Passengers wearing face masks alight from a metro in Sydney on June 23, 2021, as residents were largely banned from leaving the city to stop a growing outbreak of the highly contagious Delta COVID-19 variant spreading to other regions. (SAEED KHAN / AFP)
SINGAPORE / PHNOM PENH / YANGON / NEW DELHI / JAKARTA / DHAKA / KATHMANDU / JERUSALEM / KUWAIT CITY / ISTANBUL / SYDNEY / DUBAI / SEOUL / ISLAMABAD / SUVA / MANILA - Australia’s largest city of Sydney re-introduced “soft touch” COVID-19 curbs on Wednesday to contain a widening outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant, mandating masks in offices while neighbouring states closed their borders.
New Zealand raised the alert level in its capital of Wellington over exposure concerns after an Australian tourist tested positive for the virus upon returning to Sydney from a weekend visit to the neighbouring nation.
The latest virus cluster in Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) has swelled to more than 30 in a week, prompting New Zealand to halt quarantine-free travel.
On Wednesday, the state tightened curbs for a week on gatherings and movement in Sydney, but stopped short of a full lockdown, as fears grew that the latest cluster of the highly infectious Delta variant could drive a major outbreak.
Travel was limited to essential tasks for residents of seven council areas in Sydney’s east and inner west, with home visits limited to five guests and masks mandatory indoors, even in offices and gyms. Some schools moved to online-only teaching.
The state’s first virus cluster in more than a month was linked to a driver who transports overseas airline crew and visited several places, among them a shopping centre in Bondi, thronged by tourists.
Ten new cases were reported by 8 pm on Tuesday but 13 further cases have been detected since.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has criticized the hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines by wealthy nations.
Even the rich nations are putting conditions for supplying vaccines to other countries, Momen told journalists at his ministry office in Dhaka on Tuesday after a weeklong visit to the United States.
Without naming any country or the conditions, he said, "They're seeking this or that in return."
He further said, "Nothing should be tied to COVID-19 vaccines."
Following India's halt of vaccine export in February after Serum Institute of India's supply of 7 million of the 30 million AstraZeneca vaccines contracted with Bangladesh, Bangladesh is now desperately seeking vaccines from other countries.
Bangladesh reported 4,846 new COVID-19 cases and 76 more fatalities on Tuesday, taking the overall tally to 861,150 and death toll to 13,702.
The official data of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) showed that 25,028 samples were tested in the last 24 hours as of 8:00 am local time Tuesday across Bangladesh.
Cambodia Wednesday reported a record high of 587 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the national caseload to 44,711, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said in a statement.
The new infections included 533 local cases and 54 imported cases, the MoH said.
Sixteen more fatalities were confirmed, taking the overall death toll to 475, the statement said
Fijian Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong said on Wednesday that people need to take all the necessary COVID measures including vaccination as new COVID-19 cases continued to rise between the Lami-Nausori corridor in Fiji.
Fong said with many more cases and more severe cases, things would get very difficult in Fiji, according to the Fijivillage news website.
He said there were 60 positive cases at the Colonial War Memorial hospital in the capital city of Suva and 11 of the cases were severe that required oxygen.
The Ministry of Health also advised people to get vaccinated as soon as they could.
Students line up to receive the Covishield, Serum Institute of India's version of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, during a special vaccination drive for students traveling overseas, in Hyderabad, India, June 11, 2021. (MAHESH KUMAR A. / AP)
India's COVID-19 tally surpassed 30 million-mark and the death toll crossed 390,000 on Wednesday, said the federal health ministry.
While the tally rose to 30,028,709, the aggregate death toll reached 390,660.
As many as 50,848 new cases and 1,358 deaths were registered across the country during the past 24 hours.
The health ministry on Tuesday alerted the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh on a new variant of COVID-19 called Delta Plus.
The ministry described Delta Plus as a Variant of Concern (VOC).
The number of cases of the Delta Plus COVID-19 variant in India rose to about 40, officials said Wednesday.
"Based on the recent findings of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), the health ministry has alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh regarding the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19 being found in some districts in these states," the ministry said in a statement.
"Health secretary has communicated to these three states this variant has been found in genome sequenced samples from Ratnagiri and Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra; Palakkad and Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala; and Bhopal and Shivpuri districts of Madhya Pradesh," the statement added.
"INSACOG has informed that the Delta Plus variant, currently a VOC has characteristics of increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response," the ministry said.
The Delta Plus variant, a mutant version of the Delta strain first detected in India, has been found in 22 cases across these three states.
Indonesia on Wednesday recorded 15,308 newly-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, marking the highest daily spike and bringing the total tally to 2,033,421, the Health Ministry said.
The COVID-19-related death toll added by 303 to 55,594, the ministry reported.
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi vowed on Tuesday his government would start rapid COVID-19 vaccinations to help relaunch an economy at the epicentre of the pandemic in the Middle East.
"The quickest general vaccination ... will be among our immediate programmes from the first day of the government," Raisi said in remarks carried live by state TV.
"Domestically produced vaccines, and if necessary those produced abroad (will be obtained) quickly ...so that people will feel at ease and the economy will flourish," Raisi said in a speech in the holy Shi'ite Muslim city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran.
The government of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani has faced criticism for a slow vaccination drive, which officials have blamed on US sanctions hampering efforts to buy foreign vaccines and on delays in deliveries.
Iran will focus on using three locally made COVID-19 vaccines, including Russia's Sputnik V and a vaccine jointly produced with Cuba, the current government's spokesman, Ali Rabiei, said earlier on Tuesday. Raisi's government takes over in early August.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses reporters at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 22, 2021. Bennett said that a rise in cases was "a new outbreak" and urged Israelis to cancel their flights abroad and vaccinate their children to head off runaway infections. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Israel empowered health officials on Wednesday to quarantine anyone deemed to have been exposed to an especially infectious variant of COVID-19, even if they were previously vaccinated or recovered from the disease with presumed immunity.
The decision followed a warning by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday over new outbreaks caused by the Delta variant, with daily infections rising after weeks of low plateau credited to Israel’s record mass-vaccination drive.
Under the updated Health Ministry directives, vaccinated or formerly infected people can be ordered to self-isolate for up to 14 days if authorities believe they may have been in “close contact with a carrier of a dangerous virus variant”.
Such proximity could include having been passengers on the same plane, the ministry said - a possible dampener on Israel’s gradual opening of its borders to vaccinated summer tourists.
Addressing parliament, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said fines of “thousands of shekels” would also be levied against Israeli citizens or residents who travel to countries blacklisted as high COVID-19 risks.
Bennett said on Tuesday that a recent rise in COVID-19 cases constitutes "a new outbreak" in the country.
"There are indications that the so-called Delta coronavirus variant has begun spreading in Israel," the Israeli leader said in a televised statement at Israel's international Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv.
He urged the Israelis flocking to the airport for summer holidays overseas to avoid travelling abroad "whenever possible" and to wear masks in closed spaces.
Japan has surpassed 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered on a single day, meeting Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s target as the inoculation drive accelerates ahead of the political pressure points of the Tokyo Olympics and a general election.
The milestone was achieved on June 14, according to data compiled by Bloomberg using figures released from the prime minister’s office on Wednesday.
There’s a considerable lag in the reporting of vaccination data by local authorities, so much so that vaccine minister Taro Kono has been reported to suggest the government might skip shipments of shots to municipalities that are slow to report.
The figure from June 14, a Monday, may include some medical workers who were vaccinated on Saturday or Sunday.
Suga had said he hoped to achieve the goal in mid- to late June, and finish inoculating everyone who’s willing to be inoculated by October or November. His administration’s handling of the virus, the vaccine rollout and the looming Olympics is in the spotlight as he plans for both a parliamentary election and a party leadership race in the fall.
Japan’s vaccination rollout began with medical workers and people 65 and older, and was initially criticized for its slowness compared to other developed countries.
Vaccination of the elderly has rapidly sped up in recent weeks, and the inoculation of those under 65 got a boost on Monday with some of Japan’s largest and most well-known companies beginning to vaccinate their own employees on office premises.
Vaccine czar Kono said this week he estimates the workplace program could reach about 200,000 people per day.
Kuwait decided to use armed forces to help implement the health measures adopted by the government last week to confront the spread of coronavirus, the Kuwait Municipality announced Wednesday.
Ahmad Al-Manfouhi, General Director of Kuwait Municipality, said in a statement that armed forces of the country will join state bodies to confront the spread of coronavirus and to apply the government's decision on restricting access to public venues for unvaccinated people.
Al-Manfouhi, who also heads the main committee to follow up on the implementation of health measures, said that the committee discussed on Wednesday the mechanism for implementing government's decision.
The committee decided to use the armed forces to help civilian health teams implement the decision, starting next Sunday, which is the starting date for restricting unvaccinated citizens and residents from entering restaurants, cafes, gyms, salons, and shopping malls covering more than 6,000 square meters.
Kuwait registered on Tuesday 1,962 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total infections in the country to 342,929, the Kuwaiti Health Ministry said.
The ministry also announced 11 more fatalities, taking the death toll in Kuwait to 1,888.
Malaysia aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the country’s population by the end of September, according to Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
The nation has ramped up the pace of inoculations in recent weeks, and 4.08 million individuals, or 12.5 percent of the population, have got at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, he said at a World Bank forum on Wednesday
Malaysia dispensed 250,529 shots on Tuesday, topping the government’s target of 150,000 daily doses for June
The government is confident of administering 11 million doses in July, 13 million by the end of August, and a further 8 million by the end of September, Khairy said
Myanmar reported 630 new COVID-19 infections with two more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the case tally to 149,247 and the death toll to 3,267, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry on Tuesday.
The Nepali government has decided to reopen international flights for more foreign destinations and partially resume domestic flights, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
A cabinet meeting decided on Monday to allow flights to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, Buddhisagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, told Xinhua.
The move came as the Kathmandu Valley went into lockdown for another week with eased restrictions on Tuesday, as new COVID-19 infections have declined for weeks in the Himalayan country amid a second wave of the pandemic.
Earlier, Nepal has reopened flights to India, China, Turkey and Qatar. Flight frequencies to Turkey and Qatar have been increased as per the new decision.
New Zealand's Wellington region raised its COVID-19 alert to level 2 from 6:00 p.m. Wednesday until 11:59 pm on Sunday, after a visiting Sydney traveler tested positive for COVID-19 upon return to Australia.
The Australian man visited Wellington from June 19 to 21. This is the first COVID-19 case detected on an Australian traveler to New Zealand after the two countries opened a quarantine-free travel bubble in April.
The man most likely contracted the virus in Sydney before visiting New Zealand, based on the time of the symptom onset and CT score, according to the Ministry of Health.
Genome sequencing is underway in Australia to see if the case is linked to the current outbreak.
Further contact tracing is being conducted at sites of interest where the patient had visited. People who have been at these sites should isolate themselves and should contact Healthline for further advice.
Passengers who flew on the same flights with the infection must immediately isolate at home or accommodation, and call the health department to book testing.
New Zealand Tuesday evening announced quarantine free travel with Australia's New South Wales (NSW) to New Zealand would pause following the emerging of community cases in Sydney.
New Zealand reported four cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation, and no new cases in the community on Wednesday.
Pakistan recorded 930 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, raising the total tally to 950,768, official data showed Wednesday.
According to the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the country's nerve center in fighting against the pandemic, 39 patients were on Tuesday recorded to have newly died from the coronavirus epidemic, raising the COVID-19 related death toll to 22,073.
Singapore is reducing the duration of quarantines for people from high-risk regions to 14 days from 21 days. The government said it has found no evidence that virus variants of concern come with longer incubation periods.
The city-state also said it will be receiving a batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines under a different category name as it accelerates supplies, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health on Wednesday. The incoming batch of vaccines is called Comirnaty.
Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 18 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total tally to 62,448.
Among the new cases, 15 are in the community and three are imported.
South Korea reported 645 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Tuesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 152,545.
The daily caseload was up from 394 in the prior day, marking the highest in 18 days since June 5. The daily average caseload for the past week was 479.
One more death was confirmed, leaving the death toll at 2,007. The total fatality rate stood at 1.32 percent.
Thailand reported a record 51 new COVID-19 related fatalities on Wednesday, taking total deaths to 1,744. It added 3,174 new cases, which took the total caseload to 228,539.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,353 new COVID-19 infections Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 1,372,232.
The death toll climbed to 23,928 after 119 more patients died from the viral disease, said the DOH, adding six testing laboratories failed to submit reports.
The Philippines said the delivery of 50,000 Sputnik V doses expected this month will be delayed “due to ongoing upgrades and latest developments on the vaccines,” citing the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
A new delivery date wasn’t specified, and those who got their first doses will be informed their second one will be pushed back, Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said.
Turkey on Tuesday kicked off Phase III trials for its COVID-19 vaccine, named "Turkovac" by President Tayyip Erdogan who said the shot should be available for use by the end of the year.
Ankara currently administers vaccines developed by Sinovac, as well as by Pfizer and BioNtech. Turkey also granted an emergency use authorization for Russia's Sputnik V. People over 25 are eligible for the vaccine.
"It is not clear how long this disease will go on and how much mutation it will go through. It is critical that we have our own vaccine against this disease," Erdogan told an event to mark the inoculation of the first Phase III volunteer with the vaccine, which uses an inactivated virus.
Turkey has sharply accelerated COVID-19 vaccinations, delivering more than 1 million a day last week and prompting hopes of a rebound in the economy and tourism sector.
HONG KONG NEWS