A resident (right) carries a water container ahead of a lockdown in the neighbourhood in Manila on March 10, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
JERUSALEM / BEIRUT / DOHA / MANILA - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he is considering further reopening the economy in weeks, even as daily coronavirus infections rose to its highest in six months.
The Philippine economy was among the fastest-growing in Asia before the COVID -19 pandemic, but strict and lengthy restrictions to limit coronavirus contagion have dampened consumer spending and left millions jobless.
"I have to reopen the economy. I have given a timetable of just weeks," Mr Duterte said in a speech at a provincial airport inauguration. "The economy must be opened in a short while."
The Philippines’ health ministry on Thursday recorded 3,749 new coronavirus infections and 63 additional deaths.
In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases had increased to 607,048 while confirmed deaths reached 12,608. Authorities have warned the public not to be complacent and practice physical distancing to avoid the spread of the virus accelerating further.
Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which have the world’s fastest inoculation programs, have started talks to establish a quarantine-free travel corridor for people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Middle Eastern nations aim to implement the agreement in April, according to the UAE’s state-run news agency. The corridor will facilitate travel for commercial, tourism and official purposes.
The talks come as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to travel to the UAE on Thursday, his first known visit to the Gulf country after they normalized their relations last year.
Israel and the UAE last year agreed on 28 direct weekly flights connecting Tel Aviv with Abu Dhabi and Dubai before Israel barred foreign flights to limit exposure to new virus strains.
Israel leads the race to vaccinate its population. It has fully inoculated more than half its residents, while the UAE is on track for that goal by March-end. Cases in both countries have fallen from a peak in January.
South Korea will extend vaccination for people aged 65 years and older with AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to ramp up its immunisation drive, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting on Thursday.
The country has been rolling out the vaccine since the last week of February, beginning with the elderly and health workers, but had excluded more than 370,000 over-65s in nursing homes citing a lack of clinical trial data on the age group.
Real-world data from Britain has now shown AstraZeneca and Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccines are both more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalisations in over-80s after one shot.
“Vaccination had been postponed to those aged 65 and over due to lack of evidence to determine the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but recently, data to prove its efficacy for the elderly has been released in the UK,” Chung said.
South Korea reported 465 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Wednesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 94,198.
The daily caseload was slightly down from 470 on the previous day, staying above 400 for three straight days.
Eight more U.S. soldiers and one civilian in South Korea tested positive for COVID-19, the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Thursday.
The USFK said in a statement that nine USFK-affiliated individuals were confirmed with the COVID-19 after arriving in South Korea between Feb. 22 and March 8.
A Palestinian laborer covers his eyes as he receives a dose of the Moderna Inc COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination center at the Meitar checkpoint crossing into Israel, south of Hebron, West Bank, on March 9, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 5,144 within one day to 1,403,722, with the death toll adding by 117 to 38,049, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.
According to the ministry, 8,170 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,224,603.
Iran and Russia will start to jointly produce the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in Iran before March 20, Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman of Iran's food and drug authority, said on Wednesday.
The vaccine will be produced in an Iranian pharmaceutical company, and the first batch of the vaccine will be available in late April, Jahanpour was quoted as saying by the state TV.
Iran and Russia will produce up to 40 million doses of the vaccine in Iran within the next 12 months, he said.
Iran has received more than 500,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine from Russia to inoculate health care workers and the vulnerable as part of the first phase of its novel coronavirus vaccination drive.
Jordan on Wednesday night announced new measures to curb the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to a senior official.
In a press conference here, Minister of State for Media Affairs Sakher Dudin said a lockdown will not be imposed now, but public movement will be restricted between 7:00 p.m. local time and 6:00 a.m., starting from March 13 until further notice.
All the shops will be closed at 6:00 p.m., he said, adding delivery services during the curfew hours will still be available.
The minister said bars, nightclubs, gyms, sports centers, equestrian clubs, and indoor swimming pools will also be shut down. The capacity of transportation will be reduced to 50 percent instead of previous 75 percent.
He added that curbing the surge of coronavirus cases will require weeks of intensified efforts, stressing these government measures "are not arbitrary but based on epidemiological and statistical studies."
An Iranian health worker prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as the country launches its inoculation campaign, at the Imam Khomeini hospital in the capital Tehran, on Feb, 9, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
An expert panel of India’s drug regulator has recommended relaxing norms for the use of a government-backed coronavirus vaccine after it was found to be highly effective in a late-stage trial, the regulator said on its website on Thursday.
“After detailed deliberation, the committee recommended for omission of the condition of the use of the vaccine in clinical trial mode,” the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization said. “However, the vaccine should be continued to be used under restricted use in emergency situation condition.”
Bharat Biotech’s vaccine showed an 81 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in an interim analysis of a late-stage trial in India, it said last week.
Six Indian states continued to report a high number of new COVID-19 cases, as 22,854 new cases were registered across the country in the last 24 hours, a two-month high, according to the federal health ministry on Thursday.
"Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu continue to report a high number of COVID-19 daily new cases. They cumulatively account for 85.91 percent of the new cases reported in the past 24 hours," the health ministry said. "Maharashtra has reported the highest 13,659 daily new cases (almost 60 percent of the daily new cases). It is followed by Kerala with 2,475 while Punjab reported 1,393 new cases."
The ministry said eight states, namely Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka and Haryana, are showing an upward trajectory.
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Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Ishtaye said on Wednesday he had discussed with three ministers over the acceleration of the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the Palestinian territories.
In a statement, Ishtaye said he had talked with the ministers of health, foreign affairs and finance on how to bring the vaccines from international companies and start the vaccination process at an earlier date.
"The reason behind the delay in receiving the vaccines wasn't financial, but it is related to the international agencies and related companies that manufacture the vaccines," Ishtaye said.
He said his government will this week conduct all necessary contacts with the involved agencies and companies, urging them to abide by their pledges to deliver the vaccines on time.
Meanwhile, Mai al-Kaila, the Palestinian health minister, said some companies "are evading sending the vaccines to poor countries, including Palestine."
"This is the main reason for the delay," she said.
Israel's Ministry of Health reported 3,353 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 811,108.
The death toll from COVID-19 in Israel reached 5,943 after 17 new fatalities were added, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 660 to 642, out of 1,046 hospitalized patients.
The total recoveries in Israel rose to 768,345, with 4,357 newly recovered cases, while the number of active cases decreased to 36,820.
The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in Israel has surpassed 5.05 million, or 54.3 percent of its total population, since the vaccination campaign began on Dec. 20, 2020.
The country's COVID-19 reproduction number, also known as the R number, decreased from 0.95 to 0.9.
Lebanon registered on Wednesday 3,581 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 405,391, the Health Ministry reported.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus went up by 46 to 5,180.
Lebanon started its vaccination campaign last month. However, health experts have been warning of insufficient vaccines to reach herd immunity in the country.
Head of the Health Committee in the Lebanese Parliament Assem Araji said on Wednesday that Lebanon will receive a total of 2.8 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines by the end of 2021 while the country needs 10 million doses to reach herd immunity.
Kuwait reported on Wednesday 1,333 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 204,388.
The Kuwaiti Health Ministry also announced three more deaths, taking the death toll to 1,144. The tally of recoveries nationwide rose by 988 to 189,155, while 14,089 coronavirus-related patients are receiving treatment.
Abdullah Al-Bader, assistant undersecretary for medicine affairs in the ministry, said on Wednesday that a new batch of coronavirus vaccines will arrive on March 14.
He called on citizens and residents to register on the vaccination platform while taking all preventive measures and maintaining social distancing.
Kuwait has imposed a partial curfew, starting on March 7 from 5 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) to 5 a.m. until April 8, as part of its efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Qatari health ministry on Wednesday announced 473 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 168,361, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.
Meanwhile, 307 more recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 156,919, while the fatalities remained 264, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.
A total of 1,597,367 persons in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far.
The number of deaths from COVID-19 in Nepal has increased by around one third after the Nepali government revised the figure to include the previously unreported fatalities from the pandemic in the last few weeks.
With the adjustment, as of Wednesday, the death toll from the pandemic reached 3,012, according to the Ministry of Health and Population.
"Over 900 previously unreported deaths have been added in the list of deaths caused by COVID-19," Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson in the health ministry, told Xinhua on Wednesday.
The Nepali government has formed a taskforce to determine the actual number of deaths from COVID-19 as per the standard set by the World Health Organization amid reports about disparity in data reported by different government agencies.
Malaysia on Thursday brought in a law to tackle fake news related to COVID-19 and the state of emergency imposed nationwide since January, with the threat of hefty fines and jail terms of up to six years.
The ordinance, which takes effect on Friday, will make it an offence to publish or reproduce any “wholly or partly false” content related to the pandemic or the emergency declaration, which was seen by critics as a move to shore up Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s position.
Malaysia reported 1,647 new COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said, bringing the national total to 319,364.
Another nine deaths have been reported, pushing the death toll to 1,200.
Some 2,104 more patients have been released after recovery, bringing the total cured and discharged to 300,620 or 94.1 percent of all cases.
Brunei's Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said on Wednesday that the temporary suspension of cross-border activities between Brunei and Malaysia will be extended for another two weeks.
Temporary suspension on the entry of foreign nationals from Malaysia, including transits through Brunei via land and sea ports, is extended by 14 days until March 24, the PMO said in a statement.
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Thailand confirmed 58 more cases of coronavirus infection, mostly domestic, according to a report of the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Thailand has so far confirmed a total of 26,598 cases of COVID-19 infection, 23,710 of which were domestic while 2,888 were imported.
So far, 26,000 patients have fully recovered and been released from hospitals while 513 others are currently hospitalized and 85 fatalities have been reported.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has increased to 142,073 with 14 newly confirmed cases on Wednesday, according to a release from the Ministry of Health and Sports.
No new death was reported during the day and the death toll stands at 3,200 in the country so far, the release said.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday 4,846 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total nationwide infections to 740,472.
The new cases included 1,432 in the capital Baghdad, 896 in Basra, 575 in Najaf, 260 in Wasit, 215 in Dhi Qar, and 213 in Qadisiyah, the ministry said in a statement.
It also reported 27 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,645, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 3,135 to 671,288.
A total of 7,235,035 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 40,791 done during the day.
The Australian government unveiled a A$1.2 billion (US$928 million) tourism support package on Thursday, aimed at boosting local travel while international routes remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The basket of airline ticket subsidies for travellers, cheap loans to small tour companies and financial aid for the country’s two largest airlines is designed to keep the critical sector ticking over until foreign tourists return.
“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
“That means more jobs and investment for the tourism and aviation sectors as Australia heads towards winning our fight against COVID-19 and the restrictions that have hurt so many businesses.”
Tourism is a major growth driver for the Australian economy, generating A$60.8 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018/19 and employing around 5% of the country’s workforce.
The sector was hard hit when Australia closed its international borders - with a few exceptions for returning nationals and some others - a year ago to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A series of internal state and territory border closures sparked by COVID-19 outbreaks exacerbated the downturn.
Vietnam recorded four new imported cases of COVID-19 infection on Thursday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 2,533, according to the country's Ministry of Health.
All the new cases are Vietnamese citizens who recently entered the country from abroad and were quarantined upon arrival, said the ministry.
As many as 2,048 patients have been given the all-clear, the ministry said, adding that over 44,500 people are being quarantined and monitored.
Bangladesh reported 1,051 new COVID-19 cases and six new deaths on Thursday, making the tally at 554,156 and death toll at 8,502, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
The official data showed that 18,058 samples were tested over the last 24 hours across Bangladesh.
The total number of recovered patients in the country stood at 507,920 including 1,307 new recoveries on Thursday, said the DGHS.
Cambodia on Thursday reported 39 more local COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infected people linked to the third community transmission to 652, said a Ministry of Health (MoH) statement.
Of those new cases, 22 were found in capital Phnom Penh, nine in Kandal province, six in Prey Veng province, one in Preah Sihanouk province and one in Battambang province, the statement said.
"They were all involved in the third community outbreak of COVID-19 on Feb. 20," the statement said, adding that they are undergoing treatment at various designated COVID-19 hospitals.
In a bid to contain the virus, the country has closed down all schools, sports facilities, museums, cinemas, and entertainment venues in cities and provinces, where the virus has been detected.
Cambodia confirmed its first death from the COVID-19, the country's Ministry of Health said in a statement.
The Southeast Asian country has been enduring the third community COVID-19 outbreak since Feb. 20, with at least 652 people infected with the virus so far.
The kingdom has so far registered a total of 1,163 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with one death and 597 recoveries, the MoH said.
New Zealand reported 6 cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation on Thursday. There are no new cases in the community.
The six new border cases came from India, Brazil and Japan, and have remained in managed isolation facilities in Auckland, according to the Ministry of Health.
One previously reported case has recovered. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 85, and the total number of confirmed cases is 2,060, said a ministry statement.
The New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) started its own vaccination program for uniformed personnel as part of the government's efforts to combat COVID-19, Defense Minister Peeni Henare said in a statement.
Fiji's Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama on Thursday urged the Fijian people to support the COVID-19 vaccination drive in the country, stressing it is important to the island nation's economic recovery.
Speaking at a consultative meeting on a medical program held in the capital city Suva, Bainimarama said that COVID-19 vaccination is key to Fiji's economic recovery.
The prime minister urged Fijians to support the COVID-19 vaccination drive beginning Wednesday. The country planned to first inoculate 6,000 frontline workers including health care workers, members of the disciplined forces and the border control staff who run the COVID-19 border control and quarantine services.
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