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Monday, February 15, 2021, 18:01
Virus: Inoculations to start as vaccines arrive in Australia, NZ
By Agencies
Monday, February 15, 2021, 18:01 By Agencies

This handout photo taken and released on Feb 15, 2021 by the New Zealand government shows the first batch of around 60,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses being unloaded upon arrival at Auckland International Airport. (NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT / AFP)

WELLINGTON / CANBERRA / JERUSALEM / JAKARTA / KUALA LUMPUR / SINGAPORE / SEOUL / NEW DELHI / BANGKOK /BENGALURU / ULAN BATOR / MANILA / TOKYO - Australia and New Zealand have received their first COVID-19 vaccine deliveries and will begin rolling out inoculations in the coming week, while populous cities of Melbourne and Auckland remained locked down following the emergence of new cases.

Australia

Australia's first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the country on Monday.

“The Eagle has landed,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Monday as the first shipment of 142,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine touched down.

Vaccination in Australia will start from Feb 22 as Australia received on Monday the country's irst shipment of 142,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Vaccination in Australia will start from Feb 22.

Melbourne has recorded 1 new locally acquired case of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the Australian city’s Holiday Inn cluster to 17 cases.

The lack of new cases may give optimism to Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews that the cluster of the UK strain of the virus is being contained, and could allow the state’s 5-day lockdown to be lifted on Thursday as planned.

In another development, Australia has suspended quarantine-free travel with neighboring New Zealand after three new community cases of COVID-19 were detected in Auckland over the weekend.

ALSO READ: NZ locks down Auckland after 3 new local COVID-19 cases

Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, convened an urgent meeting late on Sunday and it was decided that all flights originating in New Zealand would be classified as “Red Zone” flights for an initial period of 72 hours from Monday.

“As a result of this, all people arriving on such flights originating within this three-day period will need to go into 14 days of supervised hotel quarantine,” Australia’s Department of Health said on its website.

New Zealand

A coronavirus outbreak that sent New Zealand’s biggest city into a snap lockdown over the weekend involved the more transmissible UK variant, health officials confirmed on Monday, the first time the strain has been detected locally.

Auckland’s nearly 2 million residents were plunged into a new three-day lockdown on Sunday after three new COVID-19 cases were detected in the city.

Genome sequencing of two the cases - all three are immediate family - revealed they were the B1.1.7 variant. The source of the cases remains unknown, authorities said, adding they were scanning international genome databases for a match.

“We were absolutely right to make the decision to be extra cautious because we assumed it was going to be one of the more transmissible variants,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Facebook Live post on Monday. The PM said the lockdown will be reviewed on Tuesday.

A man wearing a face mask shops for toilet rolls at a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand, Feb 14, 2021, as the city went into a snap lockdown. (ZHAO GANG / XINHUA)

Ardern also said the first batch of 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines had arrived and would undergo safety checks before border workers start receiving vaccinations from Saturday.

“We have purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free. That includes all those in New Zealand regardless of their visa status,” Ardern said.

New Zealand’s health department said on Monday there were no new cases of community transmission, but five in managed isolation facilities.

The country has reported a total of 2,330 confirmed and probable cases since the start of the pandemic, a fraction of those reported by other developed nations, including 25 deaths. Forty-seven cases remained active, health officials said on Monday.

Japan

The Tokyo metropolitan government on Monday reported 266 new COVID-19 infections, marking the ninth day that new cases have remained below the 500-mark.

The latest figure in the capital of 14 million is also the first time the tally has dipped below 300 since Monday last week, the local government said.

The capital's cumulative tally now stands at 106,771, the latest statistics showed.

According to health officials, there are currently 97 COVID-19 patients designated as being in "serious condition".

This is the first time since Jan 2 that the number has fallen below 100, the local government said. 

People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk along a street in Seoul, South Korea, on Feb 14, 2021. (ED JONES / AFP)

South Korea

South Korea eased some of its strictest social distancing rules for businesses on Monday, but kept limits on private gatherings as authorities unveiled plans for the roll out of the first coronavirus vaccines later this month.

The announcement came on a day the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 344 new infections as of midnight Sunday, bringing the cumulative tally to 83,869. Five more deaths were confirmed, lifting the death toll to 1,527. 

South Korea’s first vaccinations will begin on Feb 26, with healthcare workers and vulnerable residents, including the elderly, the first in line

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol urged caution as infection clusters continue to plague the densely populated capital of Seoul and neighbouring areas. Nearly 80 percent of the new cases reported over the holiday were in the Seoul area, highlighting the continued threat, he added.

ALSO READ: South Korea to ease social distancing to help small business

In the greater Seoul area, a 9 pm curfew for restaurants and cafes has been pushed to 10 pm, while bars and nightclubs have been allowed to reopen, but with a 10 pm curfew and limited number of patrons.

Curfews have been removed for cinemas, internet cafes, “cram schools”, theme parks, large supermarkets, and hair salons.

Outside of the greater Seoul area, there are now no curfews on businesses, while attendance limits have been eased for churches and sports events.

South Korea’s first vaccinations will begin on Feb 26, with healthcare workers and vulnerable residents, including the elderly, the first in line.

The country said it will not use AstraZeneca’s vaccine on people aged 65 and older, reversing an earlier decision, and scaled back initial vaccination targets due to delayed shipments from global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX.

South Korea had said it would complete vaccinations on 1.3 million people by the first quarter of this year with AstraZeneca shots, but it slashed the target sharply to 750,000.

The decision is largely due to adjustments in the supply timetable of the 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from COVAX, the KDCA said Monday.

Thailand

Thailand reported 143 new coronavirus infections on Monday and in quarantine detected its first case of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant first found in South Africa, its coronavirus taskforce said.

Two additional deaths were reported, taking the COVID-19 toll to 82.

So far, the country has recorded 24,714 confirmed cases, the majority of which have come in the past two months.

The South African variant was found in a Thai man who had travelled from Tanzania and was undergoing the mandatory quarantine for all arrivals from abroad, the taskforce said at a briefing.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s cabinet approved 37.1 billion baht (US$1.24 billion) of assistance to help low-income workers during the country’s current coronavirus outbreak, government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said. The government will offer 4,000 baht each to 9.27 million workers, the spokesman said. 

Pakistan

Pakistan has started the registration of people of 65 years old and above for COVID-19 vaccination, the Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said Monday.

People in that age group need to register themselves through a helpline using their national identity card number, and the drive to vaccinate them is expected to start in March, the minister said in a tweet.

Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the country's vaccination drive on Feb 2, inoculating frontline healthcare workers first.

The country is currently facing a second wave of COVID-19 infections. According to the National Command and Operation Center, a total of 564,077 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country so far, including 525,997 recoveries and 12,333 fatalities. 

The Philippines

The Philippines is postponing a plan to reopen cinemas and the local government units (LGUs) are drafting operational rules on new policy aimed at spurring economic activity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday.

Roque said the tentative target date for reopening movie theaters in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ), including Metro Manila, will be postponed to March 1.

The inter-agency coronavirus task force approved last week a resolution allowing more businesses, including traditional cinemas and public arcades, to reopen to revive the coronavirus-hit economy.

However, Metro Manila mayors opposed the reopening of cinemas, arcades, and other leisure businesses on Feb 15 due to fears of virus transmission.

The government relaxed the quarantine restrictions despite a steady increase in cases. The coronavirus task force also relaxed restrictions in worship places, expanding the seating or venue capacity from 30 percent to 50 percent. 

The move came as the Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,685 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the Southeast Asian country's tally to 550,860.

The death toll went up by two to 11,517 while the total recoveries increased by 14 to 511,755.

India

India's COVID-19 tally rose to 10,916,589 on Monday as 11,649 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, according to the latest data from the health ministry.

The death toll rose to 155,732 as 90 more deaths were logged since Sunday morning.

There are still 139,637 active cases in the country, while a total of 10,621,220 people have recovered.

So far, nearly 8.3 million people, mainly health workers, have been vaccinated across the country.

The Serum Institute of India will ship the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Canada in less than one month, Serum’s chief executive said on Monday.

“As we await regulatory approvals from Canada, I assure you, @SerumInstIndia will fly out #COVISHIELD to Canada in less than a month; I’m on it!” CEO Adar Poonawalla said on Twitter, referring to a brand name for AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Mongolia

Mongolia will launch a COVID-19 vaccination campaign next week, Health Minister Sereejav Enkhbold announced on Monday.

"The current COVID-19 lockdown in the country's capital Ulan Bator, imposed on Feb 11, is set to expire next Tuesday. Our country is planning to start a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign from that day," Enkhbold said at a press conference.

Mongolia is now working to acquire four types of COVID-19 vaccines, Enkhbold said.

Mongolia registered 32 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the nation's infection tally to 2,383, the National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Monday.

The latest cases were locally transmitted or detected in the capital Ulan Bator, the NCCD said in a statement.

The death toll remained at four, while the total recoveries rose by 29 to 1,711.

Indonesia

Indonesia will use a rapid antigen test as an initial screening for COVID-19 cases to accelerate the detection of the coronavirus and reduce the rate of transmission, said the Ministry of Health.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the ministry's director for prevention and control of direct infectious diseases, said that antigen test results are more accurate than those of the antibody test, which is faster than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test.

"Hopefully, with rapid antigen tests, we can find positive cases earlier, so that the handling of the pandemic will be better," Tarmizi said on Wednesday.

The results of the antigen tests will be included in the daily updates of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indonesia.

Indonesia on Sunday reported 6,765 new cases and 247 deaths, bringing the country's infection tally to 1,217,468 and the death toll to 33,183, the ministry said.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference after their meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, Feb 14, 2021. (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM / POOL VIA AP)

Israel

Israel and Cyprus signed on Sunday a deal to allow Israelis and Cypriots who have been inoculated against COVID-19 to travel between the two countries without having to quarantine.

The deal was announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who arrived in Israel for a one-day visit earlier in the day.

"It opens up the possibility of restarting tourism in the near future. Cypriot tourists in Israel and Israeli tourists in Cyprus," Netanyahu said in a statement.

Anastasiades said he was hopeful that travels in accordance with the deal would begin on April 1.

Israel’s largest healthcare provider on Sunday reported a 94 percent drop in symptomatic COVID-19 infections among 600,000 people who received two doses of the Pfizer’s vaccine in the country’s biggest study to date

Israel's Ministry of Health on Sunday reported 1,967 new COVID-19 cases, including 88 fresh ones involving the COVID-19 strain that was first detected in South Africa.

One of the new cases involved a patient who had previously recovered but was re-infected with the new variant, the ministry revealed. 

To date, a total of 168 people have been infected with the new virus variant in Israel. Overall, the country has reported 723,726 confirmed COVID-19 cases in total.

The ministry said 38 more deaths were logged, raising the death toll to 662,628.

Israel’s largest healthcare provider on Sunday reported a 94 percent drop in symptomatic COVID-19 infections among 600,000 people who received two doses of the Pfizer’s vaccine in the country’s biggest study to date.

Health maintenance organization (HMO) Clalit, which covers more than half of all Israelis, said the same group was also 92 percent less likely to develop severe illness from the virus.

The comparison was against a group of the same size, with matching medical histories, who had not received the vaccine.

Malaysia

Malaysia reported 2,464 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday, bringing the cumulative caseload to 264,269, the health ministry said.

Of the new cases, three were imported while 2,461 were locally transmitted, the lowest figure seen in more than a month, said Hisham Abdullah, the ministry's director general.

Meanwhile, seven more deaths were recorded, pushing the death toll to 965.

A record high of 4,525 patients have recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 213,814.

Of the remaining 49,490 active cases, 260 were in intensive care units, of which 111 needed assisted breathing. 

Singapore

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 14 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the country's tally to 59,800.

All the new cases were imported cases.

The death toll remained unchanged at 29, while the number of recoveries rose by 17 to  59,621, the ministry said.

Iran

Iran reported 7,390 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the cumulative caseload to 1,518,263. 

The death toll went up by 62 to 58,945.

Turkey

Turkey reported 6,287 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, taking the total number of infections in the country to 2,586,183.

The death toll rose by 94 to 27,471 while the total recoveries increased by 6,910 to 2,475,329, according to the health ministry.

More than 3,394,000 people in Turkey have been vaccinated against COVID-19 since mass vaccination began on Jan 14.

Iraq

The Iraqi health ministry on Sunday reported 2,224 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 643,852.

The ministry also reported 15 additional deaths, raising the death toll to 13,179. 

Ruba Falah, head of the ministry's media office, said in a press release that the ministry has begun conducting tests to detect new strains of the coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health reported 322 new COVID-19 cases and four more deaths on Sunday, taking the infection tally in the kingdom to 372,732 and the death toll to 6,433. 

The total number of COVID-19 recoveries rose by 282 to 363,585.

UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirmed 3,167 new coronavirus infections and 13 more deaths Sunday, bringing the cumulative total to 348,772 cases with 1,014 fatalities. 

Total recoveries went up by 5,059 to 331,839.

Lebanon

Lebanon on Sunday registered 2,130 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 339,129. 

The death toll rose by 32 to 3,993 while the tally of recoveries went up to 239,293.

READ MORE: Lancet: Rich countries snap up 70% of COVID-19 vaccine doses

Kuwait

Kuwait reported on Sunday 798 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 177,701.

The health ministry said five more deaths were logged, lifting the death toll to 1,003.

Meanwhile, the number of recoveries rose by 765 to 166,019.

Qatar

The Qatari health ministry reported 440 fresh COVID-19 infections on Sunday, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 157,244.

The death toll remained at 255, while the total number of recoveries rose by 177 to 148,314, according to the ministry.

Oman

The Omani health ministry on Sunday announced 684 new COVID-19 infections were registered, pushing the tally to 137,306.

Three more deaths were recorded, bringing the toll to 1,542, according to the ministry.

Total recoveries went up by 593 to 129,054, the ministry said.



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