Israelis stand in silence in Jerusalem on April 8, 2021 as sirens wail across Israel for two minutes marking the annual Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes Remembrance Day. (PHOTO / AFP)
SYDNEY / JERUSALEM / SINGAPORE - Israel will start allowing the limited entry of vaccinated tourist groups next month as its own inoculation campaign has sharply brought down COVID-19 infections, an official statement said on Tuesday.
The return of foreigners after Israel had closed its borders at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 would boost the country’s economy, which contracted 2.5 percent in 2020, and battered tourism sector. Israel’s jobless rate stands at around 10 percent.
All foreign visitors will be required to present a negative PCR test before boarding a flight to Israel, and a serological test to prove their vaccination upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.
Israel's Ministry of Health reported 228 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising the total infections in the country to 836,128.
The death toll from the virus rose by four to 6,304, while the number of patients in serious conditions decreased from 259 to 250, out of 394 hospitalized patients.
This is the lowest number of patients in serious conditions in Israel since July 18, 2020 when it stood at 236.
The total recoveries in Israel rose to 826,481 after 403 newly recovered cases were added, while the number of active cases decreased to 3,343.
The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in Israel surpassed 5.32 million, or 57 percent of its total population, since the vaccination campaign began on Dec. 20, 2020.
Vietnam recorded nine new cases of COVID-19 infection on Tuesday, raising the total confirmed cases in the country to 2,714, according to the country's Ministry of Health.
The new cases included a foreign expert and eight Vietnamese citizens who recently entered the country from abroad and were quarantined upon arrival, said the ministry.
The Omani health ministry on Tuesday announced 1,335 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total confirmed number in the sultanate to 174,364, the official Oman News Agency reported.
Meanwhile, 785 people recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 154,771 while nine deaths were reported, pushing the tally up to 1,798, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.
Australia said on Tuesday a second person had been diagnosed with a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine but there had been no rise in inoculation cancellations as authorities try to steady a bungled immunisation campaign.
This week Australia abandoned a goal of vaccinating all of its nearly 26 million population by year-end, after Europe’s drug regulator reported rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients of AstraZeneca doses, suggesting a link.
This prompted Australian officials to recommend that those younger than 50 receive the Pfizer Inc’s vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s shot, throwing the vaccination programme into disarray.
“We had anticipated potentially a significant drop (in vaccination numbers, but that is) not what we have seen at this stage,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra.
Authorities meanwhile said they have no plans to add Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine to its immunisation drive, as Australia wanted to move away from procuring vaccines that were under review of potential links to blood clots.
The COVID-19 vaccines of Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use an adenovirus, a harmless class of common-cold viruses, to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells in the body and trigger an immune response.
Both products are under review by Europe’s drug regulator after it found possible links with blood clots, although it has said the advantages still outweighed the risks.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt has mourned the nation's first coronavirus death this year.
Authorities said on Tuesday that an 80-year-old Queensland man who tested positive for COVID-19 in hotel quarantine after returning from the Philippines died late on Monday.
It takes Australia's coronavirus death toll to 910.
Hunt said the death was a reminder of the importance of the vaccine rollout.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported 8,571 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 884,783.
The death toll climbed to 15,286 after 137 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said.
The Philippines is continuing its efforts to break the transmission chains by ramping up contact tracing in the next two weeks to lower the hospital occupancies, the DOH said on Tuesday.
"With the sustained high count of cases, (the government has) committed to reducing the duration of infections through increased contact tracing efficiency and strengthened active case finding through testing at the community level," the DOH said in a statement.
Thailand on Tuesday reported 965 new COVID-19 cases after registering record rises in the past two days as the country started its Songkran new year holiday amid a third wave of infections.
Authorities have banned for a second year the water fights that usually happen on the streets during Songkran and urged people to avoid unnecessary travel and reduce gatherings to help curb the outbreak, which includes the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain.
Of the new infections, 956 were local transmissions, including 194 in the capital Bangkok, the epicentre of an outbreak that has spread to most parts of the country.
“If we reduce activity ... it will help lower daily cases to 500-600,” Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, told a briefing.
Japan’s western region of Osaka reported a record number of infections of COVID-19 on Tuesday as a mutant strain of the virus fuelled a rebound in cases.
Osaka prefecture reported 1,099 daily infections, the most in the course of the pandemic. Domestic media earlier reported that the figure would exceed 1,000.
The virus has hit Osaka, home to 8.8 million people, hard in recent weeks, prompting authorities to enforce targeted lockdown measures. Similar curbs were adopted in Tokyo on Monday amid a rebound in the capital region.
Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa prefectures on Monday implemented new stricter measures to combat a COVID-19 resurgence just weeks after a state of emergency was fully lifted for the nation.
For Kyoto and Okinawa, the stricter measures, including requesting bars and restaurants to shorten their opening hours and limiting attendance at large-scale spectator events at 5,000 people, will remain in place until May 5.
In both cases, the restrictions will cover the Golden Week string of national holidays, one of Japan's busiest times for travel, with the hope being that the central government's and local governor's requests for people to avoid making unnecessary trips and crossing prefectural lines will help contain the virus which has been spreading unabated recently.
The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 5,702 within one day to 1,577,526, with the death toll adding by 126 to 42,782, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
According to the ministry, 6,349 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,426,145.
A fourth wave of COVID-19 infections could sweep Malaysia, Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said at a briefing, citing Health Ministry data.
Malaysia’s forecast of 500 daily Covid cases by mid-May does not look encouraging due to falling compliance toward virus protocols, said Health Minister Adham Baba in a separate briefing.
Meanwhile, Indonesia will reopen of some tourist sites but still imposes an exodus ban during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, according to Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno.
Malaysia reported 1,767 new COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said on Tuesday, bringing the national total to 363,940.
Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that nine of the new cases are imported and with 1,758 being local transmissions.
Another 12 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 1,345.
Some 1,290 patients have been released after recovery, bringing the total number of cured and discharged to 346,295 or 95.2 percent of all cases.
South Korea’s health authorities said on Tuesday they would consider the use of coronavirus self-test kits despite their relatively low accuracy, after the new mayor of Seoul called for their approval.
The government had been reluctant to allow self-test kits, citing their lower accuracy than industry-standard PCR tests and specialist-administered rapid tests which are already in place. The possibility of false negatives is higher, authorities say, as a high viral load in the nasal passageways is often essential to secure a reliable result.
But some local government chiefs and experts have highlighted the need for the use of self-test kits as a supplementary tool in recent weeks amid fears of a potential fourth wave of outbreaks of COVID-19.
Oh Se-hoon, who became mayor of the capital Seoul following last week’s special election, called on the drug safety ministry to approve those kits to be used at homes, restaurants, shops and religious facilities as a quick and easy device to detect possible infections.
Oh had blamed the government for failing to contain a third wave of COVID-19 and reduce the hardships of small business owners by sticking to ineffective distancing curbs.
South Korea reported 542 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Monday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 110,688.
The daily caseload was down from 587 in the previous day, staying below 600 for two straight days.
India wants Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to seek licence for their COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible, a senior government official said on Tuesday, shortly after the government announced it would fast-track emergency approvals.
“We hope and we invite the vaccine makers such as Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others...to be ready to come to India as early as possible,” Vinod Kumar Paul, a senior government health official, told a news conference.
The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has granted emergency use authorization license to Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V, officials said on Tuesday.
The permission was sought by Indian vaccine manufacturer Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, which will be manufacturing the vaccines in India.
According to officials, permission was granted to the company late Monday. The decision came hours after an expert panel recommended emergency licensure to the vaccine.
With this permission, Sputnik V is now the third vaccine to get an emergency authorization in India after the Serum Institute of India's Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin.
India overtook Brazil in the number of COVID-19 cases to become the country with the second highest number of cases, trailing only the US India reported almost 13.53 million infections, compared with 13.52 million cases in Brazil. Latin America’s largest economy registered 35,785 cases and 1,480 deaths in the last 24 hours.
The country also granted emergency use approval to Russia’s highly effective Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, making it the third such shot approved by India as it races to contain an escalating health crisis amid a record daily surge in infections.
India has seen more than 170,000 Covid deaths and administered 104.5 million vaccinations so far, according to data from its health ministry.
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Turkey welcomed on Tuesday the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid the increasing daily number of COVID-19 cases.
Most of the COVID-19-related restrictions are still in place in the country following a spike in infections, although a normalization process was launched on March 1.
Despite a mass inoculation drive launched in mid-January, the daily cases of over 55,000 have made the record since the start of the outbreak over a year ago.
The Kuwaiti Health Ministry reported on Monday 1,635 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total infections in the country to 248,729.
The ministry also announced five more fatalities, taking the death toll to 1,412, while the tally of recoveries rose by 1,316 to 232,556. A total of 14,761 coronavirus patients are receiving treatment, including 228 in the intensive care units.
The Islamic Hamas movement, which is in control of the Gaza Strip, decided on Monday to tighten the precautionary measures to battle the coronavirus during the upcoming Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said in a statement that traffic all over the Gaza Strip will be banned everyday from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The new measures will be valid starting Tuesday for 30 days until the end of Ramadan, and a full lockdown will start from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., which includes the closure of shops and stores, it added.
Lebanon registered on Monday 1,008 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 497,854, the Health Ministry reported.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus increased by 42 to 6,703.
The ministry reported that 988 cases were registered among residents while the remaining 20 were recorded among arrivals to Lebanon.
Lebanon's caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan announced on Monday that Lebanon's test positivity rate for COVID-19 dropped from 21 percent to 15 percent after the administration of vaccines.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Monday 7,953 new coronavirus cases, raising the total nationwide infections to 932,899.
The new cases included 3,052 in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 952 in Basra, 618 in Wasit, 555 in Duhok, and 409 in Sulaimaniyah, while the other cases were detected in other provinces, the ministry said in a statement.
It also reported 44 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 14,757, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 5,679 to 820,532.
A total of 8,552,580 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 43,848 done during the day.
It said that 12,174 people were vaccinated during the past 24 hours across the country, bringing the total number of doses received to 152,962.
READ MORE: S. Korea PM vouches for safety of AstraZeneca vaccine
Iran on Tuesday reported a record 24,760 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, as the worst-hit country in the Middle East faced a fourth coronavirus wave.
Authorities have blamed the latest surge on millions travelling across the country for Iranian New Year last month and taking part in family gatherings in defiance of health precautions promoted by the government.
The Iranian Health Ministry on Monday reported 23,311 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 2,093,452.
The pandemic has so far claimed 64,764 lives in Iran, up by 274 in the past 24 hours, said Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education, during her daily briefing.
A total of 1,720,084 people have recovered from the disease or been discharged from hospitals across the country, while 4,440 remain in intensive care units, she noted.
The spokeswoman added that 13,770,167 tests have so far been carried out across the country.
The Qatari health ministry on Monday announced 973 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 190,998, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.
Meanwhile, 559 more people recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 170,194, while the fatalities increased by two to 335, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.
Singapore reported 25 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing its total tally to 60,678.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that all the new cases are imported ones. Amongst them, 20 are asymptomatic, and were detected from proactive screening and surveillance, while five were symptomatic.
On Monday, 22 more patients were discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities, bringing the total number of recoveries from the virus to 60,357 in the country, according to the ministry.
Mongolia registered a daily record of 885 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, raising the national tally to 16,603, the National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Tuesday.
The latest confirmed cases were locally transmitted and mostly detected in the country's capital Ulan Bator, the NCCD said in a statement.
Meanwhile, two more deaths and 371 new recoveries were reported, taking the respective total to 32 and 9,887, said the center.
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