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Asia Today: Governor of hotspot Thai province infected

BANGKOK — The governor of a province at the centre of an expanding COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand has been confirmed infected with the coronavirus after meeting with public health officials including the deputy prime minister.

BANGKOK — The governor of a province at the centre of an expanding COVID-19 outbreak in Thailand has been confirmed infected with the coronavirus after meeting with public health officials including the deputy prime minister.

The meeting Sunday attended by the Samut Sakhon governor, Deputy PM Anutin Charnvirakul and others was considered a low risk of spreading the virus because everyone wore masks, said Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyotin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 response centre.

The governor, Weerasak Wijitsaengsri, did not have symptoms but would be treated at a hospital, Taweesilp said.

Anutin, who is also Thailand's public health minister, wrote on Facebook that he has tested negative for the virus and is isolating at home for 14 days.

Thailand reported 144 new cases Monday, most of them locally transmitted, and its total has reached 6,285.

The Southeast Asian country had virtually no cases beyond quarantined travellers for months, but its totals have surged since an outbreak among migrant workers at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon was detected in mid-December.

The province was put under lockdown on Dec. 19. Confirmed cases related to the seafood market have been found in 43 other provinces, including the capital, Bangkok.

Taweesilp said every province has to work hard to control the virus and the number of new infections could reach the thousands daily if nothing is done to prevent the spread. "The best way is to avoid travelling and meetings.”

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— Authorities have banned New Year’s Eve revelers from congregating in Sydney’s downtown harbourside to see the celebrated fireworks due to the pandemic risk. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday people who live in the city centre can invite up to 10 guests to their homes to celebrate. The guests will have to apply for permits to enter the area. Australia’s largest city recorded five new cases of COVID-19 connected to a cluster in the northern beaches region, bringing the total to 126 infections since Dec. 10. Around 1 million people usually congregate on the harbour foreshore to see the annual fireworks that centre on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

— Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he plans to submit legislation that will make coronavirus measures legally binding for businesses, punish violators and include economic compensation as his government struggles to slow the ongoing upsurge. Japan had a state of emergency in April and May with non-binding requests for people to stay home and business to close, but people have complacent about the pandemic and store owners have become less co-operative due to the economic impact. Suga said experts are discussing the legislation to make coronavirus more effectively enforced and hoped to submit the bill for parliamentary approval “as soon as possible” next year.

— Japan on Monday reported its first member of parliament to die from the coronavirus. Yuichiro Hata, 53, also had served as transport minister under a now-defunct opposition party. He developed a slight fever on Thursday and planned to be tested for the virus as a precaution, but his condition suddenly worsened on Sunday, said Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of the constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, to which Hata belonged. Hata was the son of late Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, who headed an opposition-led government in 1994. Fukuyama said he hopes Hata’s death will raise public awareness of the danger of the virus. “He was still just over 50 and his condition worsened so quickly. I feel strongly that we really should not underestimate the risk of the coronavirus,” he said. Japan is struggling with a surge in infections that is showing no signs of slowing. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government has been reluctant to impose tougher restrictions that would further damage the pandemic-hit economy. Japan has reported 220,236 cases, including 3,252 deaths, as of Sunday. Three other national lawmakers have contracted the virus and recovered.

— South Korea has confirmed its first cases of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday the cases are a family of three people who came to South Korea on Dec. 22. They arrived a day before South Korea halted air travel from Britain until Dec. 31 to guard against the new version of the virus. The three people, who reside in the U.K., are under quarantine in South Korea. South Korea on Monday registered 808 new coronavirus cases, raising its national caseload to 57,680 with 819 deaths.

— A member of the security staff and a cleaner at Hong Kong’s international airport have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Airport Authority said Monday that all cleaning staff have been ordered to undergo testing and keep isolated while awaiting results, and that all areas that might have been exposed to the virus have been disinfected. The authority said it is also instituting measures to keep a distance between staff and passengers in the terminal, including designating separate dining areas. Hong Kong’s airport is among the world’s busiest and the economy of the city known as an international business centre has taken a severe hit from pandemic control measures and the downturn in international travel. The local government, meanwhile, has struggled to control a new surge in cases, with another 70 announced on Monday for a total of 8,610, including 137 deaths.

— Sri Lanka's government announced Monday that cinemas will be allowed to reopen throughout the country on Jan. 1 after being closed for three months because of the coronavirus. The reopening, which will require the following of strict health guidelines, is part of the island nation’s efforts to return to normalcy despite lockdowns in different parts of the country. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to reopen the cinemas because of the hardships faced by the industry, his office said in a statement. Patrons will be required to wear face masks and have their body temperatures taken before entering the cinemas. Seats will also be kept vacant between patrons and cinemas can admit only 25% of their normal capacity. Consumption of food and drinks will not be allowed because that would require the removal of face masks. Sri Lanka has confirmed 41,053 coronavirus cases, including 191 fatalities.

— Indonesia's government plans to ban foreigners from entering the country for 14 days starting Jan. 1 in an attempt to keep out a new coronavirus variant that is believed to spread more rapidly. Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said the Cabinet made the decision on Monday. The government also announced 5,854 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the country's total to 719,219 confirmed cases, including 21,452 deaths.

The Associated Press