A nurse fills a syringe with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Seoul on Feb 27, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
BEIRUT / BAGHDAD / DOHA - Thailand moved a step closer to issuing vaccine certificates, with a panel of officials backing the proposal seen as a major milestone toward allowing the tourism-reliant nation to fully reopen to foreign visitors.
The Health Ministry will issue documents to residents who have completed their COVID-19 vaccinations that will allow them to travel abroad, according to Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
Thailand also plans to reduce the mandatory quarantine period for vaccinated foreign visitors to seven days from 14 days currently, he said, adding the proposals are expected to be approved by a national committee later this month.
The vaccine passport plan is the strongest signal yet from Thai authorities of their intent to reopen the borders more widely to tourists. The so-called vaccine passport holders may get a complete waiver from quarantine on arrival from October, according to Anutin. A successful reopening by Thailand could spur other tourism-reliant nations to follow suit, as countries like the UK set out ambitious timelines for easing restrictions.
Thailand is betting on a revival in tourism, which accounted for about a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product pre-pandemic, to return Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to growth. The local tourism industry has called for mandatory quarantines to be lifted from as early as July 1 so it can open to potentially millions of vaccinated visitors.
“The quarantine waiver remains the best way to support the travel industry” given the local industry’s dependence on foreign tourists, Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, president of the Thai Airlines Association told reporters. Mandatory quarantine of any duration may still remain a sticking point for most holidaymakers though it may be used by business travelers and long-stay tourists, he said.
Thailand confirmed 71 new COVID-19 cases, mostly domestic, according to the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan. Of the new cases, 48 were domestic infections while 23 others referred to imported cases, the CCSA spokeswoman said.
South Korea said on Monday it had found no link between the coronavirus vaccine and several recent deaths, as it ordered nearly 100,000 foreign workers to be tested after clusters emerged in dormitories.
Health officials had been investigating the deaths of eight people with underlying conditions who had adverse reactions after receiving AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, but said they found no evidence that the shots played a role.
“We’ve tentatively concluded that it was difficult to establish any link between their adverse reaction after being vaccinated, and their deaths,” Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.
South Korea began vaccinating residents and workers at nursing homes and other at-risk individuals at the end of February, with 316,865 people having received their first shots as of Sunday.
Several outbreaks in manufacturing and other industrial workplaces prompted authorities to begin inspecting 12,000 work sites with international workers, while multiple local governments ordered foreign workers to be tested in coming days.
South Korea reported 20 more cases of COVID-19 variants in recent days, bringing the total number of such cases to 182, the health authorities said Monday.
Syrian Health Ministry placed the overall number of infections since last March at 15,981 on Sunday, including 10,374 recoveries and 1,063 deaths. However, medical staff say the number is much higher as many people get the virus without doing the test.
The death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has surpassed the 500 mark in Sri Lanka after five more deaths were reported on Sunday, official statistics from the Health Ministry showed Monday.
To date, 502 deaths from the virus have been reported in the island country while the total number of positive patients has reached 85,695.
Out of the total infected since March 2020, 82,059 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals, bringing down the active patient count to 3,134.
Fourteen new positive COVID-19 cases have been registered in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of patients infected with the disease to 55,868 in the country, the Public Health Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
No COVID-19 related death has been reported over the past 24 hours. According to the statement, 2,451 patients have died due to the disease since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year in the country.
Tokyo on Monday reported 116 new daily COVID-19 cases, bringing the capital's tally since the outbreak of the pandemic here to 113,571.
The Tokyo Metropolitan government and health officials' latest figures showed that the latest number of new infections marked the first time the figure had dropped below the 200-mark since last Monday when 121 cases were reported.
The local government pointed out that the new infection count for Mondays tends to be comparatively lower than on other days of the week because many medical facilities are closed on weekends.
The latest figure, however, also compares to 237 new cases confirmed by the metropolitan government and health officials the previous day.
The Bangladeshi government said it will start registration of the COVID-19 vaccination for foreigners from March 17, according to a circular issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on Monday.
Bangladesh has vaccinated nearly 4 million people, including frontliners, diplomats and those above 40 years since February.
The country reported 845 new cases of the COVID-19 and 14 more deaths in a daily count, the highest since Jan. 13, the DGHS said, making the tally of COVID-19 cases at 551,175 and death toll at 8,476.
Fiji reported on Monday three new imported COVID-19 cases.
Fiji has so far registered 66 COVID-19 cases in total, with seven active cases, 57 recoveries and two deaths, according to its health authorities.
A total of 32,164 laboratory tests have been conducted.
The Pacific island nation maintains a strict travel restriction to date for foreign visitors alongside a nationwide curfew effective from March 30 last year.
Brunei reported one more recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 183.
According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, no more confirmed COVID-19 cases were recorded, with the national tally unchanged at 190. There are four active cases still being treated at the National Isolation Center.
A total of 49 imported cases have been confirmed since the last local infection case was reported on May 6, 2020. Brunei has recorded 306 days without local COVID-19 infection cases.
Indonesia will expand movement restrictions to three provinces starting next week because of an increase in cases, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto said in a virtual briefing. The government confirmed four new cases of the U.K. variant, bringing the total to six, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said at the same event.
The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 6,894 within one day to 1,386,556, with the death toll adding by 281 to 37,547, the Health Ministry said on Monday.
According to the ministry, 8,725 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,203,381.
Within the past 24 hours, Jakarta recorded 1,783 new cases, West Java 1,739, Central Java 871, Banten 591 and East Java 328.
No more new positive cases were found in two provinces during the past day, namely West Kalimantan and Gorontalo.
The government of Togo welcomed its first batch of AstraZeneca anti-COVID-19 vaccines as part of the World Health Organization (WHO) COVAX facility at the Gnassingbe Eyadema International Airport Sunday night.
The batch included 156,000 doses of vaccines, 157,500 syringes and 1,575 safety boxes to be used for immunization targeting health personnel and people over 50 years in the capital Lome and its outskirts.
"It's a landmark moment we are experiencing today," said UNICEF Representative to Togo Dr. Aissata Ba Sidibe shortly after the first batch of the vaccines arrived at the airport in Lome.
"I would like to commend the efforts of the government of Togo to be one of the first countries in the world to receive the first batches COVAX initiative vaccines, so as to protect the most at risk populations against COVID-19," she said.
New Zealand will buy additional COVID-19 vaccines, developed by Pfizer Inc and Germany’s BioNTech, which will be enough to vaccinate the whole country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
The government has signed an agreement to buy an extra 8.5 million doses, enough to vaccinate over 4 million people, Ardern said, adding the vaccines were expected to reach the country in the second half of the year.
“This brings our total Pfizer order to 10 million doses or enough for 5 million people to get the two shots needed to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Ardern said in a statement.
The government’s original agreement with Pfizer was for 1.5 million doses, enough to vaccinate 750,000 people.
Ardern said the decision to make Pfizer the country’s primary vaccine provider was taken after it was shown to be about 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection.
New Zealand reported five cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation on Monday, with one border-related case reported Sunday to be officially added to Monday's tally.
There are no new cases in the community, according to the Ministry of Health.
Vietnam began vaccinations with medical workers in Hanoi, Hai Duong and Ho Chi Minh City getting the first shots Monday morning, the government website reported.
The health ministry is initially distributing vaccines only to medical facilities treating virus patients in 13 provinces and cities, according to the government website post.
Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said Vietnam will receive 1.3 million vaccine doses this month and more are expected in April and May, according to the ministry’s website.
Vietnam recorded 12 new cases of COVID-19 infection on Monday, including 11 imported and one locally transmitted, according to its Ministry of Health.
The new infections brought the total confirmed cases in the country to 2,524 as of 6 p.m. local time Monday, said the ministry.
Lebanon registered on Sunday 2,377 new COVID-19 cases, raising the number of infections to 395,588, the Health Ministry reported.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus went up by 33 to 5,046.
Lebanon has started easing its lockdown measures, and most of the businesses, including restaurants and cafes, will resume operations starting from March 22.
Health experts have been calling on citizens to register for vaccination in a bid to reduce infections and deaths from the virus in the country.
Israel on Monday lifted the ban on entry of foreign nationals into the country, according to a statement issued by Israel's Population and Immigration Authority.
The decision, announced by the Israeli cabinet, will allow foreign nationals to enter the country under the approval of a special permit committee following a request in advance.
Besides, the cabinet permitted the entrance of Israelis with a maximum of 3,000 people per day. In the next two weeks, priority will be given to the entry of Israelis ahead of the general elections scheduled on March 23. Before then, the entry of foreign citizens will be approved on a limited basis.
In March 2020, Israel banned entry of foreign nationals into Israel, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Since July of the year, the ban has been gradually eased, with permissions being given to family events, business meetings and more circumstances.
Israel's Ministry of Health reported 1,734 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 801,461.
The death toll from the COVID-19 in Israel reached 5,889 after 33 new fatalities were added, while the total recoveries surged by 4,794 to 758,100.
The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in Israel has surpassed 4.94 million, or 53.1 percent of its total population, since the vaccination campaign began on Dec 20, 2020.
In Kuwait, the health ministry announced 1,144 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 200,572.
The ministry also confirmed seven more deaths, taking the death toll to 1,127. The tally of recoveries in Kuwait rose by 956 to 186,187, while 13,258 coronavirus-related patients were receiving treatment.
On Sunday, Kuwait started to impose a partial curfew, from 5 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) to 5 am, until April 8, as part of its efforts to curb the COVID-19 spread.
During the curfew time, all commercial activities will be suspended, people are allowed to go to mosques on foot, and pharmacies, shops to buy medical supplies, and cooperative societies and markets are permitted to practice their activities only through delivery service.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Sunday 3,359 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total nationwide infections to 726,548.
It also reported 24 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,572, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 3,509 to 660,541.
A total of 7,123,762 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 35,206 done during the day.
The Qatari health ministry on Sunday announced 474 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total confirmed number in the Gulf state to 166,949, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.
Meanwhile, 301 more recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 156,001, while the death toll remained at 262 for the second day running, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.
The Omani health ministry on Sunday announced 1,059 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 143,955, the official Oman News Agency reported.
Meanwhile, 823 people recovered during the past 72 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 134,314, while eight deaths were reported, pushing the death toll up to 1,591, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.
Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 13 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the country's total tally to 60,033.
The new infections are all imported cases.
On Sunday, 15 more patients were discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 59,894 patients have fully recovered from the coronavirus epidemic, the ministry said.
There are currently 24 active cases being treated in hospitals, and one of them is in critical condition.
Mongolia reported 67 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing its national tally to 3,228.
"A total of 21,626 tests for COVID-19 were conducted across Mongolia yesterday and 67 of them were positive," the National Center for Communicable Diseases said in a statement on Sunday.
Among the latest cases, 63 were detected in the capital Ulan Bator, the country's hardest hit region, and the remaining four were reported in the central province of Tuv, the center said.
Meanwhile, 58 more patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the nationwide tally to 2,539.
Australia's rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine continued on Monday, with the state of Queensland delivering it's first doses to frontline hospital and medical staff.
Over the weekend, clinics in Western Australia also commenced administering the vaccine with the program expected to gain pace over the coming weeks.
Cases of COVID-19 remained extremely low across Australia, with an estimated 97 active cases nationally, all of which were in isolation.
On Sunday, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that more than 4,500 general practitioners would participate in Phase 1b of Australia's COVID-19 rollout, which he described as one of the greatest logistical challenges in the country's history.
Mongolia detected 108 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, its highest daily COVID-19 infections, raising its national tally to 3,336, the country's National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said on Monday.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the disease has risen to seven, the NCCD said in a statement.
Three of the latest confirmed cases were imported from abroad, and the remaining ones were locally transmitted. The capital city of Ulan Bator has been hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak, the center said.
The tiny Southeast Asian nation of East Timor will put its capital city on a coronavirus lockdown for the first time, its government said on Monday, amid fears it could be facing its first local outbreak.
A “sanitary fence and mandatory confinement” will be imposed in Dili for seven days from midnight Monday with residents asked to stay home unless necessary to leave, the country’s council of ministers said in statement.
It said the measure was because of a “high probability of community transmission”, but did not elaborate.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 11,229,398 on Monday as 18,711 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, said the latest data from the health ministry.
According to the official data, the death toll mounted to 157,853 as 97 COVID-19 patients died since Sunday morning.
There are still 188,747 active cases in the country, while 10,882,798 people have been discharged so far from hospitals after medical treatment. There was an increase of 4,224 active cases during the previous 24 hours, out of which 5,090 were reported from the southwestern state of Maharashtra alone.
The number of daily active cases had been on the rise over the past few days, as another wave of COVID-19 looms large in India. Till a few weeks ago, the number of daily cases had come down to below 10,000.
Malaysia will buy additional doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, bringing the total secured to 32 million, enough to cover half of its population, the country’s science minister said on Monday.
The Southeast Asian country last month embarked on a nationwide vaccination programme, targeting to inoculate 80 percent of its 32 million people by Feb 2022.
“All of the Pfizer vaccines secured so far are expected to be delivered by this year,” science minister Khairy Jamaluddin said at a virtual news conference.
Malaysia is also considering dropping negotiations to procure a single-dose vaccine from US pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson, in favour of a deal with Chinese company CanSino Biologics, which also requires only one dose, Khairy said.
Malaysia reported 1,529 new COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said on Monday, bringing the national total to 314,989.
Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that nine of the new cases are imported and 1,520 are local transmissions.
Another eight deaths have been reported, pushing the death toll to 1,177.
Some 2,076 patients have been released after recovery, bringing the total cured and discharged to 294,034 or 93.3 percent of all cases.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported on Monday 3,356 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 597,763.
The death toll climbed to 12,521 after five more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said. It added 61 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 545,912.
The Philippines, which has about 110 million population, has tested over eight million people since the disease emerged in January last year.
The Philippines has reported more than 3,000 daily cases for four days in a row.
Cambodia on Monday confirmed 24 more local COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infected people linked to the third community transmission to 501, said a Ministry of Health (MoH) statement.
The new cases were found in Phnom Penh Municipality, Preah Sihanouk, Kandal, Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom provinces, MoH's secretary of state and spokeswoman Or Vandine said in the statement.
Cambodia on Monday ordered a temporary ban on all sports activities, as the kingdom has been enduring the third community COVID-19 outbreak since late last month.
"To prevent a large-scale community transmission of COVID-19, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) proposes a temporary suspension of all gyms, sports clubs and sports gatherings in Phnom Penh Municipality, Kandal and Preah Sihanouk provinces as well as other concerned provinces from now until further notice," MoEYS's Minister Hang Chuon Naron said in a statement.
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