A health worker prepares to inoculate a private hospital staff with a COVID-19 vaccine in Hyderabad on Jan 28, 2021. (NOAH SEELAM / AFP)
SYDNEY / ANKARA / JERUSALEM / NEW DELHI - India’s health minister on Thursday declared its COVID-19 epidemic contained as, with most of the country’s active patients concentrated in two states, a fifth of districts completed a week with no new cases.
However, an inoculation campaign touted by the government as the world’s biggest is progressing unevenly, with a survey showing more than half of Indians reluctant to get vaccinated immediately.
The country of 1.35 billion has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world after the United States and, with the likely true rate of infection even higher, one study suggests pockets of India have attained herd immunity through natural infection.
Since peaking in mid-September at close to 100,000 daily cases, the infection rate has slowed significantly. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said 11,666 cases were reported in the past 24 hours.
“India has successfully contained the pandemic,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said, noting that fewer than 12,000 cases were reported in the past 24 hours.
He said 146 of India’s 718 districts have had no new cases for a week and 18 districts for two weeks.
“India has flattened its COVID-19 graph,” Vardhan added.
The number of mutant COVID-19 strain cases in the country is 153.
With infections falling, the government said here that from Feb. 1 it would lift curbs on the use of public swimming pools, allow cinema halls and theatres to seat more than 50 percent of capacity and let all types of exhibition halls to operate.
The world’s second most populous country started its COVID-19 immunisation programme on Jan 16, with the aim to reach 300 million people by July-August.
India has so far reported 10.7 million infections and 153,847 deaths - one of the world’s lowest fatality rates from the disease, attributed partly to its younger population.
Pedestrians wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus move through the falling snow in Seoul, South Korea, Jan 28, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)
South Korea said on Thursday it would begin COVID-19 vaccinations for the general public in the third quarter but review the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to the elderly because of limited efficacy data overseas.
Health authorities will expand vaccinations towards the second half of the year with an aim to reach herd immunity by November, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a news briefing.
Inoculations would begin in February starting with key groups, including around 50,000 medical workers in the front line of coronavirus treatment, the elderly and staff in nursing homes, Jeong said.
AstraZeneca denied media reports this week that its vaccine is not very effective for people over 65, saying a strong immune response to the vaccine had been shown in blood analysis of elderly trial participants.
South Korea plans to vaccinate a 1.3 million priority group in the first quarter and 9 million people over 65 years of age and remaining medical staff by the second quarter, followed by the general population starting in July.
The country has designated about 250 large indoor gyms and community halls nationwide to vaccinate people with Pfizer Inc and Moderna vaccines that require cold chain storage, an interior ministry official told reporters.
For inoculations using vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s Janseen which do not require ultra cold storage, authorities designated 13,317 hospitals and clinics nationwide.
South Korea has mobilised 57 military units as well as police and fire personnel to transport and escort the vaccines for distribution.
A total of 48 new COVID-19 cases have been registered in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of cases to 54,939 in the country, the Public Health Ministry said on Thursday.
According to a statement released by the ministry, one patient has died due to the disease over the period, taking the number of COVID-19 related deaths to 2,399 since the 2020 February outbreak of the disease in the country.
A total of 34 patients have recovered over the past 24 hours, bringing the member of recovered to 74,583 in Afghanistan, the statement added.
Thailand confirmed 756 cases of COVID-19 infection, mostly via active testing, the country's Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) said Thursday.
The latest caseload included 746 domestic infections, with 724 detected in Samut Sakhon following mass proactive case finding in the province since Monday, CCSA spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan said at a daily briefing.
The week-long mass testing which has led to a surge in caseload for three consecutive days, aimed at curbing rising infection rate in the province, according to the spokeswoman.
Cambodia on Thursday confirmed one new imported COVID-19 case, bringing the total number of infections in the kingdom to 461, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said in a statement.
The new case was detected on a 42-year-old Cambodian woman returning from neighboring Thailand via land border on Jan. 12, the statement said.
"The result of her samples' test for the fourth time shows that the woman was positive for the COVID-19, and she is currently undergoing treatment at the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Referral Hospital," it said.
Vietnam’s health ministry on Thursday confirmed its first two locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in nearly two months, just weeks before the country’s Lunar New Year holiday period, when big gatherings indoors are expected.
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said the authorities detected 82 more COVID-19 cases from the testing samples of the two previous cases' related contacts.
Though a tiny number compared with new coronavirus infections in many countries, the two cases are a jolt for Vietnam. Thanks to strict quarantine, testing and tracing measures, it has reported only 1,551 cases and 35 COVID-19 deaths before Thursday, earning it a top three spot in a survey of how well countries have handled the pandemic.
On Thursday Vietnam’s health ministry ordered provinces and state agencies to tighten screening and controls.
Contact tracing efforts were launched in two northern provinces Hai Duong and Quang Ninh, where the two new infections were detected - one of which was linked to the new UK variant of the virus - and a village in Hai Duong was locked down, according to state media. The UK variant has been determined to be much more easily transmissible.
“We have to make all efforts to locate the infected areas within 10 days to put down the outbreak,” Vu Duc Dam, head of the national COVID-19 task force said in a health ministry statement.
The other case is a factory worker who came into contact with a Vietnamese national who later travelled to Japan and tested positive there for the new UK variant of the virus, which has been determined to be much more easily transmissible.
A plan to introduce prison sentences for COVID-19 patients in Japan refusing to be hospitalized was abandoned on Thursday by ruling and main opposition parties following criticism that the punishment was too severe.
The ditched plan involved making a legal revision to an existing law that would have made it possible for prison sentences of up to one year or a fine of up to 1 million yen (US$9,500) to be handed down to COVID-19 patients refusing hospitalization.
A fine of up to 500,000 yen (about US$4,792) for individuals refusing to comply with health officials' surveys was also being sought by the ruling party.
Japan said on Thursday that the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca Plc. will produce more than 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in western Japan, which is around 75 percent of the agreed number of jabs being produced locally.
"It's very important to have vaccine production systems in place in our country," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press briefing, adding that AstraZeneca the previous day had notified Japan's health ministry of its plans to produce the vaccinations here.
The Tokyo metropolitan government on Thursday reported 1,064 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the capital, bringing the city's total tally of infections to 97,571.
The latest figure compares to 973 new daily COVID-19 cases in the capital on Wednesday when the figure dipped below the 1000-mark as it did on Sunday and Monday, before rising above the threshold on Tuesday when new daily infections rose to 1,026.
The metropolitan government also reported 20 more deaths in the city, marking the highest number ever, with Tokyo's death toll rising to 847 people.
Spectators in face masks and protective gear to the team's national anthems during the day one of the third cricket Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground between Australia and India on Jan 7, 2021.(PHOTO / AFP)
New Zealand will tighten quarantine rules after two cases of the South African COVID-19 variant were confirmed in Auckland.
Australia on Thursday extended its suspension of quarantine-free travel with New Zealand. Australian Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said the travel pause on green zone flights from New Zealand to Australia was extended until Sunday.
Australia suspended a one-way "travel bubble" with its trans-Tasman neighbour for 72 hours after New Zealand confirmed its first case in months on Monday.
Since then, two people have tested positive to the South African variant of the coronavirus, and all cases are linked to the same quarantine facility in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.
The new infections come as New Zealand was ranked the best performing in an index of almost 100 countries based on their containment of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday she was confident of the measures in place to stop new COVID-19 infections and that she had advised health officials to provide Australia with information to help them make their decision about restrictions on New Zealand arrivals.
Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales recorded its 11th day of zero local coronavirus cases on Thursday, allowing neighbouring Queensland state to lift border restrictions while Victoria state also hinted at relaxing travel with Sydney.
Australian states imposed quarantine or hard border restrictions for travellers from New South Wales (NSW) after an outbreak in Sydney in late December, throwing Christmas holiday plans of thousands of Australians into chaos.
The Sydney clusters have now been curbed, giving other states the confidence to reopen borders. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her state would welcome NSW residents from Feb.1.
The south eastern state of Victoria, which is hosting the Australia Open tennis grand slam, too hinted at changing border settings with Sydney on Friday. The state recorded its 22nd day of zero local cases.
Victoria introduced a permit system for all travellers which allows for areas to be designated as green, orange or red according to their risk.
Australia has reported more than 22,000 local COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since March.
More than 1,522,000 people have been vaccinated in Turkey, according to figures on Wednesday, since the country started mass vaccination for COVID-19 on Jan 14 after the authorities approved the emergency use of the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine.
Turkey on Wednesday reported 7,489 new COVID-19 cases, including 675 symptomatic patients, as the total number of positive cases in the country reached 2,449,839, according to its Health Ministry.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 132 to 25,476, while the total recoveries climbed to 2,331,314 after 8,803 more cases recovered in the last 24 hours.
The rate of pneumonia in COVID-19 patients stands at 4.7 percent and the number of seriously ill patients is 1,765 in the country, said the ministry.
A total of 179,419 tests were conducted over the past day, with the overall number of tests in Turkey reaching 29,007,915.
Turkey reported its first COVID-19 case on March 11, 2020.
The number of active coronavirus cases among Israeli soldiers reached 2,042, with 96 new cases added on Thursday, according to data released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
This is the highest figure in the Israeli army since the pandemic outbreak in the country in late February 2020.
The previous record of active cases in the Israeli army was 1,975, registered on Sunday.
The IDF added that 9,851 Israeli soldiers are in home quarantine, and 109,776 soldiers have so far been vaccinated against the virus.
Israeli high school students wearing face masks take a final exam outdoors in central Israeli city of Modiin, on Jan 27, 2021. Israel's Ministry of Health reported 7,412 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the tally in the country to 620,698.
The death toll from the COVID-19 in Israel reached 4,574 after 73 new fatalities were added, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 1,173 to 1,160, out of 1,763 hospitalized patients.
The total recoveries rose to 541,339, with 6,877 newly recovered cases, while the active cases totalled 74,785.
According to the ministry, the number of people vaccinated against the COVID-19 in Israel has surpassed 2.8 million, or 30.1 percent of its total population, since the vaccination campaign began on Dec. 20, 2020.
The ministry also reported three new cases of a new COVID-19 strain. This brings the total number of patients tested positive for COVID-19 variants to 188 in Israel.
Palestine will receive the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines by mid-February, a senior Palestinian health official in the West Bank said Wednesday.
Wissam Sbeihat, official in charge of the COVID-19 file in the Palestinian Health Ministry, said that when the vaccines arrive in Palestine, "the vaccination process will start immediately."
Sbeihat didn't reveal how many doses Palestine will receive, or the names of vaccine providers.
He noted there has been a significant decrease in the numbers of daily new fatalities and infections in the Palestinian territories in recent days.
The official also mentioned that the health ministry took 200 samples from the northern West Bank district of Jenin to test for the new COVID-19 strain, "we are waiting for the results."
Jordan has been witnessing a continuous drop in the number of daily new infections and deaths from COVID-19, Health Minister Nathir Obeidat said on Wednesday.
In a press conference in capital Amman, Obeidat stressed the importance of washing hands and wearing masks properly.
The minister said that Jordan has recorded more than 160 cases of new COVID-19 strains, adding that "everything" is under control regarding the nationwide tests.
He noted that more vaccines are expected to arrive in the kingdom next week.
The Iraqi Health Ministry reported on Wednesday 879 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 616,259.
It also reported eight new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,018. And 1,575 cases recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 586,327.
A total of 5,484,106 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 37,093 done during the day, the ministry added.
On Jan 19, the ministry said that the Iraqi National Board for Selection of Drugs had approved the emergency use of China's Sinopharm and Britain's AstraZeneca vaccines to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lebanon launched on Thursday a platform that allows citizens to register their names to have access to COVID-19 vaccines, Lebanese public television network Tele Liban reported.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said during the launching of the platform that he hopes citizens will respond to the ministerial committee's plan to raise the vaccination rate to 80 percent to achieve the desired community immunity.
He also noted that the number of beds in Intensive Care Units in public hospitals will reach 302 within two weeks.
Lebanon is expected to receive the first batch of vaccines by mid-February.
The confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indonesia rose to 1,037,993, with the death toll adding by 476 to 29,331, the Health Ministry said. According to the ministry, 10,792 more patients were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries from the coronavirus epidemic to 842,122.
At least 647 medical workers in Indonesia have died of COVID-19 from March 2020 to Wednesday, the Indonesian Medical Association said.
The Qatari Health Ministry on Wednesday announced 338 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 149,933, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.
Meanwhile, 127 more recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 145,251, while the fatalities remained 248 for the 10th day running, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.
A total of 1,368,964 persons in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far.
The total number of COVID-19 patients in Sri Lanka surpassed the 60,000-mark on Wednesday after over 300 new patients were detected during the day, official statistics from the Health Ministry showed.
Out of the total 60,233 patients detected to date since the first local patient was detected in March, 52,566 patients had recovered and been discharged from hospitals bringing down the active patient count to 7,379.
A total of 288 deaths have been reported from the virus, statistics showed.
Sri Lanka is presently in the mid of the second wave of the pandemic after two new clusters were detected in October last year from a garment factory in Minuwangoda, on the outskirts of capital Colombo and another from a fish market in Colombo.
The Philippines has cleared AstraZeneca Plc’s coronavirus shots for emergency use, paving the way for the expected rollout of these vaccines next quarter.
The Food and Drug Administration found AstraZeneca’s vaccine to be effective in preventing coronavirus infections, the local regulator’s head Eric Domingo said at a virtual briefing Thursday. Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine was given a similar approval earlier this month.
The Philippines has signed deals with AstraZeneca for 17 million doses, with first shipments expected to arrive in May. The nation, which has Southeast Asia’s second-worst outbreak, targets to inoculate more than half of its population this year, as the government banks on vaccine rollout to support economic recovery.
The Department of Health of the Philippines on Thursday reported 1,169 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the country's total tally to 519,575.
The death toll rose to 10,552 after 71 more patients died from the epidemic, the DOH said.
The United Arab Emirates
Dubai’s stock index slumped the most in a week as the city imposed further restrictions on air travel and hospitals amid another record surge in coronavirus cases.
The Middle East business hub reduced the validity of PCR tests to three days from four “irrespective of the country they are coming from,” according to a statement issued late on Wednesday. It is also now mandatory to have prior appointments for hospital visits.
The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is the second-largest emirate, is battling a rise in infections as it opened up for air travel and eased movement restrictions. On Wednesday, the country reported a record 3,939 cases.
Brunei reported four new imported cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the national tally to 180.
According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, all the new cases are currently being monitored and treated at the National Isolation Center. The contact tracing for these cases is being conducted.
With the detection of these latest cases, a total of 39 imported cases have been confirmed.
Meanwhile, 599 individuals are currently undergoing mandatory self-isolation at the monitoring centers run by the government, who have arrived in the country after traveling abroad.
Malaysia recorded 4,094 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the health ministry said on Thursday, bringing the national total to 198,208.
Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that eight of the new cases are imported and 4,086 are local transmissions.
Another 10 deaths have been reported, raising the death toll to 717.
HONG KONG NEWS