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Monday, August 17, 2020, 22:05
Southeast Asia detects mutated virus strain sweeping the world
By Agencies
Monday, August 17, 2020, 22:05 By Agencies

Men wearing face masks walk past an art installation in the financial business district in Singapore on August 11, 2020. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)

SYDNEY / DUBAI / CAIRO / KUALA LUMPUR / SINGAPORE - Southeast Asia is facing a strain of the new coronavirus that the Philippines, which faces the region’s largest outbreak, is studying to see whether the mutation makes it more infectious.

The strain, earlier seen in other parts of the world and called D614G, was found in a Malaysian cluster of 45 cases that started from someone who returned from India and breached his 14-day home quarantine. The Philippines detected the strain among random COVID-19 samples in the largest city of its capital region.

The mutation “is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness, but we still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” Philippines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing on Monday.

The strain has been found in many other countries and has become the predominant variant in Europe and the US, with the World Health Organization saying there’s no evidence the strain leads to a more severe disease. The mutation has also been detected in recent outbreaks in China.

As Southeast Asian countries take various steps to prevent a resurgence while reopening limited travel, they struggle with people breaching quarantine rules after returning from overseas as well as false negative test results at borders.


Australia on Monday recorded its biggest one-day rise in COVID-19 deaths, though the state at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak said the number of new infections held steady.

Victoria state said 25 people had died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, more than the previous worst daily toll of 21 reported nationally on Aug 12.

Authorities in the southeastern state said 282 new COVID-19 cases had been detected, about the same as the 279 cases reported on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the leader of Australia’s New South Wales state apologised on Monday for failing to stop people carrying the novel coronavirus from disembarking from a cruise ship in Sydney in March, triggering what was at the time Australia’s worst outbreak.

Australia has approved a pilot program for 300 international students to enter the country, providing a potential lifeline to the A$38 billion (US$27 billion) sector that’s been smashed by the pandemic.

A type of Australian cancer drug is set to begin human trials for the treatment of COVID-19, with the hopes of stopping the virus in its tracks before it leaves the nose and throat.

Australia has reported 23,500 COVID-19 cases and 421 deaths, far fewer than many other developed nations.

Ants crawl across a disposable face mask left on the ground in Seremban on August 13, 2020. (MOHD RASFAN / AFP)


The total COVID-19 deaths surpassed 50,000, reaching 50,921, in India on Monday, said the health ministry.

According to the latest data issued by the ministry, the total COVID-19 cases in the country rose to 2,647,663, after 57,981 new cases were detected in the past 24 hours. Some 941 deaths took place since Sunday morning, added the data.


Indonesia reported 1,821 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing its infection total to 141,370, data from government’s COVID-19 task force showed.

The Southeast Asian country also added 57 new deaths, taking its fatalities to 6,207, the highest coronavirus death toll in Southeast Asia.


Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, recorded 2,133 new COVID-19 cases during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 343,203, Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education announced.

The death toll from the virus in the country rose to 19,639 after 147 new fatalities were added overnight, and there have been a total of 297,468 recoveries so far.


The Iraqi Health Ministry reported 4,348 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily increase since the outbreak of the disease.

Out of the 176,931 confirmed cases since the outbreak in the country, 5,860 have passed away and 125,374 others recovered, it added.

Iraqi Deputy Health Minister Hazim al-Jumaili said in a press release that the Iraqi Higher Committee for Health and National Safety decided to cancel the weekly three-day full curfew to replace them with partial curfew every week.

He said that the committee also reduced the partial curfew hours to be from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m local time.

READ MORE: S. Korea cases most since March, Victoria extends emergency


Israeli Health Ministry reported 447 new cases and 11 deaths, bringing the tally of infections to 92,680 and the death toll from the pandemic to 685.

Israel's GDP contracted by annualized 28.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the first quarter of the year, according to a report released by the state's Central Bureau of Statistics on Sunday.

This decline, sharpest in the last 40 years, is mainly due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the steps taken by the government to stop the spread of the virus.


Jordan will seal off a city near the Syrian border from Monday following the largest daily rise in four months in coronavirus infections, which officials say have come mainly from its northern neighbour.

The health ministry said half of the 39 cases recorded in the last 24 hours were from Ramtha city, near the Syrian border.

Ramtha will be isolated as of Monday with the authorities re-imposing restrictions on movement in the first such reversal of a provincial area since the authorities eased a nationwide lockdown last June.

Jordan, with one of the lowest infection cases in the region, has reported 1,378 cases and 11 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

A woman walks past a sign urging people to stay home in Melbourne on August 14, 2020 as the city battles an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe entered a hospital on Monday for a medical check-up, a government source said, after a top official voiced concern the premier was suffering from fatigue because of his workload during the coronavirus pandemic.


Kuwait on Sunday reported 508 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths, raising the tally of infections to 76,205 and the death toll to 501, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Currently, 7,569 patients are receiving treatment, including 117 in ICU, according to the statement.

The ministry also announced the recovery of 616 more patients, raising the total recoveries in the country to 68,135.

Kuwait will move into the fourth phase of its five-phase plan to return to normal life, which is set to start on Aug. 18 and the government will permit salons, gyms, barbershops, tailors, and spas to reopen and restaurants to offer more services.


Most parts of Kazakhstan begin to ease their second coronavirus lockdown from Aug. 17 but would keep in place some strict measures such as weekend lockdowns, TengriNews reported on Monday.

Shopping centers, retail chains, beauty salons, spa, gyms, preschool institutions and other venues are allowed to reopen from Monday, though customer scale and working hours would be limited.

Places like religious sites, bars, clubs, food courts, cinemas, museums, exhibitions and swimming pools would remain closed.


Kyrgyzstan added 135 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising the tally of infections to 41,991.

Among the infected 3,035 are medical workers, Ainura Akmatova, head of the public health care department of the country's Health Ministry, told a daily online news briefing.


Lebanon must shut down for two weeks after a surge in coronavirus infections, the caretaker health minister said on Monday, as the country reels from the massive Beirut port blast.

“We declare today a state of general alert and we need a brave decision to close (the country) for two weeks,” Hamad Hassan told Voice of Lebanon radio.

Lebanon's number of COVID-19 infections increased on Sunday by 439 cases to 8,881, its daily record, while death toll went up by six to 103, the Health Ministry reported.

ALSO READ: Seoul returns to tougher virus restrictions as cases spike


Malaysia has detected a strain of the new coronavirus that’s been found to be 10 times more infectious. The mutation has become the predominant variant in Europe and the US, with the World Health Organization saying there’s no evidence the strain leads to a more severe disease.

A paper published in Cell Press said the mutation is unlikely to have a major impact on the efficacy of vaccines currently being developed.

The mutation called D614G was found in at least three of the 45 cases in a cluster that started from a restaurant owner returning from India and breaching his 14-day home quarantine. The strain was also found in another cluster involving people returning from the Philippines.

New Zealand

New Zealand confirmed nine new cases of COVID-19 in the community on Monday, with none in managed isolation facilities.

Seven of the new cases were linked to the Auckland family cluster, and the other two cases were under investigation, according to the ministry.

As of 6 pm Sunday, 86 people have been moved to quarantine facilities, including both community transmission cases and New Zealand residents and citizens' arrival from overseas, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a daily briefing.


The Omani Ministry of Health reported 162 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total confirmed cases to 83,086.

Ten new deaths were reported, taking the death toll to 572, while 130 patients recovered in the last 24 hours, raising the total recoveries to 77,680.

The ministry started on Sunday the second stage of the national survey on antibodies to help reveal the conditions of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.


The Qatari Health Ministry announced 271 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 115,080.

Meanwhile, 289 more recovered from the virus, bringing the total recoveries to 111,794, while the death toll increased by one to 193.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Health Ministry announced Sunday 1,227 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number to 298,542.

It said 39 more deaths and 2,466 recovered cases from the virus were confirmed, pushing the death toll to 3,408 and recoveries to 266,953.

A Syrian street vendor sells apples and prickly pears across from a mural painted as part of an awareness campaign by the UN and WHO intitative, bearing instructions on protection from COVID-19 in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli of Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on August 16, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)


Singapore is set to pump in an additional S$8 billion (US$5.8 billion) in fiscal stimulus to cushion the economic fallout from the pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a speech to the nation.

The latest measures are to support jobs and create new ones, provide further support for sectors that are hardest hit, as well as position the country for growth opportunities in a post COVID-19 world, Heng said. The new measures are to be funded by reallocating funds from other areas, such as development expenditures that were delayed due to the pandemic.

Air crew of Singapore carriers who return from overseas from Aug. 20 will have to undergo COVID-19 testing on top of existing health and safety protocols already in place, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said in a statement. 

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 86 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 55,747.

South Korea

South Korea reported 197 more cases of coronavirus on Monday, amid a flareup of infections. The country warned over the weekend of another mass infection after reporting the highest number of coronavirus cases since early March, most of which are linked to an outbreak at a church in the capital.

The Philippines

The Philippines is looking to further reopen its economy even as coronavirus infections continue to rise, after a poll showed adult unemployment was at a record high last month.

The government wants to allow more economic activity and extend aid to small businesses after 27.3 million Filipinos in a Social Weather Stations survey in early July said they were jobless, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

President Rodrigo Duterte will announce either an extension or easing of the restrictions before the tightened curbs implemented in metropolitan Manila and nearby provinces lapse on Tuesday, Roque said.

The Philippines has recorded new coronavirus cases and 18 additional deaths from the disease, the health ministry said on Monday.

The country has so far registered a total of 164,474 infections and the death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 2,681, according to ministry data.


Turkey confirmed 1,192 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, raising the total diagnosed cases to 249,309.

Meanwhile, 19 people died in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 5,974. A total of 997 patients recovered in the last 24 hours, raising the total recoveries to 230,969 in Turkey since the outbreak.

Turkish government said it will establish "neighborhood inspection teams" to enforce the measures against the COVID-19, according to Turkey's interior ministry on Sunday.

The members of state institutions, local administrations, law enforcements and school officials will be responsible for these teams, it said.


Palestine the same day reported 381 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total cases of Palestinians infected with the deadly virus since March 5 to 21,935.

Two new deaths were reported, bringing the death toll to 121, Palestinian Health Ministry said.


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday announced 210 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 64,312.

And 123 more patients have recovered from the virus, taking the tally of recoveries in the UAE to 57,694, while three more deaths were added, pushing the country's death toll to 364.


Vietnam’s health ministry reported 14 more coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian country to 976, with 24 fatalities.

Nearly 500 cases are linked to the central city of Danang, where a new outbreak was detected late in July after more than three months without domestic transmission nationwide.

The ministry said 107,642 people were being quarantined, about a quarter in hospitals and centralised isolation centres and the rest at home.


The total number of COVID-19 cases in Yemen's government-controlled provinces increased to 1,869 on Sunday, as 11 new cases were officially recorded.

The Yemeni Health Ministry said in a brief press statement that during the past 24 hours, the number of recoveries in the government-controlled areas increased to 1,013 since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus on April 10.

Also, the government announced that the death toll from the deadly respiratory disease climbed to 530 in different areas under its control, including the southern port city of Aden.

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