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Friday, June 18, 2021, 10:39
Israel to give Palestinians 1m virus shots in exchange deal
By Agencies
Friday, June 18, 2021, 10:39 By Agencies

In this Feb 23, 2021 file photo, Palestinians take a selfie after receiving the coronavirus vaccine from an Israeli medical team at the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. (ODED BALILTY / AP)

SEOUL / KABUL / SYDNEY / PHNOM PENH / SUVA / NEW DELHI / TOKYO / TEHRAN / KUWAIT CITY / ULAN BATOR / YANGON / WELLINGTON / ISLAMABAD / SINGAPORE / ANKARA / HANOI / TEL AVIV / JAKARTA / DUBAI / DHAKA - Israel will give at least 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under a deal to share shots, officials said on Friday, in a boost for the Palestinians' vaccination campaign in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Under the terms of the deal, announced by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office, the PA agreed to give Israel a reciprocal number of doses from one of its own shipments due to arrive later this year.

Confirming the agreement, the PA health ministry said in a statement it was Pfizer that initially offered the exchange and that "it was approved in order to speed up the vaccination process" in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

"Israel will transfer to the Palestinian Authority 1-1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine," reads a joint statement from Bennett's office and the health and defense ministries.

The PA will receive Pfizer shots close to expiry, according to a statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office.

An initial 100,000 doses were transferred on Friday, Israeli officials said.

A source in the PA health ministry said the Palestinians expect to receive a shipment of Pfizer doses in August or September. Israel will receive reciprocal doses from the PA in September or October, according to the Israeli statement.


AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing partner in Southeast Asia has missed a delivery target in Thailand and shipments to other countries in the region have been delayed, the latest setback for a shot that was meant to be the backbone of the global inoculation effort.

Thailand was slated to receive and administer 6 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses in June but health authorities this week said they would be distributing only about 3.5 million of those shots this month. 

Shipments of shots made by Siam Bioscience - AstraZeneca’s Bangkok-based partner, which has links to the Thai royal family - to Malaysia and the Philippines have also been delayed, though both countries say they don’t expect to be waiting for too long.

The Philippines now expects a batch of nearly 1.2 million AstraZeneca shots to be shipped from Thailand in mid-July rather than this month, though a government official said the initial delay will not derail the country’s vaccination push. In Malaysia, authorities say they’re working to resolve the issues around the delivery schedule, which the government stated in May would see 610,000 doses arrive from Thailand in June and another 410,000 in July.


Afghanistan inaugurated its fourth fully-equipped COVID-19 hospital in capital Kabul amid report of rising new cases, the Afghan Public Health Ministry announced on Friday.

The 50-bed Afghan-Indonesia hospital, equipped with oxygen producing device, emergency section and other required medical equipment, was dedicated for the coronavirus patients' treatment in Ahmad Shah Baba Mina neighborhood in eastern part of the city, the ministry said in a statement.

Afghanistan's Public Health Ministry reported 1,677 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 Friday, raising the tally to 100,521, including 32,614 active cases.

The pandemic has so far claimed 4,030 lives, including 87 newly reported deaths in the past 24 hours, the ministry said in a statement.

ALSO READ: COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan 'surged 2,400% in a month'


Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) reverted on Friday to making the wearing of masks mandatory on public transport in Sydney, as a cluster of the highly-infectious coronavirus Delta variant expanded to a fourth person.

Authorities said all planned outdoor events with good COVID-19 safety plans can proceed in the country’s largest city.

The latest cluster, the first in the state in more than a month, was traced back to a driver who occasionally used to transport overseas airline crew.

Health officials said the latest case likely picked up the virus through minimal contact with an infected person in a Sydney shopping centre.

Masks will be made mandatory in trains, buses and ferries from 4 pm local time (0600 GMT) on Friday for five days while officials urged Sydney’s five million residents to wear them in all indoor venues including supermarkets and theatres.


Bangladesh reported 3,883 new COVID-19 cases and 54 more deaths on Friday, taking the tally to 844,970 and the death toll to 13,399, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.

The total number of recovered patients in the country stood at 778,421, up 1,955, said the DGHS.


Cambodia registered 799 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the national case tally to 41,581, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said in a statement.

The new infections included 702 local cases and 97 imported cases, the MoH said.

Fourteen more fatalities were recorded, taking the overall death toll to 394, the ministry said, adding that 910 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 35,940.


Fiji recorded 115 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours and one death was under investigation, according to Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary James Fong on Friday.

The death case was a 49-year-old man who had been admitted in hospital for almost a month for a severe non-COVID pre-existing condition. He tested positive for COVID-19 during his stay in hospital, and doctors were investigating whether his death was related to COVID-19, Fong said.


India's COVID-19 tally rose to 29,762,793 on Friday, with 62,480 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, said the health ministry.

Besides, 1,587 COVID-19 patients died during the period, taking the death toll to 383,490.

This was the 11th consecutive day when less than 100,000 daily cases were registered across the country, after peaking to over 400,000 for several days in April and May.


Indonesia reported 12,990 new coronavirus infections on Friday, its highest since late January, taking its overall cases to 1,963,266, 

It also reported 290 more deaths, the most in a day since April 4, bringing the total fatalities to 54,043.

The Indonesian government has shortened the Christmas holiday to come at the end of this year and shifted dates of two other holidays this year amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, a senior minister said Friday.

Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs Muhadjir Effendy said the Christmas holiday, which lasted two days in previous years, was cut to just one day on Dec 25.

Meanwhile, the government has moved the holiday of Islamic New Year from Aug 10 to Aug 11, and that of the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday from Oct 19 to Oct 20.


Iran on Friday reported 10,100 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total number of cases to 3,080,526.

The pandemic has so far claimed 82,746 lives in Iran, up 127 in the past 24 hours, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education said.

 A total of 2,722,612 people have recovered from the disease while 3,316 remained in intensive care units, according to the ministry.

By Friday, 4,369,039 people have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the country, including 895,052 who have received both jabs.

A sanitation worker sprays disinfectant on hurdles before the start of a race during the athletics trials for the Tokyo Olympic games at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi on June 17, 2021. (SIMON MAINA / AFP)


The president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee wants to allow up to 10,000 spectators for Olympic stadiums, the Sankei newspaper reported, amid concerns the Summer Games could spark another surge in COVID-19 infections.

The comments by Seiko Hashimoto in an interview published late Thursday come as Japan's top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, was set to unveil recommendations that media said would include the view that holding the Games without any spectators would be the least risky option. Spectators from abroad are already banned.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government decided on Thursday to ease emergency coronavirus curbs in nine prefectures including Tokyo, while keeping some "quasi-emergency" restrictions.

The final decision on domestic spectators will be made at a meeting to be held as early as Monday among Tokyo 2020 organisers, the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, Japanese government and Tokyo Metropolitan government, the Sankei said.

"I would like it to be held with spectators. I plan to head into the five-way meeting with that in mind," the newspaper quoted Hashimoto as saying.


Kuwait registered on Thursday 1,646 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total infections in the country to 334,216, the Kuwaiti Health Ministry reported.

The ministry also announced five more fatalities, taking the coronavirus death toll in Kuwait to 1,842, while the tally of recoveries rose by 1,427 to 315,645.


Malaysia reported 6,440 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the tally to 685,204.

Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that five of the new cases were imported and 6,435 were locally transmitted.

An additional 74 deaths took the toll to 4,276.


Mongolia has registered 2,746 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours after 11,476 tests had been conducted across the country, the health ministry said Friday.

This is the ninth straight day of record new infections, bringing the national tally to 88,516, the ministry said.

Seven of the latest confirmed cases were imported from abroad, and the remaining ones were local infections.


The number of COVID-19 infections rose to 146,768 in Myanmar on Thursday, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry.

The release said that 362 of 4,176 samples were tested positive with no new death in the past 24 hours.

New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received her first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, as the country steps up efforts to inoculate its population.

The Pacific island nation shut its borders and used tough lockdown measures to become one of the few countries to have virtually eliminated COVID-19 in the community, but the government is facing criticism for a slow rollout of vaccines.

"I'm smiling under the mask," Ardern said as she sat down to receive the shot at a vaccination centre in Auckland, as the media watched on.

About 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have so far been administered in New Zealand, a nation of 5 million people. The country's medical authorities are yet to approve the use of any other vaccine, including AstraZeneca.

The country was on track for everyone eligible to be vaccinated by the end of the year, Ardern said last week.

New Zealand reported one confirmed case of COVID-19 in managed isolation and no new cases in the community on Friday.

The newly imported case came from Spain and has remained in a managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland, according to the Ministry of Health.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand stands currently at 2,358, including 23 active cases, the health ministry said.


Fresh COVID-19 vaccine supplies are accelerating inoculations in Oman, which has had the slowest rollout in the Gulf due to procurement difficulties, a government health official said, as a surge in cases puts hospitals under pressure.

"The situation is now changing, we are regularly now receiving stocks of vaccine ... the campaign again has started," Zahir Ghassan al-Abri of the General Directorate of Primary Health Care at Oman's Ministry of Health told Reuters.

Since it began vaccinating in May, Oman has given at least one dose to around 15 percent of the eligible population, said Abri.

Ministry of health data on Tuesday shows 720,199 doses have been given in the country of around 4.5 million people, with 184,621 people having received two doses.

Oman has recorded 242,723 cases and 2,626 deaths in total.


Pakistan reported 1,043 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said.

The NCOC, a department leading Pakistan's campaign against the pandemic, said on Friday that the country's number of overall cases rose to 946,227, including 888,505 recoveries.

According to the NCOC, the pandemic killed 39 people on Thursday, raising the overall death toll to 21,913.


Singapore will allow dining at restaurants to resume from Monday under loosened coronavirus restrictions, though will limit diners to groups of two, instead of up to five as previously planned, the health ministry said on Friday.

Similarly, gyms and fitness studios may resume indoor exercising in groups of up to two people, it said.

Barring new COVID-19 outbreaks, authorities will allow such activities to increase to group sizes of up to five from mid-July, the ministry said.

Offering Sinovac vaccines to the public in Singapore for the first time on Friday, several private clinics reported overwhelming demand for the Chinese-made shot.

The authorities have selected 24 private clinics to administer its current stock of 200,000 doses. The clinics are charging between S$10-25 (US$7.5-US$18.6 ) per dose.

Srena Wee, CEO of Icon Cancer Centre, said about 1,000 people have registered so far, exceeding its initial stock of 200 doses.

People wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus pray during a service to mark Dano, a Korean traditional holiday that falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, at the Jogye temple in Seoul, South Korea, June 14, 2021. (AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP)

South Korea

South Korea has pledged to donate a total of US$200 million to the COVAX program that is supplying coronavirus vaccines for lower-income countries, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) said on Friday.

“The Republic of Korea pledges a contribution of a total of US$100 million this year, and in 2022 another US$100 million in the form of a combination of financial and in-kind contribution,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a statement by GAVI.

Some 760,000 South Koreans who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca's vaccine will be offered Pfizer's shot as a second shot due to shipment delays by global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX, the government said.

A Spanish study found that giving a dose of the Pfizer shot to people who already received the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly safe and effective, according to preliminary results.

Over 27 percent of its 52 million population have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine as of Thursday, and the country is on track to meet a target of 70 percent by September and reach herd immunity before November.

South Korea reported 507 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Thursday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 150,238.

Two more deaths were confirmed, leaving the death toll at 1,996. 

READ MORE: Thailand to fully reopen in 120 days to revive sagging economy

In this April 21, 2021 photo, a tour boat operator waits for customers, while a group of teenagers fish from the beach in Phuket, Thailand. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)


Thailand has finalized its plan to reopen Phuket on July 1, the so-called Phuket Sandbox, which will allow fully vaccinated tourists to visit the island without having to quarantine.

It’s the first time in more than a year that foreign visitors would be able to travel to Thailand’s most-famous resort-destination without being subjected to 14 days of hotel isolation, provided they are inoculated against COVID-19 and aren’t coming from what the government deemed “high-risk” nations.

The Phuket Sandbox is expected to get the Cabinet’s rubber stamp on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha planning a visit next week. 

In another development, Thailand announced on Friday to further ease restrictions on restaurant dine-in services in the capital Bangkok and three other provinces.

From Monday, restaurants in Bangkok and its neighboring Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan provinces will be allowed to offer dine-in services until 11 pm, two hours longer than before, and receive customers up to half of their capacity, compared to the previous 25-percent capacity, said Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesperson for the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

Bangkok and the three provinces are the epicenter of a third wave of outbreak, which has seen a sharp surge in infections since early April. The four regions remain under maximum control and restrictions, the highest among the country's four-tier category.

Bangkok saw the most number of cases on Friday, reporting 867 new infections, according to the CCSA. Nationwide, the country posted 3,058 new cases during the last 24 hours, taking the tally to 210,782. The death toll increased by 22 to 1,577.

Thailand has abandoned its plan for a 16-week gap between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and will opt for a shorter interval of 10 to 12 weeks instead, a senior health official said Friday.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said separately on the same day that the government would receive 10 million AstraZeneca doses monthly from July until its quota of 61 million doses is met.

The Philippines

The Philippines allowed more doctors and nurses to leave for overseas jobs, a week after the nation that’s among the world’s top suppliers of nurses halted deployment when it hit a self-imposed limit.

The COVID-19 task force raised the annual deployment cap for newly-hired health workers to 6,500 from 5,000, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement Friday.

The Southeast Asian nation limited the deployment of health workers last year as it fights the region’s second-worst coronavirus outbreak. 

The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported on Friday 6,833 new COVID-19 cases and 110 more deaths, bringing the tally to 1,346,276 with 23,385 fatalities.

The DOH said 19,719 healthcare workers, primarily nurses and physicians, have contracted the coronavirus, among whom 100 frontline medical workers have succumbed to COVID-19.


Turkey on Thursday confirmed 5,904 new COVID-19 cases, including 509 symptomatic patients, raising the total number of cases in the country to 5,354,153.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 62 to 49,012, while the total recoveries climbed to 5,219,797 after 4,143 more people recovered in the last 24 hours, according to its health ministry.


Vietnam reported 264 new COVID-19 cases Friday, including 259 locally transmitted cases and five imported ones, raising the tally to 12,414, according to the Ministry of Health.

The ministry also said a 71-year-old COVID-19 patient with many underlying conditions had died, pushing the toll to 62.

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