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Asia Today: Sydney lifts quarantine for N. Zealand travelers

SYDNEY – Australia’s largest city, Sydney, lifted quarantine restrictions on travelers from New Zealand on Friday while the second largest city, Melbourne, marked the 100th day of one of the world’s longest pandemic lockdowns.

More than 350 passengers were scheduled to take three flights from Auckland on Friday and will not have to undergo hotel quarantine on arrival in Sydney.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: “This is great news for tourism. It’s also great news for family reunification and grateful businesses.”

New Zealand will continue to insist that travelers from Australia quarantine in hotels for 14 days on arrival.

The Victoria state government has resisted pressure from businesses and the federal government to relax a second lockdown that began when stay-at-home orders took effect in Melbourne on July 9.

Victoria recorded only two new COVID-19 cases in the latest 24-hour period. The state last recorded such a low number on June 8, with daily tallies peaking at 725 on Aug. 5.

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said he will announce on Sunday conservative plans to relax Melbourne’s lockdown.

“The decisions on Sunday will be conservative because this is a wildly infectious virus,” Andrews told reporters. “These are some of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made in 20 years in public life.”

New South Wales on Friday reported five new cases in Sydney, including four who were infected overseas and detected in hotel quarantine.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India’s confirmed coronavirus fatalities jumped to 895 in the past 24 hours, a day after recording the lowest daily deaths of 680 in nearly three months. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 63,371 new cases, raising India’s total to more than 7.3 million, second in the world behind the U.S. The worst-hit western Maharashtra state accounted for nearly 36% of the 112,161 total deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic. The country was seeing more than 1,000 deaths per day last month. According to the Health Ministry, India’s average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9-15, when the virus peaked. It is recording an average of around 70,000 cases daily so far this month. Some experts say India’s tally of more than 7.3 million infections may not be reliable because of poor reporting and inadequate health infrastructure. India is also relying heavily on antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests. Health officials have also warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month.

— South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally has dropped below 50 for the first time in more than two weeks despite reports of small-scale local infections. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday the 47 cases added in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 25,035 with 441 deaths. It’s a decline from the 110 reported a day earlier, about half of them tied to a hospital for the elderly in the southeastern city of Busan. Health official Son Youngrae says South Korea’s caseload is currently showing a downward trend. But he says the public must stay vigilant as cluster infections have also been detected sporadically in hospitals and other high-risk facilities. Earlier this week, South Korea relaxed its social distancing rules, allowing high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bars to reopen and spectators to return to sport stadiums.

— Authorities have completed tests on more than 10 million people in the northern Chinese port city of Qingdao after a hospital outbreak there blamed on “inappropriate disinfection. ” Testing is set to continue to cover 11 million people, including more than 9 million citizens as well as those lacking formal residency. A total of 13 cases have been discovered in the city, but none since the mass testing program was launched earlier this week. The cluster of infections, the first locally transmitted cases in China in about two months, appears to be linked to “inappropriate disinfection” in the CT room at the Qingdao Chest Hospital, Ma Lixin, a health official for surrounding Shandong province, told reporters. Ma said the possibility of community transmission outside the hospital had been ruled out. The National Health Commission on Friday reported 24 new cases, all of them imported. Chinese hospitals are currently treating 253 people for COVID-19, with another 381 people being monitored in isolation for having testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms or for being suspected cases. China has reported a total of 5,634 deaths from 85,646 cases recorded since the virus was first detected in Wuhan late last year.

— Sri Lankan authorities have ordered the closure all cinemas in a bid to contain an outbreak that has so far infected 1,791 people in the capital's suburbs. The cluster in a garment factory in the densely populated Western province was discovered last week, and is the first in more than two months. Authorities also have tightened a curfew in parts of the country. More than 2,000 other people were asked to quarantine at home. The majority of the infected are co-workers of the first patient. Schools and key public offices are also closed, public gatherings banned and restrictions imposed on public transport. Sri Lanka has reported a total of 5,170 confirmed cases with 13 deaths.

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