People wait to be tested for COVID-19 at the Urban Institute for Disease Prevention and Control in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan 11, 2021. (JACK TAYLOR / AFP)
ANKARA / RAMALLAH / BEIRUT / KUALA LUMPUR / JERUSALEM / MUSCAT / KABUL / HANOI / DHAKA - Thailand is set to begin inoculating its citizens against COVID-19 before the end of February, with the goal of vaccinating at least 33 million people, half the nation’s population, by the end of 2021.
The country will start with doses from Sinovac once the Thai Food and Drug Administration approves it, according to the Health Ministry. By April, it plans to complete distribution of two million Sinovac shots to healthcare and frontline workers, people with underlying conditions and those over the age 60.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government has approved purchase of a total of 63 million doses and the National Vaccine Institute is in talks with several manufacturers for additional supplies for delivery as early as this quarter. The government expects the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines - to be approved by the regulator this month - will be ready for distribution in May.
By April, Thailand plans to complete distribution of two million Sinovac shots to healthcare and frontline workers, people with underlying conditions and those over the age 60
“Once 50 percent of the population has been vaccinated, we’ll be able to control the infections and there won’t be any large outbreaks in the country,” Nakorn Premsri, director of the vaccine institute, said in an interview. “Once we’ve reached 70 percent, we can be certain that there will be no outbreaks here. We may have one or two isolated cases, but the country can move forward.”
Thailand confirmed 287 new cases on Tuesday, including 278 local infections and nine imported ones, according to the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Around 30,000 Myanmar migrant and Thai workers in Samut Sakhon, where the second wave began, have so far tested for the coronavirus, said Naretrit Khatthasima, head of the provincial public health office.
Meanwhile, Thailand also unveiled stimulus programs including cash handouts worth 210 billion baht (US$7 billion) to support millions of individuals and businesses affected by the country’s biggest wave of virus infections.
The cabinet may approve the proposal next Tuesday when it may also consider extending state-funded programs to boost domestic spending and tourism after current virus curbs are lifted, Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said.
People walk during their lunch break in the financial business district of Raffles Place in Singapore on Jan 11, 2021. Roslan. (RAHMAN / AFP)
Singapore is setting up special centers to administer COVID-19 vaccinations daily to large groups of people, on top of allowing the jabs to be taken at clinics and other established health-care facilities.
Those centers will be ready “soon,” the city-state’s chief health scientist Tan Chorh Chuan told The Straits Times in an interview published on Monday evening.
The Southeast Asian country, which started its nationwide coronavirus vaccination drive on Dec 30, is currently using the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. Health-care workers and the elderly are among those first in line to be vaccinated, with those aged 70 and above scheduled to receive it from February.
Singapore has already secured enough vaccines for the whole population and expects more deliveries in the next few months, including shots from Moderna Inc. and Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in parliament last week. Vaccines from both companies are currently being reviewed by the country’s health regulators.
While data from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has shown that protection can last for about three months, Tan said he expects as more information becomes available it could demonstrate a longer immunity of up to two years. Singapore doesn’t have to stretch out doses like other countries as it has sufficient supply, Tan added.
Meanwhile, Singapore may introduce a bill to legislate the use of virus contact tracing data in investigations of serious crimes within a month. The parliament sitting to hear the proposed legislation is tentatively scheduled for the first week of February.
New Zealand will further tighten border measures to combat the global spread of more transmissible variants of the COVID-19 virus.
From Jan 18, almost all people entering New Zealand will need to be tested for the virus within the first 24 hours of arrival, COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in an emailed statement Tuesday in Wellington. Health officials are also putting in place requirements for almost all travelers to New Zealand to have a negative COVID-19 test withing 72 hours of their departure.
Malaysia’s king declared a state of emergency in the Southeast Asian nation, in a move that could allow the embattled government to delay elections as it tackles the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
Malaysia on Tuesday reported 3,309 new coronavirus cases, the biggest daily rise since the start of the pandemic. The country's newly reported cases have brought the national total to 141,533, the Health Ministry said. Six of the new cases are imported and 3,303 are local transmissions.The death toll rose by four to 559.
Malaysia’s palace said the king had declared the emergency as COVID-19 infections had reached “a critical stage”.
The move comes amid infighting within Malaysia’s largest ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation, on whether or not to hold a snap election by March. UMNO is expected to make a final decision on the matter during its general assembly on Jan. 31.
Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac is partnering with Malaysian pharmaceutical company Pharmaniaga for the supply of 14 million doses of its inactivated COVID-19 vaccines to Malaysia after the two companies signed an agreement on Tuesday.
The agreement includes a fill and finish process of the Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccines by Pharmaniaga with the vaccines starting to be distributed to the Malaysian public by the end of March, according to Pharmaniaga, one of Malaysia's leading pharmaceutical groups and a government-linked company.
The process will take place at its small volume injectable plant with the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) being tasked to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
Israel may include children over the age of 12 in groups receiving COVID-19 vaccines within the next two months if research shows this is safe, a top health official said on Tuesday.
Vaccinating at a world-record pace, Israel says it aims to have administered one or both shots to 5 million of its 9 million citizens, and reopen the economy, by mid-March.
Nachman Ash, national coordinator on the pandemic, predicted that pharmacological research would establish that the minimum age threshold for the vaccines could be safely lowered from 16 to 12, and FDA approval for such use secured, by March.
The Ministry of Health said Monday night that 1,850,419 people have been vaccinated since the vaccination campaign began on Dec 20, which is about 20 percent of the population.
The country's inoculation drive is producing early signs that vaccines are slowing the virus. Sheba Medical Center’s Gili Regev, director of the infection prevention and control unit, said that her study of around 500 healthcare workers vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is already turning the tide.
By the second week after the initial shot, more than 50 percent produced antibodies to protect against COVID-19. Those who were infected more than 10 days since getting the first jab typically had a milder disease and some of those infected were not infectious, she said, cautioning they are preliminary findings.
Israel has reported more than half a million COVID-19 cases. According to the ministry, 1,711 new cases were reported, bringing the total to 501,073.
The number of active cases in Israel rose to 72,363 while the death toll has risen to 3,704.
Turkey will start COVID-19 vaccination for its citizens as of Thursday or Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.
The Chinese vaccine will be implemented for Turkish citizens in order of priority, he told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
Turkey reported on Monday 10,220 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,003 symptomatic patients, as the total number of positive cases in the country reached 2,336,476, its health ministry announced.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 174 to 22,981, while the total recoveries climbed to 2,208,451, after 10,301 more cases recovered in the last 24 hours.
The rate of pneumonia in COVID-19 patients stands at 4.5 percent and the number of seriously ill patients is 2,783 in the country, said the ministry.
A total of 180,303 tests were conducted over the past day, with the overall number of tests in Turkey reaching 26,376,784.
The Pacific island nation of Micronesia has isolated its first COVID-19 case over the border, posing no immediate risk to local communities, Micronesia's President David Panuelo has said.
The imported case, which was a crew member on board the Micronesian ship "Chief Mailo" returning from the Philippines recently, was confirmed by the national government last Friday.
Panuelo stressed that the patient and other crew members had been isolated on the ship under 24/7 surveillance since they returned to the country.
"We remain in what we call COVID-CONDITION 4, which means that schools, churches, and businesses of all kinds are still open," Panuelo said on Monday.
"Wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing is encouraged, but not mandatory."
Panuelo said while Micronesia lost its COVID-19 free status, they had seen some progress in achieving the national government's goal of 100 percent vaccination rate in the country.
Palestine on Monday recorded 928 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 166,877 in the Palestinian territories.
The ministry of health recorded 12 new fatalities from the virus, raising the total number of deaths to 1,768.
On the same day, Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kaila announced the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use in the Palestinian territories.
Lebanon's Higher Defense Council declared on Monday a state of emergency between Jan. 14-25 that includes a total lockdown in hope to restrict further spread of COVID-19, Al-Jadeed local TV channel reported.
"The tragedy that we see at the doors of hospitals requires serious measures so that we can reduce the extent of the disaster caused by the spread of coronavirus," Lebanon's President Michel Aoun said at the start of the meeting for the Higher Defense Council.
Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced on Monday that Lebanon has entered a dangerous phase and authorities must impose strict lockdown measures.
The Higher Defense Council imposed a 24-hour curfew with the airport being exempted and operational during that period.
Lebanese authorities came under heavy criticism after they have relaxed restrictions ahead of Christmas and New Year in an attempt to help the economy. This has increased the number of daily infections to a dangerous level.
A 25-day lockdown started in the country on Jan. 7 with a long list of exceptions, but the exceptions and violations rendered these measures ineffective, prompting the authorities to impose total lockdown.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Monday 801 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total nationwide infections to 603,739.
The new cases included 326 in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 107 in Kirkuk, 73 in Duhok, and 39 in Basra, while the other cases were detected in the other provinces, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also reported 11 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 12,906, and 2,035 more recovered cases, bringing the total recoveries to 558,777.
A total of 4,898,139 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 30,502 done during the day, according to the statement.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has named an eight-member special Presidential Task Force for National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19 vaccines which will be headed by the principal advisor to the president Lalith Weeratunga, local media reported Tuesday.
The government on Monday said COVID-19 vaccines is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka next month and citizens could receive the jab by mid or end of February.
Lalith Weeratunga, principal adviser to Rajapaksa, is currently in discussion with the Indian government to obtain the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and COVID-19 Disease Control Sudarshani Fernandopulle.
The total number of COVID-19 patients in Sri Lanka surpassed 48,000 on Monday after over 500 patients tested positive for the virus a day earlier, statistics from the Health Ministry showed here.
According to official figures, the total number of COVID-19 patients reached 48,380 out of which 41,325 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals, bringing down the active patient count to 6,823.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he is considering extending a state of emergency further beyond Tokyo to include Aichi prefecture, home to Toyota Motor Corp, and other central and western areas to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We are gauging the situation right now,” he told the daily Asahi newspaper.
Responding to pressure from Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures in eastern Japan, Suga last week declared a one-month state of emergency for that region until Feb 7.
But the number of coronavirus cases has also climbed in the west, prompting the three prefectures to seek a state of emergency too. The government is finalising plans to declare an emergency there on Wednesday, and could also consider adding the central prefectures of Aichi - home to Toyota Motor Corp - and Gifu, Kyodo reported, citing government sources.
The government is now finalising plans to do so as early as Wednesday, Kyodo news agency reported, citing government sources.
Adding those five prefectures would mean about half of Japan’s population of 126 million people living under emergency restrictions.
Japan’s top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, did not confirm the report, saying only that the government would consider the measures for a “swift response” for the Osaka area.
Daily coronavirus cases hit a record 7,882 last Friday, bringing the total to nearly 300,000, according to public broadcaster NHK.
South Korea reported 537 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Tuesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 69,651.
The daily caseload stayed below 1,000 for eight straight days, but it hovered above 100 for 65 days since Nov. 8 owing to small cluster infections in Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi province as well as imported cases.
The daily average number of confirmed cases for the past week was 668.
Of the new cases, 163 were Seoul residents and 163 were people residing in Gyeonggi province.
Twenty-nine were imported from overseas, lifting the combined figure to 5,788.
The total payment for COVID-19 assistance in Fiji stands at 189 million Fijian dollars (about US$92.6 million), including government top-up.
According to Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) on Tuesday, the COVID-19 assistance by Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF) started last April.
"As of today, the Fund has paid out 109 million Fijian dollars (about US$53.4 million) for all the COVID-19 assistance so far. We are running various continuation of phases and government top-up is at about 80 million Fijian dollars (about US$39.2 million)," said Jaoji Koroi, chief executive of the FNPF.
They are still processing some of the COVID-19 applications with payments to be done in a timely manner, he said, adding that they are simultaneously processing applications for tropical cyclone Yasa assistance.
Bangladesh reported 718 new COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths on Tuesday, bringing the tally to 524,020 and death toll to 7,819, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.
The total number of recoveries rose to 468,681 after 963 new ones were recorded, said the DGHS.
Vaccinations against COVID-19 will begin in Bangladesh in the first week of February, professor ABM Khurshid Alam, director general for Health Services in Bangladesh under the Ministry of Health, made the announcement at a press briefing Monday.
He said they are expecting to get first instalment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine from Serum Institute of India (SII) by Jan 25.
According to the official, Bangladesh in the first phase plans to administer COVID-19 vaccine to 2.5 million people, two doses per person who will be selected through online registration.
Mongolia reported 14 more COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 1,456, the National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Tuesday.
"A total of 15,849 tests for COVID-19 were conducted across the country in the last 24 hours and 14 of them tested positive," Amarjargal Ambaselmaa, head of the NCCD's Surveillance Department, said at a press conference.
All the latest confirmed cases were reported in the capital city Ulan Bator, said Ambaselmaa.
Meanwhile, 13 more patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the national count to 909, she added.
Health workers shift a box containing COVID-19 vaccines from a vehicle to a cold storage at the Commissionerate of Health and Family Welfare in Hyderabad, India, Jan 12, 2021. (MAHESH KUMAR A. AP)
India has kicked off one of the world’s biggest inoculation programs that will be a crucial test of how quickly developing countries, with limited health and transportation infrastructure, can protect their populations against COVID-19.
Refrigerated trucks and private planes, accompanied by police officers, fanned out from the western city of Pune on Tuesday to around 60 different locations across India as hundreds of thousands of medical workers are on standby to start vaccinations this weekend.
With a protracted back-and-forth over a supply deal resolved, doses that had been sitting in storage at Serum Institute of India Ltd. started going out to government depots and then beyond to hospital and health centers in cities and the hinterland.
The government has designated four main distribution points - Karnal, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata - and there are 37 state vaccine storage areas in the country but few details have been made available about where and to whom the first shots will be administered on Saturday.
India on Tuesday added 12,584 cases in a day, the lowest number since June 16. While the country has the second-highest number of cases in the world, with more than 10 million, it’s seen daily infections gradually ease from a peak of nearly 100,000 in September.
According to the data, the death toll mounted to 151,327 with 167 more deaths. This is the second consecutive day when the number of deaths is below 200.
There are still 216,558 active cases in the country, while 10,111,294 people have been discharged from hospitals after medical treatment.
Indonesia reported the deadliest day in its coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday, before President Joko Widodo is set to kick off the mass vaccination program by getting the first shot on Wednesday.
The government confirmed that 302 people died from the disease known as COVID-19 in the 24 hours through midday Tuesday. The previous record was 258 deaths on Dec 25. Some 10,047 tested positive for the virus during the same period Tuesday, bringing total number of cases to almost 850,000 so far.
Twenty-four more Indonesians overseas are infected with the COVID-19, bringing the total cases to 2,766, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday.
Widodo will receive the first dose of China’s Sinovac vaccine in a televised event on Wednesday as he seeks to build public confidence in the shots.
A total of 15 million doses of raw materials of Sinovac's shot arrived at Indonesia's Soekarno-Hatta Airport on Tuesday, the National Disaster Management Agency said. The raw materials will be brought to the office of the state vaccine manufacturing company Bio Farma, in West Java, for further process into ready-to-use doses of vaccine.
The Omani health ministry on Tuesday reported 164 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 130,944, the official Oman News Agency reported.
The total number of recoveries increased by 163 to 123,187, while the death toll remained at 1,508, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.
The Afghan Ministry of Public Health on Tuesday confirmed 106 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the national tally to 53,690, including 8,216 active cases.
Seven patients had died during the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 2,308, the ministry said in a statement.
Some 472 new recoveries were recorded since early Monday.
Vietnam reported five new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, all imported, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 1,520 with 35 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
The ministry also announced that 1,361 patients have recovered as of Tuesday, while nearly 17,600 people are under quarantine.
The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines on Tuesday reported 1,524 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 491,258.
The death toll climbed to 9,554 after another 139 deaths were recorded, the DOH said.
The Philippines spent 2.66 trillion pesos (roughly US$55.3 billion) in 2020 for its direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for 14.7 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), the government finance chief revealed.
HONG KONG NEWS