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Monday, May 17, 2021, 10:16
Malaysia mulls shutdown of richest state amid virus surge
By Agencies
Monday, May 17, 2021, 10:16 By Agencies

This picture taken on Aug 1, 2020 shows a women relaxing by the waterfront in Penang, as Malaysia warns of a second wave of the COVID-19. (GOH CHAI HIN / AFP)

SINGAPORE / NEW DELHI / BANGKOK - Malaysia's health ministry on Monday said it may push for a total lockdown of the country's most industrialised state if current coronavirus curbs are unable to rein in a spike in new cases.

The government banned social activities and travel between districts and states two weeks ago, as part of a Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed before the Eid al-Fitr holidays, as it grapples with a surge in COVID-19 infections that experts have said may involve highly contagious variants. read more

Business activity can still operate, but the government may need to shut that down in the state of Selangor if the situation worsens, Health Minister Adham Baba said.

Selangor is a key contributor to gross domestic product and employment as the country's shipping hub and industrial capital.

It is also where the world's top rubber glove manufacturers such as Top Glove have set up operations.

"If the MCO is unable to contain the spread, then a full MCO would be something that can be considered," Adham told a virtual news conference.

Selangor, the country's richest and most populous state, has reported well over a thousand new COVID-19 cases daily since May 5, making up at least a quarter of the daily cases nationally.

Malaysia has recorded over 470,000 cases with 1,902 deaths as of Sunday, the third highest infection rate in the region behind Indonesia and the Philippines.


The India strain has become more prominent among Singapore’s growing number of unlinked cases, in a sign that hidden chains of transmission of the variant have existed for some time.

Of the 17 unlinked cases identified on Sunday, six patients whose ages range from 29 to 57 preliminarily tested positive for the strain known as B.1.617, according to updated Ministry of Health data published overnight.

Singapore warned on Sunday that the new coronavirus variants, such as the one first detected in India, were affecting more children, as the city-state prepares to shut most schools from this week and draws up plans to vaccinate youngsters. 

All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28. 

"Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children," said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Though preschools and student care centers will remain open to support parents who need to work, parents are encouraged to keep their children at home during this period.

Singapore may be facing slower vaccine deliveries over the next couple of months, as the country considers delaying second shots.

Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, cited the scarcity in a Facebook post Sunday. “Yes, our vaccine deliveries are slow this month and possibly next 1-2 months,” said Ho, who is also the outgoing CEO of Singapore’s state-owned investor Temasek Holdings Pte.

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) has reported 38 new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 and 11 imported cases, bringing the total tally to 61,585.

Of the local cases, 21 are linked to previous cases, and 17 are currently unlinked. Amongst them, 13 had already been placed on quarantine earlier, said the MOH on Sunday.


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared that it remains unsafe to re-open the country's international borders.

Morrison on Monday rejected calls from politicians and business leaders to ease Australia's strict border restrictions earlier than currently planned, saying it is "not safe" to do so.

The federal budget for 2021-22, which was handed down earlier in May, contained assumptions that Australia's borders will not re-open until mid-2022.

"It is not safe to take those next steps right now," Morrison told reporters on Monday.

"It's not one day the borders are open, one day the borders are closed. That's not how it works. There is a sliding sort of scale here, and we're working on the next steps."

"But the key thing is the overall border arrangements, they remain in place until it's safe to do anything different."

He said that the next steps would be affording fully vaccinated Australians greater travel freedom and facilitating the return of international students and migrant workers to Australia.

Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) announced on Monday that the temporary COVID-safe measures in place for the Greater Sydney area ended, despite the missing link between previous local cases.

The health authorities' decision came as no further transmissions were detected in relation to the two locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia plans to soon reopen to foreign tourists, a senior tourism official said on Monday after the kingdom announced the lifting of quarantine restrictions for certain foreign arrivals.

The kingdom announced late on Sunday that non-citizens arriving from certain countries and who were fully vaccinated against or recently recovered from COVID-19 would no longer be required to quarantine in designated government hotels.

Those new measures, however, only apply to residents, government and business travellers or those visiting friends and family but not foreign tourists, according to the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA).

STA Chief Executive Fahd Hamidaddin told Reuters the kingdom would reopen to foreign tourists this year with an announcement expected to be made “very soon.”


A top Indian virologist has resigned from a forum of scientific advisers set up by the government to detect variants of the coronavirus, he told Reuters on Sunday, weeks after questioning the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.

Shahid Jameel, chair of the scientific advisory group of the forum known as INSACOG, declined to give a reason for his resignation.

India's vaccine maker Bharat Biotech on Sunday said its vaccine Covaxin is effective against the more infectious B.1.617 strain of COVID-19 detected in India and B.1.1.7 strain found in Britain.

The related study conducted by India's National Institute of Virology and the Indian Council of Medical Research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases.

According to the research, Covaxin "produced neutralizing titers (meaning the concentration of antibodies) against all key emerging variants", Bharat Biotech said.

"There was a modest reduction in neutralization by a factor of 1.95 was observed against B.1.617 variant compared to vaccine variant (D614G). Despite this reduction, neutralizing titer levels with B.1.617 remain above levels expected to be protective," it said. "No difference in neutralization between B.1.1.7 and vaccine strain (D614G) was observed."

India has scaled up vaccination for its 1.3 billion population as it prepares for a new wave of infections, said Baijayant Panda, vice president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The biggest bet of course we are making is that our vaccination rollout has been scaled up enormously,” the BJP leader, known as Jay Panda, said in an interview to Bloomberg TV Asia on Monday. “By end of the year, we hope to have a majority of Indians vaccinated.”

Even with a downturn over the past few days, experts said there was no certainty that infections had peaked, with alarm growing both at home and abroad over the highly contagious B.1.617 variant first found in India.

India on Monday reported 281,386 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 4,106. The South Asian nation's total case load is 24.97 million with the death toll at 274,390, health ministry data showed.

READ MORE: India's west coast braces for cyclone amid virus woes


The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 4,295 within one day to 1,744,045, with the death toll adding by 212 to 48,305, the health ministry said on Monday.

According to the ministry, 5,754 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,606,611.

Indonesia is suspending use of a certain batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine pending an investigation into its side effects by the country’s food and drug regulator BPOM, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Health.

BPOM’s investigation into batch CTMAV547 of AstraZeneca’s vaccine is taken as a precautionary measure to test its toxicity and sterility, the ministry said. The specific batch contains 448,480 doses.

Indonesia’s private vaccination program will start with 484,400 doses of Sinopharm vaccines, Rosan Perkasa Roeslani, chairman on the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry known as Kadin, said by text message Monday.

The first phase will prioritize the manufacturing sector in 20 sites across the greater Jakarta area with Kadin estimating 20-26 million workers will be inoculated.

Earlier, the country suspended use of a certain batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine pending an investigation into its side effects as a precautionary measure to test its toxicity and sterility.


Iran reported on Sunday 11,291 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 2,751,166.

The pandemic has so far claimed 76,936 lives in Iran, up by 303 in the past 24 hours, the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education said in a written briefing on its official website.

A total of 2,226,122 people have recovered from the disease or been discharged from hospitals across the country, while 5,337 remained in intensive care units, the ministry said.


The Iraqi Ministry of Health said on Sunday underscored the need to boost the COVID-19 vaccination campaign to control the spread of the pandemic.

The ministry's spokesman Sayf al-Badr told the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) that there is a gradual increase in demand for vaccines, but "what has been achieved so far is about half a million, which is very far from what was determined by the World Health Organization."

Iraq needs to vaccinate at least 20 percent of its 40 million population by the end of this year, al-Badr said, adding that the ministry has ambitious plans to exceed this vaccination percentage to 40 or 50 percent of the population this year.

"I can say that this is possible through intensifying health education and awareness efforts to give a push to the vaccination campaign," he said.

Meanwhile, the health ministry reported 2,456 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, raising the total nationwide tally in Iraq to 1,139,373.


The Kuwaiti Health Ministry reported on Sunday 828 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total infections in the country to 291,629.

The ministry also announced six more fatalities, taking the death toll to 1,693, while the tally of recoveries rose by 1,028 to 277,820. 

A total of 12,116 COVID-19 patients are receiving treatment, including 186 in the intensive care units.

The Kuwaiti government has lifted the partial curfew, but all commercial activities are still suspended from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. local time, except for pharmacies, food marketing outlets, restaurants, and maintenance services.

ALSO READ: India's daily virus deaths near 4,000 as WHO flags concern

New Zealand

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

All the five imported cases came from India and have remained in managed isolation and quarantine facilities in Auckland, according to the Ministry of Health.

Six previously reported cases have recovered. The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 18, and the total number of confirmed cases is 2,295, said a ministry statement.


The Qatari Health Ministry on Sunday announced 256 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 213,183, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 770 more recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 207,077, while the fatalities increased by four to 530, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.

A total of 1,970,800 persons in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far, while the total number of vaccine doses administered is 2,035,475.

South Korea

South Korea's SK bioscience said on Monday its COVID-19 vaccine facility had received European Union Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification, paving the way for exports to the bloc. 

The certification approves the production and processing line and quality system of SK bioscience's Andong plant, which produces COVID-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Novavax Inc. It will enable SK to export vaccines to the European markets.

South Korea reported 619 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Sunday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 132,290.

The daily caseload was slightly up from 610 in the previous day, staying below 700 for three days. The daily average caseload for the past week was 645.


Thailand on Monday received a batch of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines donated by China.

Chinese Embassy official Yang Xin said at the vaccine handover ceremony that the donation demonstrated the friendship between China and Thailand, calling for enhanced international cooperation to contain the spread of the viral disease.

Thailand reported on Monday a daily record of 9,635 new coronavirus cases, including 6,853 among prisoners, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a third wave of infections. 

The combined cases bring the country's total infections to 111,082. Thailand's COVID-19 task force also recorded 25 new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 614 since the pandemic started last year.

The Maldives 

The government of the Maldives has opened registration for vaccination against COVID-19 for pregnant women, local media reported Monday.

The state-owned PSM News, citing the health Protection Agency (HPA), said that pregnant women in the Maldives can register to be inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine. Registrations can be done online and vaccination is on a first come first served basis.

A fourth wave of the pandemic in the Maldives saw daily cases rise to over 1,500 last week. Around 50 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Consultant Physician at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) Dr. Mohamed Ali.

The Philippines

The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) reported 5,979 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 1,149,925.

The death toll climbed to 19,262 after 72 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said.

The Philippines, which has about 110 million population, has tested over 11.8 million people since the outbreak in January 2020.

The health care utilization rate in Metro Manila is "on the safe zone" now after weeks of steady surges in infections, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online briefing on Monday, adding that some areas in the capital "remain at high risk."


Dubai on Monday eased COVID-19 restrictions, allowing hotels in the regional tourism hub to operate at full capacity and permitting concerts and sports events where all attendees and participants have been vaccinated. 

The United Arab Emirates ranks highly globally for COVID-19 testing and vaccination rates.


Turkey on Sunday confirmed 10,512 new COVID-19 cases, including 920 symptomatic patients, raising the tally to 5,117,374.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 223 to 44,760, while the total recoveries climbed to 4,947,256 after 14,418 more people recovered in the last 24 hours, according to the Turkish health ministry.

A total of 202,243 tests were conducted over the past day, with the overall number of tests in Turkey reaching 50,869,896.


Vietnam reported 37 new COVID-19 cases from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. local time Monday, raising the total confirmed cases in the country to 4,212, according to its Ministry of Health.

They were all locally transmitted cases detected in northern localities, including 22 in Bac Giang province, 11 in Bac Ninh province, three in Vinh Phuc province and one in Tuyen Quang province.

All of them are contacts of previously confirmed patients or linked to the clusters of infections in the localities.

The health ministry on Monday also said that another COVID-19 patient had died with underlying conditions, marking the country's 37th death related to the virus. As many as 2,668 patients have so far recovered, and nearly 108,300 people are being quarantined and monitored.


Sami al-Naash, the coach of Yemen's national soccer team, died on Sunday from COVID-19 in the country's southern port city of Aden, a government official told Xinhua.

"Captain Sami al-Naash died at the coronavirus quarantine center based in Aden's district of Al Buraiqeh, approximately a month after he was infected with COVID-19," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Al-Naash, 64, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 and transfered to the city's quarantine center, suffered a sudden health setback that led to his death, the official said.


The number of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has risen to 143,097 on Monday after 32 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, according to a release from the Ministry of Health and Sports.

One more death was reported on Monday, bringing the death toll to 3,213 in the country, the release said.


Bangladesh on Monday announced the death of a patient who was infected with the COVID-19 variant first detected in India, the first fatality in the country involving the new variant.

According to data published by the government's Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, six Bangladeshis who returned from India have been found to be infected with the new variant, and one of them who was also suffering from cancer and other ailments died.

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