Customers wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus browse through books at a secondhand shop in Tokyo on April 23, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)
TOKYO / JERUSALEM / DOHA / SINGAPORE / BEIRUT / TEHRAN / YANGON / MUSCAT / BAGHDAD / SEOUL / CANBERRA / JAKARTA / BANGKOK / SYDNEY / BISHKEK / WELLINGTON / MANILA / TBILISI / ULAN BATOR / VIENTIANE - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a new state of emergency running from Sunday to May 11 in Tokyo, Osaka and two other prefectures, imposing some of the toughest measures yet to control a surge in virus cases.
Suga told reporters Friday night the country needs to take strong actions as it heads into a string of holidays in late April and early May, known as “Golden Week,” a peak travel season. He also said the government will earmark 500 billion yen (US$4.6 billion) to help businesses hurt by the restrictions.
“If we don’t act, there is a concern that the virus surge we are seeing in big cities could spread nationwide,” he said. The measures will be short-term and focused, he said, adding he’s not thinking of another supplemental budget.
The government is instructing bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol, and seeking to ban fans from major sporting events. Establishments with karaoke equipment and commercial facilities with floor space of more than 1,000 square meters will be asked to close during the state of emergency.
The declaration will cover Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, which together make up about a quarter of the country’s population. Japan is trying to end a worrying rise in COVID-19 cases that comes three months before Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics. Its vaccination program has reached less than 2% of the country’s 126 million people -- well behind the rates in many advanced economies.
Bars and restaurants in several major urban areas are already closed by 8 p.m. under existing lighter restrictions. But that has not been enough to stem infections, which have hit daily records this month in Osaka and climbed in Tokyo to levels not seen since January, when the capital was under its second state of emergency
Tokyo reported 861 new cases on Thursday, the most since Jan 29, which was during the third wave of the pandemic and a previous state of emergency. Osaka prefecture reported 1,167, down slightly from a record.
Several other prefectures remain in a "quasi-emergency" state of targeted infection controls, and Nishimura said the duration would also be extended to May 11 for some.
According to the decision made by Malaysia's National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), the Malaysian pharmaceutical company Pharmaniaga will "fill and finish" the Sinovac vaccines locally.
Under the conditional approval, the CoronaVac vaccines to be produced locally will be used in emergency, Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.
The official added it is the first "fill and finish" vaccine manufactured in Malaysia and a new achievement for the Southeast Asian country
"It is hoped this development will catalyze the growth of the local pharmaceutical industry to produce such products," he said.
The CoronaVac vaccines manufactured by Sinovac Biotech in China have already been approved by Malaysian regulators and in use in the country's immunization program.
The locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccines are expected to boost Malaysia's efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic as the country has seen a resurgence of infections recently.
Malaysia and Indonesia will limit travel toward the end of the month-long fasting period which typically sees more than 81 million people head home to regional towns from urban centers.
The restrictions are aimed at avoiding a resurgence in cases similar to those playing out in other developing countries, which are threatening overall global growth.
Malaysia reported 2,875 new COVID-19 infections, the nation's Health Ministry said on Thursday, bringing the national total to 384,688.
Indonesia will stop issuing visas for foreigners who have been in India in the past 14 days to prevent the spread of different coronavirus strains, its chief economic minister Airlangga Hartarto said on Friday.
Indonesians arriving from India will be allowed to enter, however, but must follow stricter health protocols and quarantine, the minister said. The measures are effective Sunday. India on Friday reported the world’s highest daily toll of new cases, surpassing 330,000.
Indonesia will also limit travel toward the end of the month-long fasting period which typically sees more than 81 million people head home to regional towns from urban centers.
The restrictions are aimed at avoiding a resurgence in cases similar to those playing out in other developing countries, which are threatening overall global growth.
Thailand's total COVID-19 cases have surpassed 50,000 as a record high of 2,070 new infections were recorded on Friday, according to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
The total tally now stands at 50,183, CCSA spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin said.
Of the new cases, 2,062 were domestic transmissions, including 740 in the capital Bangkok, the epicenter of the recent outbreak, and eight others were imported cases, Taweesin said.
Four new deaths were also reported, raising the death toll to 121, he added.
The new wave of infections is costing Thailand 100 billion baht (US$3.19 billion) a month in lost economic activity and reducing demand for labor by about 148,000 people a month, according to Thanawat Polwichai, president of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and head of the Economic and Business Forecasting Center.
Thanawat said even if the outbreak could be controlled by June this year, it would take two years for businesses to return to normal and 15 months for provincial economies to normalize in terms of consumption and investment.
Western Australia’s capital of Perth and the neighbouring Peel region will enter a snap three-day lockdown from midnight on Friday after a man tested positive for COVID-19 and was in the community for a number of days following hotel quarantine.
The person is likely to have contracted the virus during his two-week quarantine in a Perth hotel, health officials say, raising concerns about community transmission as more virulent virus strains emerge.
“I know this is hard to take and I wish we didn’t need to do this. But we can’t take any chances with the virus,” Premier Mark McGowan said in a televised news conference.
Also, Health department in the Australian state of Victoria is conducting an investigation on a locally-acquired case who is believed to link to a case in a quarantine hotel in another state.
On Friday, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed that the man had a positive test result when he returned to the state after completing 14 days' quarantine at a hotel in Western Australia's (WA) capital of Perth. The case also ended Victoria's eight weeks of zero local transmission.
The Mercury hotel, where the man lived, was involved in an investigation being conducted by WA health department. Two returned overseas travelers were believed to contract the variant strain detected in Britain during their stay in the hotel.
Foley said the Victorian man was picked up from the Melbourne airport by his spouse and went straight home and it was believed that he only contacted his family members in Melbourne.
"This is an important and timely reminder to all of us that this global pandemic is not over," Foley said.
At the same time, the neighboring state of New South Wales (NSW) was on alert as 15 wharf workers exposed to the COVID-19 risks after boarding on a tanker which traveled from Port Moresby of Papua New Guinea and docked at Port Botany in Sydney for 24 hours en route to Vanuatu.
Twelve out of 13 crew members of the tanker, including a deceased one were tested positive.
NSW health department conducted tests on all wharf workers despite they wearing protective gear while boarding. 11 out of 15 were tested negative and the remaining four were still waiting for results.
French gas giant Air Liquide SA is diverting oxygen supplies for industrial clients in India to hospitals as the country is overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 patients.
Air Liquide is sending most of its liquid oxygen output to the health-care sector and is looking to import additional supplies from the Middle East, Executive Vice-President Francois Jackow said Friday. Demand for medical oxygen in India has soared roughly 10-fold, or by more than 50 percent of the country’s total production capacity, he said.
India recorded the world's highest daily tally of coronavirus cases for a second day in a row on Friday, while daily deaths from COVID-19 also jumped by a record.
The second wave of the pandemic has crushed its weak health infrastructure. In Delhi alone, hospitals are running out of medical oxygen supplies.
With 332,730 new cases, India's total caseload has now passed 16 million. Deaths rose by 2,263 to reach a total of 186,920, according to health ministry data.
In Delhi, resident Nitish Kumar was forced to keep his dead mother’s body at home for nearly two days while he searched for space in the city’s crematoriums - a sign of the deluge of death in India’s capital where coronavirus cases are surging.
On Thursday Kumar cremated his mother, who died of COVID-19, in a makeshift, mass cremation facility in a parking lot adjoining a crematorium in Seemapuri in northeast Delhi.
"I ran pillar to post but every crematorium had some reason ... one said it had run out of wood," said Kumar, wearing a mask and squinting his eyes that were stinging from the smoke blowing from the burning pyres.
People losing loved ones in the Indian capital, where 306 people have died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, are turning to makeshift facilities that are undertaking mass burials and cremations as crematoriums come under pressure.
Jitender Singh Shunty who runs a non-profit medical service, the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, said as of Thursday afternoon 60 bodies had been cremated at the makeshift facility in the parking lot and 15 others were still waiting.
"No one in Delhi would have ever witnessed such a scene. Children who were 5 years old, 15 years old, 25 years old are being cremated. Newlyweds are being cremated. It's difficult to watch," said a teary-eyed Shunty.
South Korea granted conditional approval on Friday that will allow the public to use two coronavirus self-test kits for the first time, as a surge in infections has rekindled calls to step up testing.
The decision comes as South Korea grapples with a nationwide rise in cluster infections, spurring authorities to urge tougher enforcement of distancing rules to avert a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Although the products have been available in European countries since last year, South Korea had limited their use to medical specialists.The kits could yield results within about 15 minutes, but with an accuracy of 90 percent, the ministry added, versus the 98 percent proven for industry-standard PCR tests and specialist-administered rapid tests.
"Despite the differences in accuracy, there is a need to use those kits as a supplementary tool," Acting Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki told a daily meeting on virus fighting efforts.
"If PCR tests offer microscopic examinations with almost 100 percent accuracy, self-test kits can be compared to results made with naked eyes."
Health authorities have warned that the kits have a greater possibility of false negatives if handled by non-professionals, since a high viral load in the nasal passageways is often essential for a reliable result.
But officials have expressed positive views in recent weeks about allowing limited use, amid fears of a potential fourth wave.
Thursday's 797 new infections reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency were the highest since Jan 7, when the third wave began to abate after the daily figure topped 1,200 in late December.
Israel and Bahrain reached a deal on Thursday for reciprocal recognition of vaccination passports, Israeli officials said.
Under the agreement, the two countries will mutually recognize tourists' vaccination certificates issued by their home countries.
According to the Israeli foreign ministry, vaccinated tourists will be exempted from staying in quarantine.
"This will promote tourism and boost our economies and help our common fight against the coronavirus," Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi wrote on Twitter.
With more than half of its population fully vaccinated, Israel is looking to resume flights to multiple destinations and reopen its tourism industry.
Also on Thursday, the Israeli Ministry of Health called on the entire population, including those vaccinated and recovered, to avoid unnecessary travels abroad.
It also issued a warning on travels to Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Turkey.
The warning reflects both the current situation and the morbidity levels based on several criteria such as the countries' declarations, the percentage of vaccination and recovery, and evidence of variants, said the ministry.
The ministry also reported 189 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the total number in the country to 837,668.
The Qatari health ministry on Thursday announced 800 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 199,980, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.
Meanwhile, 976 more people recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 177,164, while the fatalities increased by seven to 407, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.
A total of 1,862,459 persons in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far, while the total number of vaccine doses administered is 1,345,423.
Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 24 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the country's total tally to 60,904.
Of the new cases, 22 are imported cases, one is a community case, and the other one is linked with the dormitories of foreign workers.
On Thursday, 27 more recovered COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals and community isolation facilities, bringing the total number of recoveries from the coronavirus epidemic to 60,603, the ministry said.
Altogether 30 people have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection.
The ministry also announced on Thursday that Singapore will further tighten its border measures with India, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in the South Asian country.
Lebanon registered on Thursday 1,512 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 516,600, the Health Ministry reported.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus went up by 30 to 7,057 in the country.
Head of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital Firass Abiad on Thursday estimated that around 45 percent of the population in Lebanon has "immunity" against the virus.
Abiad explained that 40 percent have natural immunity and another 5 percent have been vaccinated.
Lebanon has been fighting against the pandemic since Feb 21, 2020.
The daily number of COVID-19 deaths in Iran increased sharply on Thursday after 453 lost their lives, the highest figure registered since late November 2020, taking the death toll in the country to 68,366.
In a written briefing, Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education also reported 24,092 new COVID-19 infections, raising the country's overall count to 2,335,905 cases.
Iranian health authorities have administered 518,904 first doses and 148,298 second doses of vaccines against COVID-19, according to the official announcement.
The country's number of laboratory tests for COVID-19 rose to 14,854,140, with a daily increase of 114,421 new tests.
The ministry also said 1,837,590 COVID-19 patients have already recovered or been released from Iranian hospitals, but 5,038 others are currently being treated in intensive care units.
The number of COVID-19 cases has risen to 142,687 in Myanmar on Thursday after 13 new infections reported in the past 24 hours, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry.
No new death was reported and the death toll stood at 3,206 on Thursday.
A total of 1,590 samples were tested for COVID-19 on Thursday, down from around 10,000 samples tested daily in early February and 131,921 recovered patients have been discharged from hospitals so far.
The Omani Health Ministry on Thursday announced 1,508 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Sultanate to 185,278, the official Oman News Agency (ONA) reported.
Meanwhile, 1,301 people recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 165,051 while 16 deaths were reported, pushing the tally up to 1,942, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.
An Iraqi health official said on Thursday that the daily increase of COVID-19 infections may decline within a month, while the Ministry of Health said that the total nationwide infections reached 1,010,304.
"We are now at the peak of the epidemiological curve, and we have reached the highest infection rate between 7,000 and 8,000 cases per day. The current wave of the COVID-19 infections may not last more than a month," Haitham al-Obaidi, head of the ministry's health promotion department, said in a press release.
Also in the day, Iraqi parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi announced the death of Adnan al-Asadi, a lawmaker for the State of Law Coalition due to complications from the coronavirus. Al-Asadi is the fifth member of the Iraqi parliament to die from the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said in a statement that it had reported 8,450 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total nationwide infections to 1,010,304.
It also reported 30 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 15,128, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 6,872 to 884,181.
Four types of COVID-19 strains are circulating in Kyrgyzstan, the country's Ministry of Health said Thursday.
Kyrgyzstan sent samples to the World Health Organization reference laboratory in Russia on March 26, the report said. The lab found four types of COVID-19 strains circulating among patients in Kyrgyzstan.
The country's Ministry of Health called on the public to strictly observe preventive precautions and consult a doctor if symptoms appear, but not to self-medicate.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Kyrgyzstan reached 93,278 after 272 new cases were registered on Friday, according to the Republican Headquarters for Combating COVID-19.
New Zealand categorized India, Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan as "very high-risk countries" to "significantly reduce the number of infected people flying to New Zealand," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Friday.
In the latest stage of evolution at the border, the government has created a new "very high-risk country" category that will make the border stronger, Hipkins said in a statement.
"This is in response to rapidly increasing rates of infection in parts of the globe and based on what is happening in the country, the prevalence of COVID-19 variants of concern, the public health measures the country has in place and the risk to our border," he said.
The new category comes into force from 11:59 pm on April 28. Countries have initially been designated very high-risk where there have been more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 arrivals to New Zealand from those countries in 2021, and where there are more than 15 travelers on average per month, he said.
India, Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan are the countries that currently meet that threshold, and as a result, travelers from those countries will be temporarily restricted to New Zealand citizens, their partners and children, and parents of children who are New Zealand citizens, according to the minister.
On Friday, New Zealand reported no new cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation and in the community, the first time after weeks of continuous imported cases at the border.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases detected at the border is one, according to the Ministry of Health.
The total number of confirmed cases is 2,244, according to the ministry.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported on Friday 8,719 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total cases in the Southeast Asian country to 979,740.
The death toll climbed to 16,529 after 159 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque, 64, received his first dose of Sinovac's CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine on Friday. He urged people to get vaccinated, saying the vaccines are safe and effective.
"I invite everyone to do the same and choose to be protected. Let us all take part in protecting public health," Duque said in a statement.
The Philippine government aims to inoculate up to 70 million Filipinos this year to achieve herd immunity, starting with health care workers and the elderly.
Although the country's daily cases slightly declined in the past week, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online briefing that the virus transmission in Metro Manila and its four adjacent provinces remains "very high."
Georgia on Friday reported 1,271 new COVID-19 cases, taking its total to 301,535, according to the country's center for disease control.
Data from the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health showed that 729 more patients have recovered in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of recoveries to 284,286.
Meanwhile, 11 people died in the last 24 hours, raising the death toll to 3,992.
Mongolia resumed its mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 on Friday after the arrival of a batch of vaccines it purchased from China.
Mongolia launched its national vaccination campaign in late February, with the aim of vaccinating at least 60 percent of its 3.3 million population. So far, 649,000 people have been vaccinated against the virus.
The government on April 10 suspend COVID-19 vaccinations to avoid crowds amid the current nationwide lockdown, which is set to expire on Sunday.
"Our country received Chinese-made vaccines on Thursday night to advance the national vaccination. Therefore, the government has decided to resume the vaccination from Friday," Tseden-Ish Ganzorig, head of the government's press office, said in a statement.
Mongolia is expected to receive more doses of vaccines purchased from China on Friday, the official said.
The country reported 1,264 new locally transmitted COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the national caseload to 27,956, the country's National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Friday.
Most of the latest confirmed cases were detected in the country's capital Ulan Bator, which is the hardest hit by COVID-19, the NCCD said in a statement.
Meanwhile, eight more patients died from the disease, the center said.
As of Friday, Mongolia has registered 27,956 COVID-19 cases, with 76 related deaths.
Laos recorded 65 new cases of COVID-19, raising the total in the country to 159, according to the Lao Ministry of Health on Friday.
Director General of the National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology under the Lao Ministry of Health, Phonepadith Xangsayarath, told a press conference in Lao capital Vientiane on Friday that among the new cases, 60 were detected in Vientiane, two each in Champasak and Bokeo province, and one in Vientiane province.
All Lao citizens and foreign residents should comply with COVID-19 prevention and control measures and remain vigilant against the dangers posed by the pandemic, said Phonepadith.
HONG KONG NEWS