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Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 23:03
Syria says Assad, wife recovering from COVID-19
By Agencies
Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 23:03 By Agencies

This file handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Nov 4, 2020 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (center) and his wife Asma (right) during a visit to a state-sponsored fair in Damascus for small businesses from Aleppo, northern Syria. (PHOTO / SANA / AFP)

BAGHDAD / ANKARA / JERUSALEM / AMMAN / TASHKENT / TOKYO / NEW DELHI / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / HANOI / KABUL / ISTANBUL / KUALA LUMPUR / ISLAMABAD - Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his wife Asma are recovering from COVID-19 and will soon resume their full duties after ending a period of isolation at home, the president’s office said on Wednesday.

The office had said on March 8 that Assad, 55, and his 45-year-old wife, who announced her recovery from breast cancer in 2019, had tested positive for COVID-19 after showing minor symptoms and that they would work in isolation at home.

“The laboratory and X-ray indications related to their health condition are returning gradually to normal,” the office said in a statement, the first public update on the couple’s condition since they fell ill.


The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday received its first batch of vaccines from the global COVAX sharing initiative, in a boost to inoculations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza lagging far behind Israel’s campaign.

A Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman said 38,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be used for inoculations as of Sunday, while 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be stored “until there is a scientific decision from the World Health Organization”.

A truck brought the initial shipment from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport to the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank. About a third of the doses have been allocated for Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority said the initial doses from COVAX would be given to health workers, cancer and kidney patients and people over the age of 75.

The West Bank, where 3.1 million Palestinians live, has reported 146,359 coronavirus cases, with 1,667 deaths. Gaza, with a population of two million, has registered more than 57,891 cases with 572 deaths.

Health officials in Gaza said some 8,500 people had received the first dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. In the West Bank, about 5,000 have had their first shot.


Pakistan on Wednesday received the second batch of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the Chinese government at a handover ceremony held at the Noor Khan Air Base, near Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

Special Assistant to the Pakistani Prime Minister on Health Faisal Sultan thanked the Chinese government for once again providing vaccine aid to Pakistan.

The newly-arrived Sinopharm vaccine doses are crucial to the further implementation of Pakistan's vaccination drive, he said, adding the efficacy and safety of the Sinopharm vaccine are very good.

Sultan said that Pakistan is currently facing a third wave of COVID-19, and urged the public to continue following anti-pandemic measures, including wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.


Three coronavirus patients died in a hospital fire in the Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on Wednesday, officials said.

The patients, who were using ventilators in the hospital’s intensive-care unit, died after the fire triggered an evacuation, said Nazmul Haque, director of the hospital.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, a fire service official said.

Hospitals are struggling to deal with a fresh spike in coronavirus infections this month in Bangladesh.

The country reported 1,865 new COVID-19 cases and 11 more deaths on Wednesday, bringing the tally to 562,752 and the toll to 8,608, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.

The total number of recoveries went up by 1,510 to 515,989, said the DGHS.

South Korea

South Korea’s capital of Seoul will order hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, as well as their employers, to undergo coronavirus tests or face fines running into thousands of dollars, officials said on Tuesday.

The policy comes despite criticism that a similarly sweeping programme in a neighbouring province was xenophobic and indiscriminate.

From Wednesday Seoul city will issue a 15-day administrative order for testing on employers of at least one foreign worker, as well as the foreign workers, said Park Yoo-mi, a city quarantine officer.

South Korea said it will keep using AstraZeneca vaccine as scheduled, having failed to observe any reports of blood clots. Around 570,000 people in the country have received the vaccine so far.


Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday signalled his intention to end state of emergency curbs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when they expire on Sunday.

Hospital bed conditions in the capital region have improved enough to allow for the measures to be lifted, Suga said.

“I will make a final decision towards ending the curbs, after listening to the views of experts,” Suga told reporters.

Tokyo reported 409 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the first time the daily tally went beyond the 400-mark since Feb 18.

The capital's cumulative tally now stands at 116,293.

Tokyo also reported seven more deaths, taking the toll to 1,612. 

Nationwide, roughly 451,200 people have tested positive in Japan and nearly 9,000 have died so far.

A survey conducted by a medical school in Tokyo on different sociodemographic groups in Japan showed that 62.1 percent of people polled showed a willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19, local media reported Wednesday.


Australia said on Wednesday it will ask the European Union to release 1 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to help Papua New Guinea (PNG) battle a dangerous outbreak, a request that is likely to inflame tensions over vaccine supplies.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the vaccines were contracted to Australia but were badly needed to contain a surge in coronavirus cases in the Pacific island nation, parts of which are just a short boat ride from Australian territory.

“We’ve contracted them. We’ve paid for them and we want to see those vaccines come here so we can support our nearest neighbour, PNG, to deal with their urgent needs in our region,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“They’re our family, they’re our friends. They’re our neighbours. They’re our partners... This is in Australia’s interests, and is in our region’s interests.”

Australia will donate 8,000 locally produced COVID-19 vaccines to PNG as an immediate response to the outbreak, and would make a million doses available as soon as they arrived from Europe, he said.

The request is likely to raise tensions with the European Union after Brussels, at Italy’s request, blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine to Australia this month, citing vaccine shortages in Europe.

The COVID-19 restrictions were further eased in Sydney on Wednesday, despite an additional case of the more contagious B117 virus variant linked to a hotel quarantine cluster in the Australian city.

A health worker, right, receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi on March 8, 2021, as Vietnam launched its first phase of vaccination to frontline personnel to battle the COVID-19. (PHOTO / AFP)


Vietnam’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, called Nanocovax, is expected to be available by the fourth quarter of this year and put into use in 2022, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The announcement comes as more countries try to speed up development of homegrown vaccines amid tight global supply and concerns over the emergence of new strains of the virus.

“The containment of the pandemic depends largely on the development of vaccines,” the ministry said in a statement.

Four Vietnamese companies were engaged in vaccine research and production and two were undertaking human tests including on Nanocovax and the Covivac vaccine, it said.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday expressed his concern about the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the Asian country.

“We need to soon stop the emerging second peak of corona,” he said in a virtual meeting with state leaders, urging them to increase testing and strictly monitor mask-wearing. “We need to take quick, decisive steps.”

Modi said that an increase in infections was seen in many districts previously deemed as safe zones. "At least 70 districts of the country have seen an increase of more than 150 percent in last few weeks. If we don't stop it here, a situation of nationwide outbreak can come up," Modi warned.

Modi also noted that more than 96 percent of the COVID-19 patients in India have recovered. "India is one of those countries where the fatality rate is one of the lowest," he said.

On the vaccination drive which began in mid-January in India, Modi said, "The vaccination rate is increasing. We touched 3 million vaccinations in a day."

India’s daily coronavirus infections jumped by 28,903 on Wednesday, data from the health ministry showed, for the highest increase since Dec 13 and taking the nationwide tally to 11.44 million.

Deaths swelled by 188, the highest figure in two months, to stand at 159,044.

Nearly 62 percent of infections in the past 24 hours and 46 percent of the deaths were reported by the western state of Maharashtra, the country’s worst affected.

Also on Wednesday, India said its coronavirus immunization campaign would continue with “full rigour” despite some concerns in Europe about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine it relies heavily upon as infections hit a three month high.

Government health official Vinod Kumar Paul said the government was looking at accelerating the vaccination drive that also uses a homegrown shot created by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

ALSO READ: Philippines limits Manila airport arrivals as virus cases rise


The Iraqi government on Tuesday decided to ease part of the restrictions imposed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that have had huge economic impacts on the war-shattered country.

Hassan Nadhim, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, announced that starting March 22, the full curfew will be imposed on Fridays and Saturdays every week, instead of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and the partial curfew will run between 9 pm and 5 am, instead of between 8 p.m and 5 a.m., for the rest of the week.

The government also decided to reopen the malls, shops, restaurants and cafes under strict health measures after March 22, Nadhim said at a press conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported 5,267 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the record daily increase since the outbreak of the pandemic, raising the total nationwide caseload to 768,352.


More than 4.2 million Turkish people have received their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, the Turkish Health Ministry announced on Wednesday.

To date, over 12.2 million doses have been administrated in total as part of an ongoing nationwide vaccination campaign, according to data released on the ministry's website.

The number of people who have received their first doses hit 7.9 million, the data showed.

On Tuesday, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said the vaccination rate among citizens aged 65 and older reached 71 percent in Istanbul, the country's largest city with over 16 million population.

Turkey reported 16,749 new cases Tuesday, the highest daily increase this year, health ministry data. The new cases took the tally to 2,911,642.

The death toll rose by 71 to 29,623.


Lebanon registered on Tuesday 3,480 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 423,433, the Lebanese Health Ministry reported.

The COVID-19 death toll in Lebanon went up by 52 to 5,474, while its total recoveries climbed by 2,142 to 333,648, it said.

The Lebanese Embassy in Senegal said on Tuesday that Lebanese expats in the West African country will donate 40 oxygen concentrators to Lebanon's Health Ministry and the Lebanese Red Cross to help them combat the virus.


Israel's Ministry of Health reported 1,718 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 822,507.

The COVID-19 death toll in Israel reached 6,047 with the addition of 18 new fatalities, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 603 to 586, out of 941 hospitalized patients.

The total recoveries in Israel rose to 790,136, with 2,160 newly recovered cases, while the number of active cases decreased to 26,324.

The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in Israel reached 5.13 million, or 55.1 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 0.76 to 0.72.

Pregnant women vaccinated against COVID-19 could pass along protection to their babies, according to a new study in Israel.

According to the research conducted in February, antibodies were detected in all 20 women administered both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy and in their newborns, through placental transfer.


Jordan on Tuesday reported 8,910 new COVID-19 cases, raising the overall number in the kingdom to 495,380.

Meanwhile, 69 more deaths and 5,335 recoveries in hospitals and home quarantine were registered, raising the death toll and the total number of recoveries to 5,497 and 406,654 respectively, according to a joint statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Health.

In addition, 44,284 tests for coronavirus were conducted on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative number of tests administered since the outbreak of the pandemic to 5,267,567, according to the statement.


The Iraqi government on Tuesday decided to ease part of the restrictions imposed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that have had huge economic impacts on the war-shattered country.

Hassan Nadhim, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, announced that starting March 22, the full curfew will be imposed on Fridays and Saturdays every week, instead of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and the partial curfew will run between 9 pm and 5 am, instead of between 8 p.m and 5 a.m., for the rest of the week.

The government also decided to reopen the malls, shops, restaurants and cafes under strict health measures after March 22, Nadhim said at a press conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday 5,267 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily increase since the outbreak of the pandemic, raising the total nationwide infections to 768,352.

The ministry said in a statement that 39 new deaths were recorded, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,827, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 4,564 to 695,184.

A total of 7,459,431 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 39,489 done during the day.

READ MORE: Indonesia delays distribution of AstraZeneca's vaccine


The Kuwaiti Health Ministry reported on Tuesday 1,314 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 212,169.

The ministry also announced seven more deaths, taking the death toll to 1,186, while the tally of recoveries rose by 1,314 to 196,821. A total of 14,162 coronavirus patients are receiving treatment, including 215 in ICU.

Abdullah Al-Sanad, the ministry's spokesman, said 9,317 coronavirus tests were conducted during the last hours, adding the total polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests reached 1,923,896.

Kuwait has imposed a partial curfew from 5 pm to 5 am, starting March 7 until April 8, as part of its efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.


The Qatari health ministry on Tuesday announced 479 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 171,212, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 345 more people recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 158,853, while the fatalities increased by one to 268, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.

A total of 1,635,175 persons in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far.  


Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 60,128.

All Of the new cases are imported cases.

On Tuesday, 10 more patients have been discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 59,984 have fully recovered from the infection and have been discharged from hospitals or community care facilities, the ministry said.

The Philippines

A wider lockdown in the Philippines cannot be ruled out if its surge in COVID-19 infections continues, its health minister said on Wednesday, as authorities announced strict curbs on international arrivals to arrest the virus spread.

In a statement issued on Tuesday night, the Philippines' coronavirus task force said foreign citizens and returning nationals who had not been working overseas will not be able to enter the country from March 20 until April 19 under the ban.

The government is facing renewed criticism over its handling of the epidemic after a jump in coronavirus cases - nearly 20,000 in the past four days - a year after it imposed one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns.

Officials attribute the spike to a relaxing of some mobility restrictions to allow people to return to work and revive the economy after a 9.5 percent contraction last year, Southeast Asia’s deepest economic slump.

“If nothing changes and cases continue to rise, then the possibility of a more widespread lockdown is strong,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque told ANC news channel, adding he hoped that could be averted in the coming days.

The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported on Wednesday 4,387 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the overall tally to 635,698. 

Deaths rose by 18 to 12,866.


Thailand reported a new surge of domestic coronavirus infection with 248 cases confirmed on Wednesday, according to Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

Of Wednesday's new cases, 242 were domestic infections while six others referred to imported cases, said CCSA spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan.

Of the domestic cases, 167 were confirmed in the capital Bangkok, 33 in Samut Sakhon and 42 in other provinces. Among those cases in Bangkok, 68 were infected vendors and others at and around marketplaces in Bang Khae area.

The domestic pandemic has spread from the usually-crowded marketplaces on the Thonburi side of the Thai capital to the central provinces of Suphanburi, Nakhon Pathom, Phetchaburi and Samut Sakhon and the northeastern province of Sisaket, according to the spokeswoman.

In another development, Thai sniffer dogs trained to detect COVID-19 in human sweat proved nearly 95 percent accurate during training and could be used to identify coronavirus infections at busy transport hubs within seconds, the head of a pilot project said.

“The dogs take only one to two seconds to detect the virus,” Professor Kaywalee Chatdarong, the leader of the project at the veterinary faculty of Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, told Reuters. “Within a minute, they will manage to go through 60 samples.”


A total of 40,732 people including medical workers and officials in high-risk groups in Laos have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, local media reported.

The local Vientiane Mai newspaper on Tuesday quoted Deputy Director General of the Department of Communicable Disease Control under the Lao Ministry of Health Latsamy Vongkhamsao as saying that authorities have vaccinated priority groups, particularly at-risk groups across the country.

No side effects have been reported in the people receiving the vaccines donated by China, according to report.


Mongolia is planning to operate least 12 chartered flights in April to bring back its stranded nationals from abroad, the country's foreign ministry said Wednesday.

The chartered flights will be sent to South Korea and Japan.

About 2,000 Mongolians are expected to return home on these flights, Lkhanaajav Munkhtushig, director general of the consular department at the ministry, said in a statement.

Following its suspension of international commercial flights in February 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mongolia has brought back around 31,000 nationals on chartered flights, buses and trains from different parts of the world.

The country is planning to reopen air traffic from May 1 for international passenger flights, according to the government.

The country has so far registered 4,340 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths. Over 70 percent of patients nationwide have recovered. 

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan health authorities on Wednesday said that more than 800,000 local citizens in the island's main Western Province had received the AstraZeneca vaccine so far.

Sri Lanka's Health Ministry said that those who had received the vaccinations included front line workers, who were the first to receive the jab, in the province which includes the capital Colombo.

Sri Lanka has to date reported 88,524 confirmed cases, including 85,371 recoveries and 534 deaths.


Uzbekistan has received 660,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first batch of two million doses under the COVAX facility, the health ministry said in a press release Wednesday.

Under COVAX, Uzbekistan will receive enough vaccines, syringes and safe disposal boxes to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by the end of the year, the ministry said.

The first stage of the mass vaccination campaign will cover 4.1 million people, it added.

The elderly and disabled persons, and those in healthcare, education as well as law enforcement will be vaccinated first.

Uzbekistan this month also authorized the use of a vaccine produced by China's Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical Co., Ltd.

Uzbekistan has registered a total of 80,858 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 622 related deaths.


Afghanistan registered 28 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the infection tally to 56,044, the Public Health Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Two more deaths were logged in the same period, lifting the toll to 2,462, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, 37 more patients have recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 49,536.


Vietnam recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 infection on Wednesday, five of which were imported while the rest were locally transmitted, according to the Ministry of Health.

The new case took the overall tally to 2,567 as of 6 pm local time Wednesday, said the ministry.

The five imported cases involved Vietnamese citizens who recently entered the country from Russia and were quarantined upon arrival. The two local cases reported in northern Hai Duong province were contacts of previously confirmed patients, according to the ministry.


Brunei reported one newly confirmed COVID-19 case on Wednesday, lifting its tally to 203.

According to the Ministry of Health, the new case involved a 43-year-old man who arrived from the Philippines on March 3.

The death toll remained at three.


Malaysia’s health ministry on Wednesday reported 1,219 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the national tally to 327,253.

Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that seven of the new cases were imported while 1,212 were locally transmitted.

Two more deaths were also reported, pushing the toll to 1,220.

Of the remaining 15,075 active cases, 154 were in intensive care units, including 64 in need of assisted breathing.

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