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Friday, February 19, 2021, 22:40
S. Korea PM vouches for safety of AstraZeneca vaccine
By Agencies
Friday, February 19, 2021, 22:40 By Agencies

A group of women walk past a shop window displaying traditional hanbok dresses, along an alleyway in Seoul on Feb 16, 2021. (ED JONES / AFP)

KABUL / SYDNEY / DHAKA / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / CAIRO / DUBAI / KUALA LUMPUR / JERUSALEM / SINGAPORE / HANOI - South Korea’s prime minister assured there were no safety issues with AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on Friday, as the government held final drills ahead of next week’s scheduled rollout of the first vaccines.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed with Britain’s Oxford University, was the first to win approval in South Korea, but it has been dogged by questions over its efficacy among older people and concerns over side effects.

South Korea reported 561 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Thursday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 86,128.

The daily caseload fell below 600 in three days, but it hovered above 100 since Nov 8, 2020 due to small cluster infections in Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi province as well as imported cases.

Of the new cases, 177 were Seoul residents and 182 were people residing in Gyeonggi province.

Twenty-eight cases were imported from overseas, lifting the combined figure to 6,837.


Afghanistan has registered five new COVID-19 positive cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of patients infected with the disease to 55,580 in the country, said a statement of Public Health Ministry release here on Friday.

According to the statement, no death has been reported over the past 24 hours and since the outbreak of the disease in February last year, 2,430 people have died due to COVID-19 in Afghanistan.


A COVID-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel in the Australian state of Victoria has grown to 22 cases after three new locally acquired cases were confirmed on Friday.

Victoria's Health Department said all three cases were linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport outbreak and had been quarantining at home during their infectious period.

Resistance to COVID-19 vaccines is rising among Australians as the beginning of the rollout nears, a survey has found.

The survey, which was published by Australian National University (ANU) researchers on Friday, found that 31.9 percent of Australians became less willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine between August and January while 9.9 percent became more willing.

Asked if they would volunteer for a free vaccine deemed safe and effective by authorities, 21.7 percent of almost 4,000 respondents said they would "probably" or "definitely" not compared to 12.7 percent in August.

The proportion of respondents who said they would "definitely" get vaccinated fell from 58.5 percent in August to 43.7 percent in January.


Bangladesh reported 406 new COVID-19 cases and eight new deaths on Friday, making the tally at 542,674 and death toll at 8,337, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.


Brunei reported one more recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 180.

According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, no more confirmed COVID-19 cases were recorded, with the national tally unchanged at 185. There are two active cases still being treated at the National Isolation Center.


Cambodia confirmed one new imported COVID-19 case on Friday, bringing the total number of infections in the kingdom to 484, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said in a statement.

The new case was found on a 25-year-old foreign woman who arrived in the kingdom on Wednesday from the United Arab Emirates via a connecting flight in Singapore, the statement said.

"The woman tested positive for the COVID-19 upon her arrival, and she is currently undergoing treatment at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh," it said.

READ MORE: Indonesia makes COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory

A health worker (top right) takes a nasal swab of a passenger for a Covid-19 coronavirus test upon his arrival at at the Yeshwanthpur Railway Station, in Bangalore on Feb 18, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)


India reported on Friday its biggest jump in new coronavirus infections in three weeks, with 13,193 cases, while thousands of marshals fanned out to enforce mask wearing across the financial capital of Mumbai, which is battling a recent spurt.

The tally of confirmed infections is 10.96 million, the second highest after the United States, with more than 156,000 deaths. But actual infections could range as high as 300 million, a government serological survey showed this month

In recent days, 75 percent of India’s new cases have been reported from the southern state of Kerala and Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, a densely populated city of 20 million people. The two states already had the highest number of reported infections.

Health experts suggest the re-opening of educational institutes in Kerala and resumption of suburban train services in Mumbai could be key factors.


The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday 3,896 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily record in 2021, bringing the total nationwide infections to 657,453.

It also reported 16 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,220.

Meanwhile, 1,691 cases recovered during the day, bringing the total recoveries to 612,727, the statement said.

Iraqi Minister of Health Hassan al-Tamimi said in a press conference that 50 percent of the recent coronavirus cases were infected with the new strain of the virus.

ALSO READ: Indonesia starts 2nd round of massive COVID-19 vaccination


A single dose of the vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE significantly reduced COVID-19 symptoms in the first four weeks after injection, according to an analysis that based on the vaccination program in Israel.

Among health-care workers who got the vaccine, symptomatic infections were reduced by 85 percent in the 15 to 28 days after the first dose, compared with those who didn’t get a shot, according to the report in The Lancet medical journal. 

While most workers received a second dose on schedule -- about three weeks after the first -- the booster would only have just started to kick in by the end of the study, so it was essentially looking at the effects of one dose, researchers said Thursday.

Israel's Ministry of Health reported 3,380 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 741,589.

The death toll from the COVID-19 in Israel reached 5,501 after 31 new fatalities were added, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 948 to 903, out of 1,405 hospitalized patients.

The total recoveries in Israel rose to 687,816, with 7,006 newly recovered cases, while the active cases decreased to 48,272.


Japan confirmed a new variant of COVID-19, and an infection cluster emerged at a Tokyo immigration facility, presenting new challenges as the country tries to overcome a third wave of the pandemic.

The new variant has been found in 91 cases in the Kanto area of eastern Japan and in 2 cases at airports, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters on Friday. The government is raising surveillance against mutant varieties as they may be more resistant to vaccines, which Japan started to distribute this week.

“It may be more contagious than conventional strains, and if it continues to spread domestically, it could lead to a rapid rise in cases,” Kato said.

The new strain appears to have originated overseas but is different from other types that have been found sporadically in Japan, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. It has the E484K mutation on the spike protein of the virus that has been found in other variants, which may undermine the effectiveness of vaccines.

Tokyo on Friday reported 353 new COVID-19 infectious, bringing the cumulative total of cases in the capital to 109,135.

According to the latest figures from the Tokyo metropolitan government and health officials, the daily tally of new infections has remained below the 500-mark for a 13th straight day.


Kuwait reported on Thursday 979 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 181,484.

The Kuwaiti Health Ministry also announced eight more deaths, taking the death toll to 1,027.

The tally of recoveries in Kuwait rose by 986 to 169,406, while 11,051 coronavirus patients were receiving treatment, it said.

Abdullah Al-Bader, assistant undersecretary for medicine affairs in the ministry, said on Thursday that a new batch of coronavirus vaccine will arrive on Feb. 21.

The ministry is closely monitoring the safety of taking the vaccine and its quality standards globally, Al-Bader said.

A nurse holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, UK. (JACOB KING/PA WIRE/BLOOMBERG)


Lebanon registered on Thursday 2,730 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 348,793 in the country, the Health Ministry reported.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths from the virus went up by 54 to 4,206.

Lebanon continued on Thursday to increase the number of centers and hospitals that are allowed to give vaccines to citizens.

Lebanon received the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on Sunday. 


Malaysia reported 2,936 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the national total to 277,811, the health ministry said on Friday,

Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that 17 of the new cases are imported and 2,919 are local transmissions.

Another 13 deaths have been reported, pushing the death toll to 1,043.


Myanmar reported 19 new COVID-19 infections and one more death in the past 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports on Thursday.

The number of COVID-19 positive cases rose to 141,709 and its death toll increased to 3,193 on Thursday.

The number of samples tested for COVID-19 decreased to 889 on Thursday, down from around 10,000 samples tested daily in first week of this month.

A total of 131,171 recovered patients have been discharged from hospitals so far.


Mongolia reported 58 new COVID-19 cases within the last 24 hours, bringing its total caseload to 2,551, the National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Friday.

Meanwhile, 17 more recoveries have been reported, bringing the national count to 1,819, the NCCD said in a statement.

The disease has claimed five lives in Mongolia so far.

The Asian country is planning to vaccinate at least 60 percent of its 3.3 million population against COVID-19, and 20 percent of them will be vaccinated under COVAX, a global initiative to ensure quick and equal access to vaccines against the virus, according to the health ministry.

New Zealand

New Zealand officials injected a small group of medical professionals with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, in preparation for a wider rollout over the weekend.

The group chosen for the test run were vaccinators who will be administering the inoculation to border and quarantine staff from Saturday.

Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield said the test run gave vaccinators the opportunity to handle the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, which requires ultra-low temperature storage.

“Our trial run at the Auckland quarantine facility today has confirmed our processes and systems are ready,” he said.

New Zealand has one new case in the community, raising the number of infections in an outbreak in south Auckland to seven, the Ministry of Health said in emailed statement. The new case is a household contact of three other people who tested positive earlier in the week.


The Omani health ministry on Thursday announced 288 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the sultanate to 138,494, the official Oman News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, 332 people recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 130,084, while no new deaths were reported, keeping the tally at 1,549, according to a ministry statement.


The Qatari health ministry on Thursday announced 462 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number in the Gulf state to 159,053, official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 265 more recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 149,031, while the death toll remained at 256, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.

A Singapore Airlines Ltd. aircraft stands on the tarmac as travelers wait at Terminal 3 of Changi Airport in Singapore, on Dec 13, 2018. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)


Singapore has started taking applications for a program that will allow people to enter the island for business and official purposes without having to quarantine for 14 days. The catch? They’ll have to stay in a bubble-like facility near Changi Airport, and can’t leave.

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 11 new confirmed case of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the country's total tally to 59,832.

All the new cases were imported cases.

Also on Thursday, three more patients were discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 59,679 patients have fully recovered from the epidemic in the country, the ministry said.


The mRNA vaccine against the coronavirus developed by Chulalongkorn University of Thailand, is scheduled to enter the first stage of human trials soon, according to a university official.

Thailand is expecting to receive the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech next week and kick-start its national inoculation program.

The first batch is scheduled to arrive at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport on Feb. 24, flied by a Thai Airways International (THAI) cargo flight, Chaiyapruk Didyasarin, THAI chairman of the board of directors, said earlier this week.

Thailand on Friday reported 130 new COVID-19 infections and one more death, according to the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

Of the new of cases, 116 were domestic infections and 14 others referred to imported cases, CCSA spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan said.

The Philippines

The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines reported on Friday 1,901 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the Southeast Asian country's total tally to 557,058.

The death toll rose to 11,829 after 157 more patients died from the coronavirus epidemic, the DOH said. It added that 537 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 512,789.

The Philippines, which has about 110 million population, has tested over 7.95 million people since the viral disease emerged in January last year.

The Philippines has detected COVID -19 virus mutations in its central Visayas islands, the Department of Health said, while adding that more data are needed to determine if these make the coronavirus more transmissible and if they will be considered a new variant. The development won’t affect the push to further reopen the capital region, which is away from the area where the mutations were found, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said at an online forum Friday.

Clinical trials for the vaccine from Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson, have started in the Philippine capital, the Science Department said separately.


Turkey began inoculating prisoners against COVID-19 across the country, the ministry of justice said on Friday.

"The COVID-19 shots have begun to be given to prisoners and convicts, according to the ordering determined by the Health Ministry's national vaccine rollout," the ministry said in a written statement.

A total of 240 COVID-19 cases were reported among detainees and convicts in 372 penal institutions as of Friday, it said.


Vietnam recorded 15 new cases of COVID-19 infection on Friday, all locally transmitted, raising the total confirmed cases in the country to 2,362, according to the Ministry of Health.

 All the new infections were detected in the northern Hai Duong province, the country's largest COVID-19 hotspot at the moment.

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