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Wednesday, May 05, 2021, 10:32
Sources: S. Arabia considering to bar overseas hajj pilgrims
By Agencies
Wednesday, May 05, 2021, 10:32 By Agencies

A handout picture provided by Saudi Ministry of Media on Aug 2, 2020 shows Muslim pilgrims circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the centre of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, while mask-clad and along specific pre-ordained rings as measures due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, on the final day of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage. (PHOTO / SAUDI MINISTRY OF MEDIA / AFP)

TOKYO / SYDNEY / DUBAI - Saudi Arabia is considering barring overseas pilgrims from the annual haj for the second year running as COVID-19 cases rise globally and worries grow about the emergence of new variants, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Such a move would restrict the pilgrimage to Mecca, a once in a lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, to Saudi nationals and residents of the kingdom who were vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 at least months prior to attending.

While discussions about a possible ban have taken place, there has been no final decision on whether to pursue it, they said.

Before the pandemic enforced social distancing globally, some 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, and the lesser, year-round umrah pilgrimage, which altogether earned the kingdom about US$12 billion a year, according to official data.

Afghanistan 

A total of 365 new COVID-19 positive cases have been registered in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 61,162 in the country, the Ministry of Public Health said in a statement on Wednesday.

According to the statement, 10 patients have died due to the disease over the period, totaling the number of COVID-19 related deaths to 2,664 since the outbreak of the disease in February last year.

Australia

Australia’s ban on its citizens returning from virus-ravaged India has trapped high-profile current and former cricketers in the nation after the Indian Premier League competition was suspended when multiple players contracted COVID-19.

After Australian cricket commentator Michael Slater accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of having “blood on his hands” due to the ban, media reports said current coach Michael Hussey has tested positive for the virus. Several others, including stars David Warner and Pat Cummins, remain trapped in the country.

About 9,000 Australians are stranded in India due to the ban, which has drawn the ire of human rights groups and the nation’s multicultural community amid allegations it has racist overtones. Morrison says the block, in place until at least May 15, will alleviate pressure on his nation’s hotel quarantine system.

New South Wales state has recorded a new COVID -19 case in a man who lives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, according to a statement from NSW Health. It was the first local infection since March 31. 

Urgent investigations into the source of the infection and contact tracing are underway. It’s understood the man in his 50s has not travelled overseas recently and doesn’t work in a hotel quarantine, border or health role, according to the statement.

Cambodia

Cambodia's COVID-19 cases climbed to 16,971 on Wednesday after 672 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said in a statement.

The new infections included 667 local cases and five imported cases, the statement said.

Three more deaths were confirmed, taking the death toll to 110, the statement said, adding that 228 patients had recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 6,019.

Fiji

Fiji reported on Wednesday night four new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases to 125 in the island nation.

According to Fiji's Health Ministry, two are imported cases of Fijian soldiers who returned from Sinai later last month.

The third case is a 53-year-old man who was admitted to the Lautoka Hospital for a surgical procedure while the fourth case is a 27-year-old woman from the capital city of Suva.

India

India accounted for nearly half of the COVID-19 cases reported worldwide last week, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, as the country's coronavirus deaths rose by a record 3,780 during the last 24 hours.

The WHO said in its weekly epidemiological report that India accounted for 46 percent of global cases and 25 percent of global deaths reported in the past week.

India's COVID-19 tally reached 20,665,148 on Wednesday with as many as 382,315 new cases registered during the past 24 hours, confirmed the federal health ministry.

Besides, 3,780 deaths were also reported, taking the death toll to 226,188.

According to officials, the infected lions were recovering well and analysis of samples revealed the infection was not caused by a COVID-19 variant virus.

The coronavirus wave that plunged India into the world’s biggest health crisis has the potential to worsen in the coming weeks, with some research models projecting the death toll could more than double from current levels.

Eight Asiatic lions have tested positive for COVID-19 at a zoo in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, officials said Wednesday.

India’s main opposition party called for a full national lockdown as the country passed more than 20 million COVID-19 infections, BBC reported.

There has been a “virtual collapse of health services” and a lockdown is needed to “break the chain”, a spokesman for the Congress party said, according to the British broadcaster.

The prime minister is resisting the move due to the economic impact.

Relatives mourn during the cremation of their loved one who died due to the  coronavirus at a cremation ground in Allahabad on May 4, 2021. (SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)

Indoneisa

The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 5,285 within one day to 1,691,658, with the death toll adding by 212 to 46,349, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, 5,943 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,547,092.

Iraq

The Iraqi authorities on Tuesday decided to impose a 10-day full curfew to curb the spread of coronavirus, while the Ministry of Health reported 6,143 new COVID-19 cases.

A statement by his media office said that Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi chaired a cabinet meeting earlier in the day to discuss the recommendations of the Higher Committee for Health and National Safety about the development of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

The meeting resulted in the approval of imposing a nationwide full curfew starting from May 12 to 22, the statement said.

READ MORE: It's not just India: New virus waves hit developing nations

Israel

Israel's Ministry of Health reported 67 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, raising the total number of cases in the country to 838,688.

The death toll from the virus increased by two to 6,369, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 97 to 93, out of 162 hospitalized patients.

This is the lowest number of patients in serious condition in Israel since July 7, 2020 when it also stood at 93.

The total recoveries in Israel rose to 831,084 after 89 newly recovered cases were added, while the number of active cases decreased to 1,235, lowest since March 22, 2020.

ALSO READ: Singapore tightens virus rules in India variant cluster fallout

A passenger waits for a train as a shinkansen train travels through, during Japan's "Golden Week" holidays in Tokyo on May 2, 2021. (PHILIP FONG / AFP)

Japan

A Japanese costal town in the western part of the country has drawn ire on social media for using some of the coronavirus relief funds it was given by the government to build a statue of a giant squid in the hopes of boosting tourism.

The town of Noto in Ishikawa Prefecture was awarded 800 million yen (US$7.31 million) in grants from the central government as part of an aid programme aimed at boosting local economies amid the pandemic, according to domestic media.

The Japanese government is considering an extension of the state of emergency for Tokyo and other major urban areas that was scheduled to end on May 11, the Yomiuri Newspaper said on Wednesday.

Japan had placed Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures under a 17-day state of emergency on April 25 in an effort to reverse the surge in coronavirus infections.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will meet with the economics minister, the health minister, and other relevant cabinet ministers on Wednesday to discuss an extension, the Yomiuri reported without citing sources.

An extension of the emergency restrictions would come with fewer than three months left until the start of the Tokyo Olympics, fanning persistent concerns over whether they can be held as planned.

Laos

The National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control of Laos on Wednesday urged people countrywide to keep their guard up against the COVID-19 outbreak.

Deputy Director General of the Department of Communicable Disease Control under the Lao Ministry of Health Latsamy Vongkhamsao, told a press conference in Lao capital Vientiane on Wednesday that the government has stepped up measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Lebanon

Lebanon registered on Tuesday 748 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 529,205, the Health Ministry reported.

Meanwhile, death toll from the virus increased by 23 to 7,368.

Lebanon continues to vaccinate its population. However, people have been reluctant to administer the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, prompting Caretaker Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan to form a committee dedicated to receiving calls reporting any possible side effects from vaccination.

Malaysia

Malaysia tightened restrictions on movements in six districts in Selangor, the country’s richest state, in a bid to contain a rise in virus infections there.

While social gatherings will be banned in the areas from May 6 through May 17, economic activities will be allowed, the country’s defense minister said.

Malaysia is facing a surge in Covid infections with the onset of Ramadan -- daily cases topped 3,000 last week for the first time since February.

The nation will start revealing coronavirus hotspots, or areas that could potentially birth clusters, beginning May 7.

Mongolia

The Mongolian government has decided to postpone the re-opening of its air border until early June due to the COVID-19 surge, Deputy Prime Minister Sainbuyan Amarsaikhan said Wednesday.

Initially, the government decided to reopen its air border from May 1 to resume international passenger flights, after closing it in February 2020 to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mongolia's COVID-19 tally on Wednesday reached 41,524 after registering 1,128 new locally transmitted cases in the last 24 hours, the National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said.

Meanwhile, four more fatalities and 1,308 more recoveries were reported, bringing the death toll to 141 and the total number of recoveries to 25,641, respectively, the NCCD said in a statement.

Workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) suits extend the crematorium area next to funeral pyres of people who died due to COVID-19 coronavirus disease, at a cremation ground in Kathmandu on May 5, 2021. (PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP)

Nepal

Nepal is being overwhelmed by a COVID-19 surge as India’s outbreak spreads across South Asia, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Wednesday.

“We need to act now and we need to act fast to have any hope of containing this human catastrophe. This virus has no respect for borders and these variants are running rampant across Asia,” said Alexander Matheou, Asia Pacific director for the Geneva-based agency representing the global humanitarian network.

Nepal is now recording 57 times as many cases as a month ago, with 44 percent of tests now coming back positive, the statement said. Nepalese towns near the Indian border could not cope with the growing number of people needing treatment, while only 1 percent of the country’s population was fully vaccinated.

“What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal’s future if we cannot contain this latest COVID surge that is claiming more lives by the minute,” said Netra Prasad Timsina, chair of the Nepal Red Cross.

New Zealand

New Zealand reported three new cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation and no new cases in the community on Wednesday.

The three newly imported cases came from the United Arab Emirates, and have remained in managed isolation and quarantine facilities in Auckland, according to the Ministry of Health.

Palestine

Tight precautionary measures to contain the COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip were eased on Tuesday night following a significant decline in infections, said an official of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).

"The night lockdown all over the Gaza Strip was completely lifted starting Tuesday night," said Eyad al-Bozzom, spokesman of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip, adding that pedestrians will be allowed in the streets, and shops and establishments will remain open.

Thailand

Thailand is planning to spend billions of dollars for financial relief to low-income groups to cope with the economic hit from the biggest outbreak sweeping the nation since the pandemic began.

The cabinet on Wednesday approved in principle fiscal stimulus measures, including extension of two cash handout programs by a month at a cost of 85.5 billion baht (US$2.8 billion). It also proposed 140 billion baht of spending for co-payment and e-voucher programs and more cash handouts to welfare cardholders and special groups to stimulate consumption, officials said.

Thailand's new confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities continued to mount on Wednesday as the country grappled with its worst coronavirus outbreak so far.

The country reported 2,112 new cases, taking the total caseload to 74,900, with 15 additional fatalities and a total death toll of 318, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan said.

Of Wednesday's new cases, 2,107 were domestic infections while five others imported, Apisamai said.

The Maldives 

The government of Maldives has extended an ongoing State of Public Health Emergency as daily case counts in the country crossed 600 amid a surge of new COVID-19 infections, local media reported Wednesday.

A circular signed by Minister of Health Ahmed Naseem said that a State of Public Health Emergency, first declared on March 12, 2020, will once again be extended until June 3.

The emergency grants the director-general of public health special powers to quarantine and isolate individuals.

The Philippines

The Philippines has approved Moderna Inc.’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

Moderna recently signed a deal with the Philippine government and private sector to supply 20 million doses of its COVID -19 vaccines.

The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday reported 5,685 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total tally to 1,073,555.

"The low number of cases is due to fewer samples received by the laboratories on Saturday and Sunday," the DOH said in a statement.

The UAE

Dubai permitted 17 private healthcare facilities to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinopharm vaccines. It will be in addition to state-run vaccination centers, and all the shots will continue to be provided free of cost.

Turkey

Turkey on Tuesday confirmed 28,997 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,483 symptomatic patients, raising the total number of cases in the country to 4,929,118, according to its health ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 336 to 41,527, while the total recoveries climbed to 4,554,037 after 38,218 more people 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 3,452 in the country, said the ministry.

A total of 241,747 tests were conducted over the past day, with the overall number of tests in Turkey reaching 48,229,733.

Singapore

In a setback to one of the world’s most successful virus containment regimes, Singapore is limiting social gatherings to a maximum of five people from eight, and boosting its traveler quarantine to try and contain large clusters of a more infectious virus strain.

From May 8 to May 30, daily visitors per household will also be similarly capped, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Tuesday. At workplaces, no more than 50 percent of staff who are able to work from home can return to offices, down from the previous 75 percent limit.

Authorities plan to reduce the number of people at events like live performances and business meetings, and suspend all mass participation sports events. It is also closing indoor gyms and fitness studios, though outdoor exercise classes may continue.

South Korea

South Korea reported 676 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Tuesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 124,945.

The daily caseload was up from 541 in the previous day, rising above 600 in three days.

The daily number of infections hovered in triple figures since Nov. 8 last year due to small cluster infections in Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi province as well as imported cases.

One dose of COVID-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer was 86.6 percent effective in preventing infections among people aged 60 and older, real world data released by South Korea showed on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka

The total number of COVID-19 infected patients in Sri Lanka surpassed the 115,000-mark on Wednesday after over 1,800 new patients were identified a day earlier, statistics from the Health Ministry showed.

According to official figures, the total number of positive patients reached 115,590, out of which 99,163 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals, and 709 deaths have been reported from the virus.

Sri Lanka has been facing a rapid rise in COVID-19 patients with over 1,000 patients being detected daily within the past six days, health officials said.

The country's Epidemiology Unit said that a new variant of the COVID-19 was rapidly spreading across the country and this new variant had now become airborne.

Syria

The United Nations and partners are fighting the spread of COVID-19 in the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, UN humanitarians said on Tuesday.

Already six patients in the 39 cases reported have died.

"Humanitarian organizations are supporting contact tracing, recognizing that a wider outbreak could be devastating to the already vulnerable families in the camp," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. More than half of the estimated 60,000 people in the camp are children under the age of 12 years.

"No child should grow up in a place like al-Hol," OCHA said in a release. The world organization and its humanitarian partners support the COVID-19 treatment facility at al-Hol, providing health, water and sanitation assistance to mitigate transmission of the virus.

Vietnam

Vietnam has ordered a strict border control after lengthening the quarantine period as it traces the recent flare up in coronavirus cases to overseas travelers.

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has ordered an intensified checks on arriving travelers, according to a post on a government website. Authorities will also go “district by district, house by house” and visit companies hosting overseas workers to contain any spread.

The government is bracing for a scenario where 30,000 people could be infected, Dam said. The health minister said the virus situation is “very worrisome.”

Vietnam has among the lowest number of infections in Southeast Asia. The nation is lagging peers in the region on vaccination, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker.

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