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Asia Today: South Korea adds 559 cases, highest in 10 days

South Korean police officers wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus walk in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea has reported 599 new coronavirus cases, the highest in 10 days, as health workers scramble to slow infections at religious facilities, which have been a major source throughout the pandemic.

    The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 112 of the new cases came from the southwestern city of Gwangju, where more than 100 have so far been linked to a missionary training school. An affiliated facility in the central city of Daejeon has been linked to more than 170 infections.

    The Seoul metropolitan area reported nearly 300 cases.

    South Korea has repeatedly seen big clusters emerge from religious groups, including more than 5,000 linked to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus that drove a major outbreak last spring.

    The figures released by the agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 76,429, including 1,378 deaths.

    Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region:

    -- Health officials in New Zealand say all the close contacts of a woman who caught the coronavirus have tested negative, as fears of an outbreak ease. The woman became infected from another traveler just before leaving quarantine after returning from Europe. Several people have tested positive in quarantine. Meanwhile, officials have begun outlining plans for the nation's vaccination program, which they hope will get underway in earnest by midyear. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said they aim to vaccinate at least 70% of the population. He said a recent survey showed about 70% of people would embrace getting inoculated, 20% would be hesitant and up to 10% would be opposed. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week that the nation's borders could remain closed for the rest of the year. Officials acknowledge that New Zealand's success in eliminating the community spread of the virus means it may need to wait longer than some countries to get vaccines.

    -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo received the second dose of the Chinese coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, two weeks after the first injection. Indonesia has given priority to health workers and public officers after authorizing the emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine. Several top military, police and health officials also received their second shots at the Presidential Palace, as well as a celebrity who is a social media influencer. The Health Ministry data showed about 245,685 people have been vaccinated so far, most of them health workers. On Tuesday, Indonesia's confirmed cases surpassed 1 million with 28,46 deaths.

    -- India has vaccinated 2 million health workers in less than two weeks and recorded 12,689 new cases. COVID-19 fatalities are also dropping with 137 in the past 24 hours. India started its massive vaccination campaign on Jan. 16 and aims to inoculate 300 million people, including 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers. India on Jan. 4 approved emergency use of two vaccines -- AstraZeneca and home-made Bharat Biotech.

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