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Monday, December 28, 2020, 21:42
Indonesia bans foreign visitors for 2 weeks over new variant
By Agencies
Monday, December 28, 2020, 21:42 By Agencies

Passengers undergo a rapid antigen test for the Covid-19 coronavirus prior to boarding a flight at Juanda international airport in Sidoarjo on Dec 22, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

TOKYO / YANGON / MUSCAT / CAIRO / SINGAPORE / ANKARA / SEOUL / BANGKOK / ULAN BATOR / KABUL / MANILA - Indonesia has decided to impose a temporary ban on all foreigners from visiting the country on concern over the spread of a new variant of the virus. The restriction will apply from Jan. 1 to 14, with exceptions given to official visits by those holding ministerial-level positions or higher, said Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in a Monday briefing.

The new regulation, effective Jan. 1, comes days after Indonesia banned travelers from the Britain and tightened rules for those arriving from Europe and Australia to limit the spread of the new variant.

Indonesia earlier this year banned all foreign tourists from entry but some exemptions have been made for business travelers. The new regulation applies to all foreign visitors, except for high-level government officials, she said.

The world’s fourth most populous country has struggled to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus since recording its first case in March, now with nearly 720,000 confirmed infections and 21,500 deaths, among the highest in Asia.

People walk past Australia's landmark Opera House, usually packed with locals and tourists on Christmas Eve but now quiet due to COVID-19 coronavirus concerns, in Sydney on Dec 24, 2020. (SAEED KHAN / AFP)


Sydney, one of the world’s first major cities to welcome each New Year with a public countdown featuring a fireworks display over its well-known Opera House, has banned large gatherings that night amid an outbreak of the coronavirus.

A mid-December resurgence of COVID-19 in the city’s northern beach suburbs has grown to 125 cases after five new infections were recorded on Monday. About a quarter of million of people there must stay in strict lockdown until Jan 9

That has led to further restrictions of the already toned-down plans for the New Year’s Eve. New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian banned most people from coming to Sydney’s downtown that night and limited outdoor gatherings to 50 people.

“We don’t want to create any super-spreading events on New Year’s Eve, which then ruins it for everybody across the state moving forward,” Berejiklian said at a news conference, adding that watching the fireworks from home was the ‘safest’ way to do so.

“On New Year’s Eve we don’t want any crowds on the foreshore around Sydney whatsoever,” she said.

Only residents with permits for hospitality venues downtown will be allowed there on New Year’s Eve. Households across Sydney are only allowed to host 10 people until further notice.

ALSO READ: Virus: Sydney awaits verdict on New Year's Eve festivities


Afghanistan reported 140 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising its national tally to 52,147, including 7,640 active cases, the country's Ministry of Public Health said.

Up to 2,179 deaths have been recorded since the outbreak of the pandemic in February, an increase of nine within the past 24 hours.


Bangladesh reported 932 new COVID-19 cases and 27 new deaths on Monday, making the tally at 510,080 and the death toll at 7,479, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.

The official data showed that 12,617 samples were tested in the last 24 hours across Bangladesh.

The total number of recovered patients in the country stood at 453,318 including 1,357 new recoveries on Monday, said the DGHS.


Some Indian states on Monday began a trial run of COVID-19 vaccine delivery systems, with health authorities checking everything from their technology platforms to the storage infrastructure that will be required to inoculate millions.

India wants to deliver 600 million coronavirus shots in the next six to eight months starting in January, with emergency use approval for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine expected within days.

India's COVID-19 tally rose to 10,207,871 on Monday, as 20,021 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, the latest data from the federal health ministry showed.

Sunday was the first time in six months when the number of new cases had fallen below the 20,000-mark.

According to the data, the death toll mounted to 147,901 as 279 COVID-19 patients died since Sunday morning.

Spectators wearing facemasks watch a local regional language play being staged at the Thakorbhai Desai Hall that was reopened for public after its closure due to coronavirus pandemic in Ahmedabad on Dec 27, 2020. (SAM PANTHAKY / AFP)


Iran’s Red Crescent Society said it’ll take delivery of a batch of coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE within three weeks. Some 150,000 shots of the vaccine will be sent to Iran “in collaboration with a group of philanthropists in the United States,” the organization’s director, Karim Hemmati, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency. It didn’t provide further details.

Iran's Health Ministry reported 5,908 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising the total nationwide infections to 1,206,373.

The pandemic has so far claimed 54,814 lives in Iran, up by 121 in the past 24 hours, said Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education during her daily briefing.

Of the newly infected, 798 were hospitalized, said Lari.

Iran announced on Sunday 5,502 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the national tally to 1,200,465, the official news agency IRNA reported.

Of the newly infected in the past 24 hours, 530 patients have been hospitalized, Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education, said at her daily briefing.

Between Saturday and Sunday, 119 new deaths related to COVID-19 were reported, taking the nationwide death toll to 54,693, she added.


The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Sunday 818 new COVID-19 cases in the country, bringing the total nationwide infections to 591,597.

It is the lowest daily increase in Iraq since June, as the ministry recorded between 1,000 and 5,000 single-day cases during the period.

The new cases included 194 in the capital Baghdad, 171 in Kirkuk, 116 in Nineveh, and 65 in Diyala, said a ministry statement.

The ministry also reported 13 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 12,780, and 1,541 more recovered cases, bringing the total recoveries to 531,803.


Israelis who are sick with COVID-19 will be able to cast their ballots at drive-through polling stations that authorities hope will ensure a smooth election in March while minimizing infection risks.

Israel began what officials hope will be its last coronavirus lockdown on Sunday as they ramp up vaccinations to a pace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said may allow an emergence from the pandemic by March.

If realised, that could help Netanyahu’s re-election hopes after missteps that include lifting a first lockdown with a premature declaration of victory in May, inconsistent enforcement of curbs and sluggish economic relief.

Since beginning vaccinations a week before Sunday’s European Union roll-out, Israel’s centralised health system has administered 280,000 shots, the world’s fastest rate.

The opening of 24/7 vaccination stations is under consideration. Netanyahu wants the daily rate doubled to 150,000 shots by next weekend.

That could enable the vaccination of half of Israel’s 9 million people by the end of January. The country has logged almost 400,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,210 deaths.

“As soon as we are done with this stage, within 30 days we can emerge from the coronavirus, open the economy and do things that no country can do,” Netanyahu said in a televised address.

Mask-clad people walk along the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on Dec 27, 2020, before the start of a third lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)


Japan on Monday started banning non-resident foreign nationals from entering following the detection of a new, highly infectious coronavirus variant linked to a rapid rise in infections in Britain.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday asked his ministers to remain ready to implement measures to prevent the further spread of coronavirus infections, after daily case numbers hit a string of record highs in recent days.

“The virus recognises no year-end or New Year holidays. I ask each minister to raise the level of their sense of urgency and thoroughly carry out counter measures,” Suga told a meeting of the government’s taskforce on coronavirus responses.

Yuichiro Hata, who was transport minister in 2012 and is the son of former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hatawho, died of COVID-19 on Sunday aged 53, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said.

The confirmed COVID-19 cases in Japan increased by 2,905 to 221,338 as of Sunday evening, according to latest figures from the health ministry and local authorities.

The figure excludes the 712 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo earlier in the year.

The death toll in Japan from the pneumonia-causing virus currently stands at 3,277, with 30 new fatalities reported Sunday. The death toll includes 13 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.


Kazakhstan is preparing to start a large-scale vaccination program in February, Deputy Health Minister Marat Shoranov said at an online briefing on Monday. Locally produced doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine or Kazakhstan’s own QazCovid-in will be offered and talks on supplies of Western vaccines are under way.


The Malaysian government said Monday that it will extend the movement control order in several areas till Jan. 14 in order to control the spread of COVID-19.

Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who coordinates the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions in the Asian country, told a press briefing the extension of restrictions already in place in Kuala Lumpur, the adjacent Selangor state and the eastern state of Sabah.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's Health Ministry reported 1,594 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the national total to 106,690.

Malaysia is considering opening its border to help keep businesses in the tourism sector afloat, state news agency Bernama reported, citing Tourism Minister Nancy Shukri. Malaysia is looking to negotiate with countries such as Singapore, Brunei, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and New Zealand, which have been considered green zones, the report said.


Mongolia confirmed 16 more COVID-19 cases on Monday, said the country's National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD).

The latest cases were locally transmitted, including six in health workers of the Central Military Hospital in the capital city Ulan Bator, said Amarjargal Ambaselmaa, head of the NCCD's Surveillance Department, at a daily press conference.

To date, 1,137 cases have been reported nationwide with 711 recoveries and no deaths.


Myanmar recorded 606 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing its total tally to 121,886, according to a release from the Health Ministry.

The release said 22 more COVID-19 deaths were reported on Sunday, bringing the total death toll to 2,601.


Oman started the COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Sunday, two days ahead of its planned resumption of all flights and reopening of its borders that had been temporarily closed over concerns of new virus strains, official Oman News Agency (ONA) reported.

"The campaign targets, in the first stage, the groups most vulnerable to the pandemic, including frontline workers, people with chronic diseases and the elderly," ONA quoted a health ministry statement as saying.

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on Dec 25, 2020 shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a national vaccination plan implemented by the health ministry. (BANDAR AL-JALOUD / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / AFP)

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry on Monday extended a ban on entry to the kingdom by air, land and sea for another week amid concerns over a fast-spreading variant of the new coronavirus, the state news agency SPA reported.

Saudi Arabia shut its borders on Monday Dec. 21 and suspended international commercial flights on a rolling weekly basis although foreign flights already in the country were allowed to leave.

The ministry said it is evaluating the situation while allowing non-citizens to leave the kingdom and allowing entry for exceptional cases, SPA reported.

The measures do not affect the movement of goods.


Singapore begins more relaxed virus rules Monday as the city-state moves into the final phase of curbs to contain the spread of the pandemic. The number of people allowed to gather will increase from five to eight, while capacity limits in malls and attractions as well as places of worship will also ease. The country will also begin vaccinating health-care workers this week, after getting its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported five new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing its total tally to 58,524.

All of the new cases were imported cases.

On Sunday, eight more COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 58,370 have fully recovered from the coronavirus infection in Singapore, the ministry said.

READ MORE: Malaysia's coronavirus tally surpasses 100,000

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's total COVID-19 patient count crossed the 41,000 mark on Monday after over 700 patients were detected a day earlier, Health Ministry statistics showed here.

According to official figures, the total patient count reached 41,054 out of which 32,701 patients had recovered and been discharged from hospitals, bringing down the active patient count to 8,162.

A total of 191 deaths have been recorded.

South Korea

South Korean officials are vowing to speed up efforts to launch a public coronavirus vaccination programme as the country on Monday announced it had detected its first cases of the virus variant linked to the rapid rise in infections in Britain.

The country joins others including Japan and Singapore that have reported the new strain, which is more infectious than previous strains.

South Korean officials are vowing to speed up efforts to launch a public coronavirus vaccination programme as the country on Monday announced it had detected its first cases of the virus variant linked to the rapid rise in infections in Britain.

The new variant, thought to be more transmissible than others currently circulating, was found in three people who had entered South Korea from London on Dec 22, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Monday.

Overall the KDCA reported 808 new cases as of midnight Sunday, the lowest since a record 1,241 infections were logged on Friday.

Authorities cautioned that the drop may be due to less testing done over the weekend and the Christmas holiday, and said on Sunday they would be extending social distancing measures until early January.

South Korea’s government has faced mounting domestic criticism over its vaccine procurement and rollout plans, which call for the first vaccinations to begin in the first quarter of next year, months after places such as the United States and the European Union.

Seven more US soldiers and three civilians in South Korea tested positive for COVID-19, the US Forces Korea (USFK) said Monday.

The USFK said in a statement that 10 USFK-affiliated individuals were confirmed with COVID-19 after arriving in South Korea between Dec 10 and Dec 23.

The total number of infections among the USFK-affiliated personnel rose to 480, according to Yonhap news agency.

A medical staff member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a visitor to test for the coronavirus at a temporary testing station outside the City Hall in Seoul on Dec 28, 2020. (JUNG YEON-JE / AFP)


Thailand reported its first coronavirus death in almost two months as a resurgence in the outbreak tied to migrant laborers in a seaside province near the capital continued to infect more people. 

Thailand on Monday confirmed 144 new cases of COVID-19, mostly local infections, official data showed.

Of the new cases, 115 were local infections, 14 others were Myanmar migrant workers and 15 were under quarantine upon arrival from abroad, according to the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was under house quarantine for 14 days after a Sunday meeting with the Samut Sakhon provincial governor, who was confirmed as being infected on Monday.

Several other senior public health officials, who also attended the meeting in Samut Sakhon, where the latest outbreak was first detected, are considered being at risk of infection and will be tested for COVID-19 soon.

The number of the country's total confirmed cases rose to 6,285 on Monday, according to the CCSA. The number was less than 4,300 before the outbreak in Samut Sakhon in mid-December.

The Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a record 4.5 trillion-peso (US$93.6 billion) budget for next year that economic managers have called the “heftiest stimulus package” for recovery from the pandemic.

The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration warned against the use of unauthorized COVID-19 shots as the military said members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail have already been inoculated. Philippine regulators have not approved any Covid vaccine for use in the country, FDA director general Eric Domingo said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday.

Some Philippine soldiers and cabinet ministers have already received COVID-19 vaccine injections, officials said on Monday, despite an absence of regulatory approval that the country’s health ministry said was vital to ensure safety.

Interior minister, Eduardo Ano, said some cabinet members have already received COVID-19 vaccines and army chief, Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, said some troops had been vaccinated but the number was not large. Neither said what brand of vaccine was administered.

The health ministry in a statement said all vaccines must first be evaluated by experts, and “only vaccines which have been approved and found to be safe should be administered”.

Food and Drug Administration head Rolando Enrique Domingo said Philippine regulators have yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccine, making any importation, distribution and sale of one illegal.

Domingo warned the public that unapproved vaccines exposed them to “all sorts of dangers” and told CNN Philippines that side effects were possible “especially if you don’t know how these things have been handled”.

So far only Pfizer has applied for emergency use approval of its COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines, while Sinovac, Gamaleya, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen and Clover’s late-stage trial applications have yet to be approved.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the ministry had no information about the soldiers’ vaccination and military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said there had been no inoculation sanctioned by the armed forces leadership.

Arevalo said the recipients included members of a special security unit assigned to President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte has not been vaccinated, according to his spokesman, Harry Roque, who said he had no problem with soldiers being given the shots and protecting themselves.

Duterte during a televised meeting with health officials on Saturday said “almost all” soldiers have already been inoculated.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has risen to 470,650 after 766 new cases were reported on Monday, a new low for the second day in a row.


Turkey diagnosed on Sunday 14,205 COVID-19 cases, including 2,806 symptomatic patients, raising the total number in the country to 2,147,578, the health ministry announced.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey increased by 254 to 19,878, while the total recoveries climbed to 2,015,230 after 21,196 more cases recovered over the past day.

The rate of pneumonia in COVID-19 patients stands at 4.1 percent and the number of seriously ill patients is 4,309 in the country, said the ministry.


Vietnam reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 infection on Monday, bringing its total confirmed cases to 1,451 with 35 deaths from the disease so far, according to the Ministry of Health.

Among the new cases who are all Vietnamese citizens, nine recently returned to Vietnam from Russia and were quarantined upon arrival.

The remaining one illegally crossed the border into the country with another man who has tested positive for COVID-19, said the ministry.

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