A worker eats lunch at an empty food court at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Jan 14, 2021. Malaysian authorities imposed tighter restrictions on movement to try to halt the spread of COVID-19. (VINCENT THIAN / AP)
JERUSALEM / RAMALLAH / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / BAGHDAD / JAKARTA / TOKYO / NEW DELHI / VIENTIANE / KUALA LUMPUR / ISTANBUL / KUWAIT CITY / DHAKA / HANOI / KABUL / MUMBAI / TEHRAN / MALE / MUSCAT / AMMAN / YANGON - Malaysia isn’t a laggard in securing vaccines, Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Thursday, seeking to allay concerns about the speed of the country’s purchases of shots.
The nation is set to get its first delivery of vaccines before the end of February and the government will try its best to get as many people inoculated within a year, he said. The program will focus on healthcare workers, the elderly and those with chronic diseases, while individuals under 60 will get immunized by or after the third quarter, he said.
Malaysia reported its highest daily tally with 3,337 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the cumulative caseload to 147,855, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.
The government has forecast daily cases to reach 8,000 by late March or late May, based on a predictive modeling analysis.
Another 15 deaths pushed the toll to 578.
Malaysia projected that it's virus curve would flatten in 12 weeks. The projection is based on current data, which could change after two weeks of targeted lockdown that began Wednesday, Malaysiakini reported, citing Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah.
A medical worker receives inoculation of China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in downtown Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, Jan 14, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Indonesia launched its massive COVID-19 vaccination program on Thursday with health workers as the main priority group, a day after President Joko Widodo received the first shot developed by China's biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech.
On Thursday morning, a mass vaccination was held at state-run Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in central Jakarta.
At least 25 health workers at the hospital have received doses of the Sinovac vaccine, the hospital's director Lies Dina Liastuti said at a press conference, adding that about 6,000 health workers nursing COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients at the hospital are to be vaccinated periodically.
Deputy Minister of Health Dante Saksono, who received a dose of the vaccine at the hospital on Thursday, said about 1.4 million health workers across the country will be injected gradually before the public servants get inoculated.
According to Saksono, immunity would appear between two and six weeks after the injection of the second dose of the vaccine. But those who have been vaccinated still need to implement health protocols, he said.
The deputy minister expressed hope that the massive vaccination program would help Indonesia get herd immunity after 70 percent of the 270-million population is inoculated.
Indonesia has ordered a total of 125.5 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine. Currently 3 million ready-to-use doses, which were delivered to the country in two batches in December last year, have been distributed to the 34 Indonesian provinces.
Indonesia reported on Thursday a record daily rise in COVID-19 cases, with 11,557 new infections, bringing the total caseload to 869,600, data from the country’s COVID-19 task force showed. Deaths rose by 295 to 25,246, the data showed.
A total of 2,775 confirmed cases had been reported in overseas Indonesians with two new ones recorded, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. The two new cases were reported in Hungary and Britain.
The Philippines has approved Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine, the first to be allowed for emergency use in the Southeast Asian nation.
The Food and Drug Administration found Pfizer’s vaccine may be effective to prevent, diagnose or treat COVID-19, and can be used for individuals age 16 years old and up, its head Eric Domingo said in a virtual briefing.
Sinovac Biotech Ltd. has applied for a similar authority on Wednesday, and the regulator will ask for more clinical trial reports, Domingo said.
Pfizer vaccines may be among the first to arrive in the Philippines next month through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said at a briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday. The government is also in talks with Pfizer for up to 40 million doses, Galvez said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has defended the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccines developed by the Chinese makers, saying the Chinese vaccines are "safe, sure, and secure."
In a taped public address aired late Wednesday night, Duterte said the vaccines produced by China are as good as those made by US and European pharmaceutical firms.
The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines reported 1,912 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the country's total tally to 494,605.
The national death toll climbed to 9,739 after 40 more patients died from the coronavirus epidemic, the DOH said. It added that 746 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 459,252.
Turkey's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca receives the first short after Turkish authorities have given the go-ahead for the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China's Sinovac Biotch Ltd, in Ankara, Turkey on Jan 13, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)
Turkey launched a mass vaccination program against COVID-19 on Thursday using the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac.
According to the Turkish Health Ministry, the first doses will be given to more than 1 million health workers across the country, followed by adults living in nursing homes.
The vaccination of healthcare workers in the country's biggest city of Istanbul, with a population of 16.5 million, is expected to be completed within two days, according to Nurettin Yiyit, the chief doctor of the Feriha Oz Emergency Hospital.
On Wednesday, Turkey granted emergency approval to the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac.
Safety tests have been completed and the vaccine is “sufficiently safe,” said Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, who became the first person to be officially inoculated in the country. He urged Turkish citizens to get the shots.
Turkey has received 3 million doses of CoronaVac, the official name of Sinovac’s vaccine, and expects to receive 10 million new doses over the next two weeks. In all, Turkey has contracted to buy 50 million doses from Sinovac. Chinese-developed vaccines have faced skepticism over a lack of safety and efficacy transparency.
South Korea reported 524 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, down from 562 the previous day, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The number of daily cases in the country -- which is among the places battling a resurgence of the virus following early success containing it -- was below 600 for a fourth day.
South Korea is likely to extend its current social distancing level and ban on private gatherings with five or more people, Yonhap News reported. Senior health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho told reporters he believed the immediate easing of social distancing and measures on small gatherings would be difficult.
It’s possible Japan may further extend the area covered by its emergency declaration, depending on the infection situation, Japanese Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a parliamentary committee.
His comments came a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expanded the declaration from Tokyo and the surrounding region to cover Osaka and other major economic hubs.
Meanwhile, Japan could consider fresh economic stimulus, including a possible fourth extra budget, Taro Kono, the administrative and regulatory reform minister, said on Thursday.
Those emergency measures could last longer than the one month period initially set by the government, Kono said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
As the number of new cases is starting to exceed the capacity of hospitals as well as designated hotels for people who have mild or no symptoms, more patients have died at home than at medical institutions in Japan after their conditions suddenly took a turn for the worse.
According to data from the National Police Agency, at least 122 infected people have died while recuperating at their homes between March and December last year.
As of Wednesday, 8,414 people were recuperating from COVID-19 at home in Tokyo, according to a panel of health ministry experts.
Meanwhile, the number of people in the capital who were unable to find hospitals or other facilities for treatment after testing positive for the coronavirus totaled 6,546 as of Wednesday, six times the figure on Dec 13.
Thailand is pitching half a dozen lush green golf courses as state quarantine centers to foreign tourists as the Southeast Asian seeks to gradually reopen its tourism industry.
The government approved six golf resorts, including three in Kanchanaburi province, where patrons can enjoy the game and roam freely within the premises rather than confining themselves in their rooms during a two-week mandatory quarantine, Tourism Authority of Thailand said.
The golf quarantine is the latest effort by Thai authorities to lure foreign travelers amid a new wave of COVID-19 infections after earlier offers of special long-stay visas evoked a lukewarm response. The pandemic has devastated Thailand’s tourism industry, which netted more than US$60 billion in revenue from about 40 million visitors in 2019 and accounted for about a fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Prospective golf aficionados planning trips to Thailand will need visas, medical and travel insurance and a certificate of entry, according to a government announcement.
Thailand on Thursday confirmed 271 new COVID-19 cases, mostly domestic, and two fatalities, said the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin.
Thursday's 271 cases included 259 domestic cases while 12 others involved those who had returned from abroad and tested positive in Thailand, Taweesin said.
Thailand has so far confirmed 11,262 cases of infection, 9,050 of which were domestic ones while 2,212 others were imported, Taweesin said.
The Australian government reaffirmed confidence in its “portfolio approach” to COVID-19 vaccines as the nation prepares to inoculate its population next month.
“That has been the best medical advice available to us. What we know with the AstraZeneca vaccine is that it’s safe, that it’s available, that it can be manufactured here, it can be transported at normal refrigeration levels,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Thursday.
The clarification comes after some medical groups called for the government to pause the rollout of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine because of concern that it may not be effective enough to generate herd immunity. “The AstraZeneca vaccine saves lives and it is important,” Frydenberg told Sky News.
Victoria state has eased COVID-19 restrictions, allowing local residents to gradually return to offices as the state continued to record zero local cases for more than a week.
State Premier Daniel Andrews said on Thursday that the move was recommended by state's chief health officer. Under the relaxed restrictions, the public service sector will resume operations at 25 percent capacity at each workplace while other workplaces are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity starting from Jan 18.
Meanwhile, mask-wearing will become only mandatory on all domestic flights, at airports, in hospitals, on public transport, in commercial passenger vehicles, at supermarkets and other large indoor retail locations, including shopping centers.
Lebanese caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan was infected with COVID-19 and hospitalized in Saint George Hospital University Medical Center for treatment, the National News Agency (NNA) reported Wednesday.
Hassan's health condition is stable, a hospital statement was quoted by NNA as saying.
Hassan announced earlier in the day that he had started a quarantine pending the necessary tests, after it was confirmed that three of his office members were infected with COVID-19.
This is the sixth minister in the Lebanese caretaker government to be infected with COVID-19, after the ministers of Public Work, Foreign Affairs, Sports, Communications, and Labor.
Lebanon recorded on Wednesday 4,988 new COVID-19 cases and 35 more deaths, raising the total number to 231,936 and the death toll from the virus to 1,740 respectively.
Iraq on Wednesday adopted several COVID-19 restrictive measures including a ban on travel to 20 countries where the new strain of coronavirus has spread.
The 20 countries are Britain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Spain, Brazil, the United States, India, Australia, Japan, South Africa and Zambia, according to a statement by the media office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
The ban was adopted at a meeting headed by al-Kadhimi with the Higher Committee for Health and National Safety to review the measures taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the entry of travellers from these countries to Iraq was also banned, except for Iraqi citizens who must be quarantined for 14 days until tests prove they are not infected with the new strain of virus which is characterized by the rapid transmission of infection, the statement said.
However, diplomats, official government delegations, workers in embassies, international organizations, and experts working in service projects are excluded from the entry ban, provided that they bring a PCR test conducted within 72 hours before they enter Iraq, according to the statement.
The Committee also tightened punitive measures for stores, restaurants, malls, clubs, cafes, and sports halls by imposing a fine of an equivalent of US$3,400 or closing them for 90 days if they violate the health-protective measures.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday 867 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total nationwide infections to 605,416.
The ministry also reported four new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 12,915, and 1,992 more recovered cases, bringing the total recoveries to 562,575.
Israel's Ministry of Health reported 8,667 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number in the country since late February 2020 to 517,271.
The death toll from COVID-19 in Israel reached 3,803 with 47 new fatalities, while the number of patients in serious condition increased from 1,072 to a new record of 1,094, out of 1,812 hospitalized patients.
The total recoveries rose to 435,818 after 6,378 new recovered cases were added, while the active cases rose to a record high of 77,650.
The Ministry also reported four more cases of the new COVID-19 strain that was detected in South Africa and other countries.
This brought the total number of patients tested positive for COVID-19 variants in Israel to 155.
The number of vaccinated people in Israel against COVID-19 surpassed 1.9 million, out of a population of about 9.3 million.
Brunei government called for public help to provide information on using illegal routes to enter the country, amid concerns on the risk of imported COVID-19 infections through such activities.
"What we are concerned about are crossings through illegal or smuggling routes. So far, our country's enforcement agencies have been working very hard in capturing individuals involved in smuggling," Brunei's Minister of Health Haji Mohd Isham was quoted as saying by local daily the Borneo Bulletin on Wednesday.
The minister reminded the public, "We are only as strong as our weakest link. This is our chain and if we break this, the efforts made will become meaningless".
"Each and every person in the country must play their part to ensure we keep the outbreak under control," he said.
The minister also reminded the public to practice social responsibilities in safeguarding people's safety, such as following the regulations and instructions issued by health authorities.
Brunei reported 15 more recoveries from the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 168.
According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, no more confirmed COVID-19 cases were recorded, with the national tally unchanged at 174. There are three active cases currently being treated at the National Isolation Center.
Cambodia on Thursday confirmed 13 new imported COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 411 so far, said a Health Ministry statement.
The new cases were detected on eight Cambodian migrant workers.
"The results of their samples' tests indicated that the 13 persons above were positive for the COVID-19," it said.
Currently, they are undergoing treatment at the designated COVID-19 hospitals, it added.
A health official pretends to administer a shot of COVID-19 vaccine to a volunteer during a mock vaccination drill at a school in Dharmsala, India, on Jan 11, 2021. (ASHWINI BHATIA / AP)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the countrywide COVID-19 vaccination drive on Saturday, according to a statement issued by the federal health ministry.
According to V. K. Paul, a member of the government think tank National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog (commission), some 300,000 people will receive shots on the first day of inoculations.
According to officials, priority will be given to healthcare and frontline workers who are estimated to be around 30 million, followed by those above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities, totaling around 270 million.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 10,512,093 on Thursday, as 16,946 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, the latest data from the federal health ministry showed.
According to the data, the death toll mounted to 151,727 as 198 COVID-19 patients died since Wednesday morning.
There are still 213,603 active cases in the country, while 10,146,763 people have been discharged so far from hospitals after medical treatment.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) expects WHO emergency use authorization soon for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which it is producing for mid and low income countries, its chief executive said.
Adar Poonawalla said at the Reuters Next conference that SII, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, was trying to begin supplies to the WHO-backed COVAX initiative by the end of January. It is selling each dose at US$3 for low-income countries and at a “slightly higher” price for others.
From sending about 20 million doses for the initiative in February, SII will raise this to 50 million per month from around April, while simultaneously selling 30-40 million doses each month to India, Poonawalla said on Thursday.
Poonawalla also said that SII would start stockpiling “upwards of 40-50 million doses per month” of the Novavax coronavirus vaccine candidate from around April.
Fiji is working to register all receivers planned for the first phase of its vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Fiji's leading news website Fijivillage, Fiji's Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health James Fong said on Thursday that the priority group in phase 1 will include frontline workers and people aged 60 years and above.
Authorities are putting a list together for this group of people to ensure a good coverage before moving to other groups, he said, adding that the capacity for vaccine storage has also been sorted.
The health ministry official said that he does not want to give a definitive timeline as to when the island nation will start the vaccination as authorities first want to ensure the supply chain issues are resolved.
Pakistan’s daily coronavirus cases spiked to 3,097, the highest in almost a month, according to government data released Thursday. Still, the South Asian nation has seen hospital admissions and deaths decline after the second wave peaked in December, and plans to reopen schools in phases from next week.
The last COVID-19 patient in Laos has recovered and was discharged from hospital Thursday, according to a report by the Ministry of Health.
The patient was permitted to return home after results from the second round of testing came back negative, the Center of Information and Education for Health under the ministry said in a press release issued on the same day.
Laos has not reported any new cases since Dec 7. The country has so far reported 41 cases in total.
Vietnam recorded 10 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing its tally to 1,531 with 35 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
The new cases involved six Vietnamese people and four foreigners who recently entered the country from abroad and were quarantined upon arrival.
Meanwhile, the ministry said that a total of 1,369 patients have recovered from the disease.
Bangladesh recorded 813 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths on Thursday, bringing its tally to 525,723 with 7,849 deaths, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.
The total number of recoveries stood at 470,405 after 883 new ones were reported, the DGHS said.
Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health on Thursday reported 57 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country's tally to 53,831, of which 6,402 were active cases.
Th new cases were reported in 15 provinces out the country's 34 provinces, the ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the ministry said that 14 more people have died, raising the death toll to 2,328.
People in Kuwait began receiving the second doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, as part of a national vaccination campaign at the Kuwait Vaccination Center in Hawalli Governorate.
Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah received the second dose at the center, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported.
The national vaccination campaign was launched on Dec 24.
According to Minister of Health Bassel Al-Sabah, more shipments of vaccines will arrive in Kuwait in the coming months until all citizens and residents are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Iranian health authorities reported on Thursday 6,471 new COVID-19 cases, raising the country's overall count to 1,311,810, state TV reported.
Of the new cases, 533 had to be hospitalized, said Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health and Medical Education.
The death toll rose to 56,538 as 81 more deaths were logged, Lari said.
So far, 1,101,599 COVID-19 patients have recovered while there were 4,437 in critical condition.
Maldives will receive its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Jan 26, local media, quoting officials, reported on Thursday.
Maldives will receive 20 percent of its vaccine requirement for free through the COVAX facility. The Ministry of Finance has said that vaccines will also be procured from AstraZeneca Singapore.
Oman's health ministry on Thursday reported 178 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the state to 131,264, official Oman News Agency reported.
Another 178 people have recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 123,593, while one death was registered, pushing up the death toll to 1,509, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.
King Abdullah II of Jordan received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, according to a statement by the Royal Court.
Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal and Crown Prince Al Hussein also received their first doses, according to the statement.
On Wednesday, Jordan commenced a COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with priority given to vulnerable groups and frontline health workers.
Myanmar reported 605 more COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the tally to 132,865, according to a release from the Ministry of Health and Sports.
Ten more COVID-19 deaths were also reported, bringing the death toll to 2,912, according to the release.
HONG KONG NEWS