemic and, as such, it requires a new type of response.”

New South Wales police will close the Victorian border from late Tuesday. Some flights and trains services would continue for travelers who are given permits and exemptions, Berejiklian said.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— The Philippines has seen a big recent spike in infections, raising the possibility its overcrowded capital may be placed back under a strict lockdown. The Department of Health reported 2,434 cases in recent days, the majority in metropolitan Manila, raising cases nationwide to more than 44,250, including 1,297 deaths. Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said a lockdown is possible if the uptick continues and hospitals fill up. At least one major Manila hospital, the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center, said its COVID-19 ward was running at full capacity. President Rodrigo Duterte eased the lockdown in metropolitan Manila on June 1 to help the faltering economy.

— South Korea reported 48 new infections Monday, 24 of them each linked to local transmissions and international arrivals, continuing a weekslong spread that has inspired second-guessing on whether officials were too quickly to ease social restrictions entering May. The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the national caseload to 13,137 infections and 284 deaths. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo during a virus meeting on Monday said the outbreak remains controllable while urging vigilance to slow the spread.

— China reported four new cases, three from outside the country and one transmitted locally in Beijing, the National Health Commission reported. Another 106 people were in isolation as suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms. China has recorded 4,634 deaths among 83,557 cases since the virus was detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

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