An uptick of coronavirus cases in Asia dashes some hopes that the pandemic could be slowing down

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An uptick of coronavirus cases in Asia dashes some hopes that the pandemic could be slowing down

Beijing International airport coronavirus 1

Thomas Peter/Reuters

Staff in protective suits accompany passengers outside a centralized facility for screening and registration near the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

  • Asian countries including Taiwan, China, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong recorded a small spike in cases of the novel coronavirus, The Financial Times reported on Wednesday.
  • The countries were first to experience outbreaks of COVID-19, and set an example of the effectiveness of lockdowns, mass-testing, and social distancing.
  • But now a rise in imported coronavirus cases from Europe and other countries with ongoing transmission is prompting governments to place restrictions on travelers arriving from overseas.
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Following weeks of decline, a small uptick of coronavirus cases has been reported in some Asian countries, dashing hopes that the pandemic could be slowing down.

When the outbreak first took hold in January and February, China and South Korea swiftly implemented city-wide lockdowns, mass testing, and extreme social distancing measures that many believed set an example for how effective restrictive measures could be in containing the infection.

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But officials in South Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore believe the spike in new cases appears to be coming from outside their borders, not within.

"There is a challenge to containment by the increasing number of imported infections in all of these locations at the moment from Europe, but in the future it could be from other parts of the world as well," Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, told the Financial Times.

Officials have cited a rise in "imported cases" from citizens flying home to flee the outbreaks of COVID-19 in Europe, prompting them to tighten restrictions on travelers coming from overseas to keep the contagion out.

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China, Taiwan, and South Korea are screening travelers from Europe and mandating quarantines

President Xi Jinping declared last week that China had basically "curbed" COVID-19 in Wuhan and Hubei, where thousands of new cases were reported daily at the peak of the outbreak. On Monday, China had only 21 new cases of COVID-19 - and all but one were travelers coming from abroad, according to Chinese officials, the New York Post reported.

Since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, the National Immigration Administration said about 120,000 people a day entered China from overseas, according to the FT. In response to threat of imported cases, new arrivals at more than a dozen Chinese provinces will be required to quarantine for 14 days, the FT reported.

Taiwan had become a case study for its swift response to the crisis with just 100 cases confirmed Tuesday. But new cases have begun to slowly inch up in the Southeast Asian country - of the 23 new cases reported on Wednesday, 21 were imported, according to the FT.

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Hong Kong health officials also reported that all but one of its 14 new cases on Wednesday had recently come from overseas. According to the Financial Times, nearly 90% of its new COVID-19 patients from March 9 to March 17 had recently returned from foreign countries.

Taiwan has since closed its borders to all foreigners and tightened quarantine measures within its borders, zeroing in on Taiwanese citizens who had traveled overseas and then visited a doctor for symptoms associated with COVID-19. Hong Kong officials announced that new arrivals will be subject to a mandatory 14 days of self-isolation.

South Korea, which previously had the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Asia, will begin stricter screening for visitors coming from Europe, where the outbreak is rapidly spreading, the Japan Times reported.

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The novel coronavirus has swept the globe, infecting 200,000 and killing 8,000 in 155 countries and territories. In the early days of the outbreak, a huge portion of COVID-19 cases were reported in mainland China - but the number of new cases outside has since surpassed those in China. More than 82,000 people known to be infected have since recovered, mostly in China.

While European countries and the US are scrambling to curb the infection within their borders, Asian countries are turning their attention to keeping the virus out.

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