SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea was opening dozens of free COVID-19 testing sites in the greater Seoul area, as the country registered additional 718 new cases Monday amid a surge in infections.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said the additional cases took the country’s total since the pandemic began to 43,484 infections with 587 deaths. It said about 65% of the new cases were found in the Seoul area, which has been at the center of a recent viral resurgence.

The additional cases were a drop from the 1,030 cases reported a day earlier, the highest daily increase since South Korea confirmed its first patient in January. Observers say the lower figures for Monday are a result of fewer tests taken over the weekend and that the country’s caseload is expected to surge again this week.

Starting from Monday, health authorities are to open 150 virus testing centers in the Seoul area in phases. That’s in addition to more than 210 existing test sites.

At the new sites scheduled to run for three weeks, anyone can visit and take free tests. Previously, people wanting to take diagnostic tests on their own have had to pay if they tested negative.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her country plans to open a travel bubble with Australia some time in the first quarter of 2021. That would mean people traveling from Australia to New Zealand would no longer need to go into quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. For its part, Australia is already letting New Zealanders skip quarantine. The announcement Monday comes two days after New Zealand said it planned a similar bubble with the Cook Islands. The two arrangements would represent the first travel bubbles that New Zealand has agreed to since closing its borders when the coronavirus first hit earlier this year. New Zealand has moved cautiously on restarting international travel after stamping out community spread of the virus. Ardern said there are some remaining logistical issues to overcome, including how it would deal with a large influx of returning travelers in the case of another significant outbreak in Australia. The announcement comes as some relief to families separated by the virus and to tourism operators, many of whom rely on visitors from Australia.

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Follow AP’s coverage at  https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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