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Thursday, March 18, 2021, 23:00
South Korea seen revising rules on virus tests for foreign workers
By Agencies
Thursday, March 18, 2021, 23:00 By Agencies

In this March 16, 2021 photo, migrant workers queue up to take coronavirus tests at a makeshift clinic in Seoul, South Korea. (LEE YOUNG-HWAN / NEWSIS VIA AP)

WELLINGTON / AMMAN / RAMALLAH / SEOUL / SUVA / GAZA / BAKU / ISLAMABAD / PHNOM PENH / HANOI / MUSAT - Rules singling out foreign workers for mandatory coronavirus testing in parts of South Korea will soon be partially revised, diplomatic missions and commerce organizations said on Thursday after they had complained to authorities.

It was unclear exactly what the modified policies would be and there was no immediate comment from health authorities.

The news came after Britain formally protested to South Korea, multiple countries sought an explanation and several South Korean leaders called for the rules to be rescinded.

Earlier on Thursday, authorities in the South Korean capital defended the decision to order coronavirus tests for all foreign workers on penalty of fines.

Foreigners have accounted for 6.3 percent of confirmed cases in Seoul since January, against 2.2 percent in November and December, said Park Yoo-mi, a city quarantine officer.

More than 100 coronavirus cases in the capital region were recently traced back to workplace community transmissions by foreign workers, Park added.

In the neighboring Gyeonggi province, 203 have proved positive among the 234,537 foreign workers tested.

South Korea reported 445 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Wednesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 97,294.

The daily caseload was down from 469 in the previous day, but it stayed above 400 for two straight days.


Just 8,500 people have turned out to be vaccinated in Gaza according to an official, even though the enclave of two million people has received around 83,300 vaccine doses since February donated by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX program.

On Wednesday, Palestine received the first batch of 62,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines from COVAX, according to a senior health official.

Suspicion of the vaccines runs deep in Hamas Islamist-run Gaza, which has registered over 57,000 coronavirus infections and 572 deaths. It has recently relaxed lockdown restrictions.

Some people fear possible side-effects from the jab and are sharing their misgivings widely on social media.

Echoing global scientific and health experts, Majdi Dhair, Gaza's deputy director of prime healthcare, said the vaccines were safe.

Dhair said health authorities in Gaza were prioritizing the around 150,000 people deemed to be at high risk, such as medical personnel and people with underlying health conditions.

"Only 26,000 people registered. This is a minimal number," he said, citing misinformation on social networks as part of the problem.


Days after Pakistan's President Arif Alvi received a Sinopharm vaccine jab, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday also received his COVID-19 jab with Sinopharm’s vaccine in Islamabad.

Pakistan on Wednesday received the second batch of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has reversed a decision which had allowed uncapped prices for COVID-19 vaccines imported by private firms, Health Minister Faisal Sultan said on Thursday.

The development coincided with arrival of first shipment ofprivately-imported Russian Sputnik-V vaccines.

"This is the first shipment of 50,000 doses which came last night only," an official of AG Pharma which imported the vaccine told Reuters. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't officially authorized to release the information.

The government hasn’t decided on the price, the AG Pharma official said. "As soon as government notifies its pricing to us, we will make it available at government registered private sector hospitals," he said.


The Japanese government’s advisory panel on coronavirus measures approved on Thursday a plan to let the state of emergency expire in the Tokyo area as scheduled on March 21, while the capital’s governor warned citizens not to let down their guard.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had flagged the move on Wednesday, saying the availability of hospital beds had improved in Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures, where restrictions have remained since early January.

“There was no objection to the plan,” Economy Minister Yasuhisa Nishimura, who also heads Japan’s coronavirus response, said after a meeting with the advisory panel.

He added, however, that experts noted that infections had been creeping up in recent days, and that a resurgence was bound to occur.

While under pressure to bring COVID-19 under control ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this summer, the government is eager to jumpstart economic activity in the Greater Tokyo area, whose 36 million residents account for 30 percent of Japan’s population.


New coronavirus infections in India rose by the most in more than three months as a second wave of the pandemic gathered momentum, with Maharashtra, the country’s richest state, accounting for two-thirds of the latest daily tally.

Home to India’s commercial capital Mumbai, the western state reported 35,871 new cases in the past 24 hours, and the fast spreading contagion in major industrial areas raised risks of companies’ production being disrupted.

India’s total cases stood at 11.47 million, the highest after the United States and Brazil. Deaths rose by 172 to 159,216, according to health ministry data released on Thursday.

The country’s first wave peaked in September at nearly 100,000 cases a day, with daily infections hitting a low of just over 9,000 early last month.

Cases have been rising in Maharashtra since the reopening of most economic activities in February. Mumbai’s suburban trains, which carry millions of people daily, also resumed services.

The state, of 112 million people, ordered a fresh lock down in some districts and put curbs on cinemas, hotels and restaurants until the end of the month after infections rose to a multi-month high earlier this week

New cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks in Maharashtra’s industrial towns such as Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik and Nagpur, known for their automobile, pharmaceutical and textile factories.


The COVID-19 vaccinations will be rolled out in Bhutan starting March 27, announced Prime Minister Lotay Tshering Wednesday evening.

In his address to the public, the prime minister said it is an auspicious date to roll out the vaccines determined in consultation with the central monastic body.

He said a weeklong vaccination programme would be conducted, during which movement from one district to another will be restricted but not prohibited. Individuals with genuine reasons will be allowed to move, however, everyone is urged to refrain from traveling if not required.

More than 480,372 individuals have registered for COVID-19 vaccination as of Wednesday. The government is urging every individual above the age of 15 years to register, while also clarified that whether to get vaccinated or not remains individual choice.

Currently Bhutan has only one active COVID-19 case and one death among a total of 868 positive COVID-19 cases. 

New Zealand

New Zealand is close to allowing Australians to visit without quarantining on arrival, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister said on Thursday, a reciprocal right that would create a long-touted “Trans-tasman travel bubble”.

Both countries have been successful in largely containing the spread of the coronavirus domestically.

Australia’s border has been mostly open to neighbouring New Zealanders since last October, with a few short suspensions when there were small coronavirus outbreaks in Auckland. But New Zealand has delayed returning the favour amid more frequent bursts of fresh COVID-19 clusters across Australia.

“We were working towards a joint framework, a joint set of protocols, but actually I don’t think we’re too far off being able to create the New Zealand version to match up with the Australian version,” New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Radio New Zealand (RNZ).

Robertson said there were still a few issues to be finalised, such as how travellers would be dealt with in the event of new outbreaks.


The European Union (EU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have launched a project to support COVID-19 response in Laos.

The EU and WHO are jointly supporting several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by providing 20 million euros for health system strengthening for COVID-19 preparedness and response under the South East Asia Health Pandemic Response and Preparedness Project.

Under a partnership between the Lao Ministry of Health, the EU and WHO, Laos will receive 2.8 million euros for the 2021-2023 period, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Thursday.

The main aims of the project are to protect people's health, especially that of the most vulnerable, and to ensure their rights and access to health services, by strengthening health systems. At the same time, the project emphasises the importance of a regional approach by increasing collaboration among ASEAN countries, according to a statement from the EU.

Lao Deputy Minister of Health Phouthone Moungpak said at the launch ceremony that the ministry was pleased to work with the EU and WHO as they have both been very important partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Malaysia started inoculation with the COVID-19 vaccines made by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech on Thursday, as the country pressed ahead with its national immunization drive.

Malaysia's Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin became the first recipient of Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine in the country, receiving the jab at the Rembau Hospital in Negeri Sembilan state.

Malaysia received a batch of finished Sinovac vaccines doses from China on Monday after Malaysia's regulators gave conditional approval. Another shipment is expected later this month.

On Thursday, Malaysia's health ministry reported 1,213 new cases and three more deaths,  bringing the tally and toll to 328,466 and 1,223, respectively.

Another 1,503 COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries to 312,461, or 95.1 percent of all cases.

Of the remaining 14,782 active cases, 155 people were in intensive care units, including 54 in need of assisted breathing.

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Jordan on Wednesday reported 9,535 COVID-19 cases, increasing the caseload since the start of the pandemic to 504,915, the government announced.

It also reported 56 deaths from the virus, which took the country's death toll to 5,553, according to a joint statement issued by the Prime Ministry and the Ministry of Health.

There are currently 86,975 active COVID-19 cases in Jordan, according to the statement.

A total of 473 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals on Wednesday, increasing the number of patients currently receiving care for COVID-19 in hospitals to 3,102, the statement said.

The statement added that 5,733 recoveries were registered in hospitals and home quarantine on Wednesday, bringing the total number of recoveries to 412,387.

A worker walks in the middle of colored beanbags and Balinese umbrellas at a cafe on Jan 28, 2021 in Double Six beach, Bali, Indonesia. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)


Foreign tourists may be able to visit Bali again as soon as June under a travel corridor program to help revive the economy, according to Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno.

The travel corridor arrangement will be offered to countries that are deemed successful in their vaccination program, able to contain the spread of the coronavirus and could offer reciprocal benefits, Uno said in a statement.

Ubud, Sanur and Nusa Dua are major holiday spots in Bali included in a pilot project to begin receiving foreign travelers in mid-June or July, under strict health protocols, said Uno. As many as 2 million Bali residents will have to be vaccinated before the pilot project can start.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy has started to ease restrictions to spur household spending after gross domestic product shrank last year for the first time in two decades due to the pandemic that has so far infected more than 1.4 million Indonesians in the past year and killed almost 39,000 people in the country.

The government may allow a chartered flight to bring in overseas travelers under the pilot project, which will be closely monitored and evaluated every two weeks, said Uno.

Indonesia’s COVID-19 tally rose by 6,570 within one day to 1,443,853, while the death toll went up by 227 to 39,142, the country's health ministry said on Thursday.

According to the ministry, 6,285 more patients have been discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries to 1,272,958.


Turkey on Wednesday reported 18,912 new COVID-19 cases, including 869 symptomatic patients, as the total number of positive cases in the country reached 2,930,554, according to its health ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 73 to 29,696, while the total recoveries climbed to 2,752,023 after 17,161 more cases recovered in the last 24 hours.

The rate of pneumonia in COVID-19 patients stands at 3.2 percent and the number of seriously ill patients is 11,484 in the country, said the ministry.

A total of 167,526 tests were conducted over the past day, with the overall number of tests in Turkey reaching 35,603,028.


Israel's Ministry of Health reported 1,219 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 823,726.

The COVID-19 death toll in Israel reached 6,053 with six new fatalities, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 586 to 574, out of 908 hospitalized patients.

The total recoveries in Israel rose to 793,244, with 3,108 newly recovered cases, while the number of active cases decreased to 24,429.

The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in Israel reached 5.14 million, or 55.2 percent of its total population, since the vaccination campaign began on Dec. 20, 2020.

The Israeli Ministry of Finance on Wednesday announced an economic support program for the country's airlines, due to the prolonged COVID-19 crisis and its extensive damage to the Israeli aviation industry.

"The plan will allow an immediate flow to facilitate the airlines operations during this period," the ministry said.

As part of the plan, the state will purchase in advance, for 20 years, flight tickets for the governmental flight security guards.


Lebanon registered on Wednesday 3,544 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 426,977, the Health Ministry reported.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths from the virus went up by 62 to 5,536.


The Kuwaiti Health Ministry reported on Wednesday 1,504 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 213,673.

The ministry also announced eight more deaths, taking the death toll to 1,194, while the tally of recoveries rose by 1,452 to 198,273. A total of 14,206 coronavirus patients are receiving treatment, including 219 in ICU.

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 Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday 5,663 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily increase since the outbreak of the pandemic, raising the total nationwide infections to 774,015.

It said that 33 new deaths were recorded, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,860, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 3,591 to 698,775.

A total of 7,498,360 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 38,929 done during the day.

Riyadh Abdul-Amir, head of the Ministry's Public Health Department, said in a press release that the epidemiological situation in the country is serious.


The Qatari Health Ministry on Wednesday announced 489 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 171,701, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 288 more recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 159,141, while the fatalities increased by two to 270, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.


Iran's health ministry reported 7,530 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the total number of infections in the country to 1,778,645.

Another 89 deaths were logged in the past 24 hours, bringing the toll to 61,581, according to Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health and Medical Education.

A total of 1,521,377 people have been discharged from hospitals after recovery while 3,866 remained in intensive care units, she said.

Ahead of the upcoming Iranian New Year holidays, the country’s National Coronavirus Headquarters prohibited travels to and from high-risk cites in the following days, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani promised on Wednesday that the upcoming Iranian year, starting on March 21, will be a "better year" regarding the COVID-19 control in the country, as a result of Tehran's endeavors in vaccine development.

"Very good actions have been taken (during the past year) to purchase and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, so we hope that the next year the domestic vaccine will be available to the people," Rouhani said to the press in Tehran, official news agency IRNA reported.


The Omani health ministry on Thursday reported 577 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number confirmed cases in the sultanate to 149,135, the official Oman News Agency reported.

Another 327 patients have recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 137,871, while three more deaths were reported, pushing the toll to 1,620, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.

READ MORE: Indonesia delays distribution of AstraZeneca's vaccine


The number of COVID-19 infections has risen to 142,190 in Myanmar on Wednesday, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry.

Myanmar reported 11 new COVID-19 cases and no new death in the past 24 hours, the release said.

A total of 131,751 recovered patients have been discharged from hospitals so far.

A total of 1,263 samples were tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday, down from around 10,000 samples tested daily in the first week of last month.


Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported nine new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 60,137.

All Of the new cases are imported cases.

On Wednesday, 17 more cases of COVID-19 infection have been discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 60,001 have fully recovered from the infection and have been discharged from hospitals or community care facilities, the ministry said.

There are currently 19 confirmed cases still in hospitals. Of these, most are stable or improving, and none is in critical condition.


Mongolia reported 158 more COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 4,498.

The latest confirmed cases were locally transmitted, with most detected in the country's capital Ulan Bator, said the National Center for Communicable Diseases.

Meanwhile, one more COVID-19 death was reported in the country in the past day, bringing the total death toll to nine, the center said.

So far, 81 more patients have been discharged from hospital, bringing the total number of recoveries to 3,212.


Afghanistan on Thursday recorded 25 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing its total tally to 56,069, its  Ministry of Public Health said.

According to the ministry, 128 more COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of recoveries from the coronavirus epidemic in the Asian country to 49,669.


Thailand on Thursday confirmed 92 cases of coronavirus infection with one additional death, according to a report of the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

Of the new cases, 78 were local transmissions, and 14 others were international arrivals, the CCSA report said.

Thailand has so far confirmed a total of 27,494 cases, 24,537 of which were domestically transmitted while 2,957 others were imported.

The death toll stood at 89.


The South Pacific island nation of Tonga is expected to receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in April this year.

Tonga's Ministry of Health Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Reynold Ofanoa said on Thursday that the island nation may receive the COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX facility next month,  according to Tonga's leading news website Matangi.

Tonga, an island nation with a population of more than 100,000, has submitted its National Deployment and Vaccination Plan to COVAX facility, which is a requirement before the COVID-19 vaccines are released.

According to the initial distribution forecast of COVAX in February this year, Tonga will receive 43,200 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.


Azerbaijan has detected its first cases of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain, authorities said on Thursday.

The variant was detected in three samples, according to the National Centre of Haematology and Transfusiology, which said that the vaccine currently used in Azerbaijan was effective against new variants.

Azerbaijan, a country of about 10 million people in the South Caucasus, started vaccinating citizens against COVID-19 with the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd in January.

The country has recorded a total of 242,491 coronavirus cases and 3,307 deaths.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea has reported five additional deaths and 128 new cases of COVID-19, as concern grows about low testing rates and surging cases threaten to overwhelm overstretched hospitals in the Pacific island nation.

Australia has pledged 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be sent urgently to its northern neighbor to protect health workers.

Tents were airlifted from Australia by the Australian Defence Force on Wednesday to provide triage facilities for patients outside the Port Moresby General Hospital, where 100 staff are reported to have fallen ill, the ADF said.

Papua New Guinea's COVID-19 Pandemic National Response said on Thursday that total cases had risen to 2,479 by Tuesday with the death toll reaching 31, more than doubling since the start of March.


Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn said that COVID-19 vaccination is the only solution for countries to return to a normal situation, according to a foreign ministry's press statement on Thursday.

According to a government report, as of Wednesday, some 308,459 people in priority groups had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Sokhonn said more vaccines are expected to arrive in the country in the next few weeks.

Cambodia on Thursday confirmed 36 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 1,541, according to statement by the Ministry of Health (MoH).

Cambodia has been enduring the third community COVID-19 outbreak since Feb 20, with at least 1,025 people infected so far.

The country has reported one death and 898 recoveries so far.


Vietnam recorded three new cases of COVID-19 infection on Thursday, two of which were locally transmitted and the other was imported, according to the Ministry of Health.

The new cases took the tally 2,570 as of 6:00 pm local time Thursday, said the ministry.


Bangladesh reported 2,187 new COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths on Thursday, taking the tally to 564,939 and death toll to 8,624, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.

The total number of recoveries went up by 1,534 to 517,523, said the DGHS.

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