South Korea plans tracking wristbands, US virus deaths rise
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: South Korea announced plans Saturday to strap tracking wristbands on people who defy quarantine orders and Christians were urged to stay home on Easter weekend as the global coronavirus death toll passed 100,000.
South Korean officials said stricter controls are required because some of the 57,000 people who are under orders to stay home have slipped out by leaving behind smartphones with tracking apps. Plans for broader use of wristbands were scaled back after objections by human rights and legal activists.
Meanwhile, U.S. health authorities reported more outbreaks in New York City and the surrounding region, an area with some 20 million people that accounts for more than half of the 500,000 American cases. Other hot spots are in Detroit, Louisiana and the national capital, Washington.
Worldwide, confirmed infections rose to 1.7 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
In China, where the pandemic began in December, the government reported three deaths and 46 additional cases in the 24 hours through midnight Friday. The number of new daily cases has declined dramatically, allowing the ruling Communist Party to reopen factories and stores.
China has reported 3,339 deaths and 81.953 confirmed infections, though critics say the real totals might be higher.
Also Saturday, the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou in southern China advised African-Americans to avoid the city following complaints police ordered restaurants and bars not to serve people of African origin. It said authorities were requiring mandatory self-quarantine for anyone with "African contacts."
A foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said Thursday the government "opposes any discriminatory practices" following complaints Africans were targeted for stricter prevention measures. Zhao said there might be "some misunderstandings" and local officials would be urged to improve their methods.
Public health officials and religious leaders urged Roman Catholics and Protestants to stay home on Easter Sunday, their faith's most important holiday. They warned that violating lockdowns and social distancing rules could allow the virus to come storming back.
Authorities in Europe put up roadblocks, used helicopters and drones, and cited drivers who had no good reason to be out.
On Good Friday, some churches worldwide held services online, while others arranged prayers at drive-in theaters. In Paris, services were broadcast from a nearly empty, closed-to-the-public Notre Dame Cathedral, still heavily scarred from a fire a year ago.
The Roman Catholic archbishop of New Orleans sprinkled holy water from the Jordan River on the city from a biplane flying overhead.
Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter a week later on April 19.
A South Korean health official, Yoon Tae-ho, acknowledged privacy and civil liberties concerns about the wristband plan. But Yoon said they were necessary because the number of people under self-quarantine soared after the country began requiring 14-day isolation for anyone arriving from abroad beginning April 1.
The wristbands are designed to alert police if the wearers leave home or try to destroy or cut them off.
Lee Beom-seok, an official from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, said the government lacked authority to compel people to wear the wristbands. He said they would be asked to sign consent forms.
Under the country's recently strengthened laws on infectious diseases, people can face up to a year in prison or fined as much as $8,200 for breaking quarantine orders. Lee said those who agree to wear the wristbands could be possibly considered for lighter punishment.
South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 886 of the country's 10,480 coronavirus infections have been traced to international arrivals.
The number of people under self-quarantine includes 49,697 who arrived from abroad. Another 1,340 foreign short-term visitors are quarantined.
The United States, with some 18,500 deaths, is on track to pass Italy as the country with the highest fatality toll.
"I understand intellectually why it's happening," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, where deaths rose by 777, to more than 7,800. "It doesn't make it any easier to accept."
New York officials said the number of people in intensive care dropped for the first time since mid-March and hospitalizations were slowing: 290 new patients in a single day, compared with daily increases of more than 1,000 last week.
Cuomo said if that trend holds, New York might not need the overflow field hospitals that officials have been scrambling to build.
Some suburbs had an infection rate even higher than New York City, including Rockland County, where the rate was double.
Spain recorded 605 more deaths, its lowest figure in more than two weeks, bringing its overall toll to more than 15,800. Italy reported 570 additional deaths for a total of more than 18,800.
Questions intensified about when restrictions might be loosened.
Spain said factories and construction sites could resume work Monday, while schools, most shops and offices will remain closed. In Italy, there were pleas to restart manufacturing.
President Donald Trump said he will not lift U.S. restrictions until conditions are safe but announced an "Opening Our Country" task force and said, "I want to get it open as soon as possible."
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that easing restrictions prematurely could "lead to a deadly resurgence."
Italy, Ireland and Greece extended lockdown orders into May.
Elsewhere, the threat increased. Britain reported a one-day high of 980 new deaths for close to 9,000 in total.