People wearing face masks walk near an electronic tower showing the COVID-19 vaccination rates along a street in Seoul, South Korea on Nov 1, 2021. (LEE JIN-MAN / AP)
WELLINGTON / MANILA / COLOMBO / JERUSALEM / TOKYO / JAKARTA / HANOI / ANKARA / DHAKA / NEW DELHI / ULAN BATOR / ISLAMABAD - South Korea plans to cut to four months from six the gap for coronavirus booster doses given to senior citizens as it looks to dampen a spike in serious cases, authorities said on Wednesday.
More than 90 percent of South Korean adults have been vaccinated, but breakthrough infections have been growing among elderly people, straining the medical system.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said it has decided to shorten the dosing interval for booster shots for people aged 60 or older and those who live or work at nursing homes and other vulnerable facilities to four months.
People in their 50s and primary groups including soldiers, police and firefighters can now get another jab five months after their last shot.
The KDCA reported 3,187 new cases for Tuesday, the highest daily tally since 3,270 recorded on Sept. 25, including the most ever serious infections of 522.
More than 82 percent of all serious cases reported this week are from elderly people, compared with around 65 percent a month ago, the KDCA said.
Hospital beds are being filled rapidly around the greater Seoul area, with only about 30 percent of intensive care units (ICUs) left available.
The KDCA said it will consider issuing a circuit breaker on the relaxed distancing curbs if more than 75 percent of ICU beds are used nationwide and other factors pose high risks.
Australia’s government has banned travel to or from a remote region of the Northern Territory in a bid to help curb the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak among First Nations people in the area.
The Northern Territory on Tuesday reported nine new cases - all in Indigenous people. That took a cluster linked to the regional center of Katherine, 200 miles from the capital Darwin, and the isolated Robinson River settlement to 11.
While Indigenous Australians make up about 3 percent of the nation’s entire population, that proportion soars in Outback regions that in recent months have been exposed to the virus for the first time since the pandemic began.
These rural communities are particularly vulnerable because of higher rates of underlying health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
High inoculation rates in major cities have allowed Sydney and Melbourne to remove restrictions and learn to live with the virus.
Still, officials in the Northern Territory are grappling with how to reopen to the rest of the country; only 59 percent of people aged 16 or over living in remote communities are fully vaccinated, health data show, compared with an 81 percent inoculation rate for all areas.
People will now only be able to come or go from the Robinson River area and its surrounds for essential purposes, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement. The ban will be in place until at least 6pm on Thursday.
Bangladesh has begun administering COVID-19 vaccines to slum dwellers in capital Dhaka.
Thousands of dwellers took their first shots of the COVID-19 vaccine at Dhaka's mega Korail slum on Tuesday morning.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 34,466,598 on Wednesday, as 10,197 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data.
Besides, as many as 301 deaths were recorded since Tuesday morning, taking the death toll to 464,153.
Indonesia on Tuesday confirmed 347 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 4,251,423, according to the country's Health Ministry.
The ministry reported that the death toll from the virus in the country rose by 15 to 143,685.
Passengers walk with their luggage upon their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Lod on Nov1, 2021, as Israel reopens to tourists vaccinated against COVID-19. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
The Israeli Ministry of Health on Tuesday announced that passengers traveling to Israel will no longer have to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result before boarding.
Instead, passengers will be able to present a negative result of a rapid antigen test conducted up to 24 hours before takeoff by an authorized provider, the ministry said in a statement.
However, it will still be possible for the passengers to choose to present a negative PCR test performed up to 72 hours before the flight.
The change, which applies to both foreign tourists and returning Israelis, is intended to allow passengers to be tested by accessible and cheaper means, the ministry said.
The new procedure, subject to government and parliament approvals, is expected to take effect next week.
The move was taken by Israel's tourism and transport ministries in a joint effort to renew inbound tourism and make it easier for Israelis going abroad, while maintaining public health, the ministry said.
Japan's pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo has started a phase two trial in Japan of DS-5670, an mRNA vaccine for the coronavirus.
As many as 80 unvaccinated adults are participating and if successful, phase three will start within fiscal 2021.
Separately, the Japanese government's advisory panel of experts on Tuesday approved the use of vaccination records and proof of negative test results to relax social restrictions.
The panel discussed the government's plan of introducing the so-called "vaccine and PCR testing package" program, containing COVID-19 vaccine records and proof of negative test results, aiming at continuing social and economic activities despite infection cases resurgence.
According to the government's draft outline, restaurants and event planners who hope to relax the rules will pre-register with prefectural governments to utilize the program. Customers or visitors will be asked to present either proof of vaccination or a negative test result when using the facilities.
The vaccine certificate would need to show the holder was injected with the second dose at least 14 days earlier, while the certificate itself would be considered as valid indefinitely.
Mongolia has recorded 873 new COVID-19 infections and 10 more deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the respective tallies to 376,158 and 1,836, the country's health ministry said Wednesday.
People return to shopping at Newmarket in Auckland, New Zealand as some COVID-19 restrictions were eased on Nov 10, 2021. (ALEX BURTON / NEW ZEALAND HERALD VIA AP)
For the more than 3.4 million eligible New Zealanders already fully vaccinated, they could get their My Vaccine Pass from Wednesday.
My Vaccine Pass, issued by the Ministry of Health, is an official record of one's COVID-19 vaccination status and will provide access to places within New Zealand that require proof of vaccination under the new COVID-19 Protection Framework, Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins said in a statement.
"We're asking fully vaccinated New Zealanders to get ready for summer by requesting their pass," Hipkins said, adding it is an official proof of vaccination and a ticket to enjoy the extra freedoms that will come with the new COVID-19 Protection Framework, to be effective later this month depending on the pandemic situation.
In another development, domestic borders around New Zealand's largest city Auckland will reopen from Dec 15 for fully vaccinated people and those with negative COVID-19 test results, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday.
With more than 80 percent of Auckland and the rest of country fully vaccinated it was time to open up the ability to travel again, Ardern said at a news conference.
"Aucklanders can now book summer travel and accommodation with confidence and businesses inside Auckland and around the rest of the country can plan for summer travelers,” Ardern said.
Travelers will have to either be fully vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure. People breaking the rules will face an infringement fine of NZ$1,000 ($698.60).
Details about easing international border restrictions will be released before the end of the year, Ardern said.
New Zealand only allows its citizens or permanent residents to enter the country, but the returnee numbers are controlled by limiting the spaces available in state quarantine facilities each week, making it hard for many to travel home.
She said the cabinet would confirm on Nov 29 its decision to move Auckland and the rest of the country into the new traffic-light system, which will end lockdowns and use social distancing and other measures to limit the spread of the virus.
New Zealand reported 194 new Delta variant cases of COVID-19 in the community on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country's community outbreak to 6,167.
Pakistan added 270 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Wednesday.
The overall tally of the infected people climbed to 1,280,362 across the country, said the NCOC, the department leading Pakistan's campaign against the pandemic.
This file photo taken on Nov 17, 2020 shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US biotech company Novavax. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)
The Philippines has approved the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine by Novavax Inc, its food and drug agency chief said on Wednesday, the ninth vaccine approved in the Southeast Asian country.
The nanoparticle vaccine, under the brand name Covovax, will be manufactured by Serum Institute of India, and is approved for use on adults 18 and above, the agency's chief Rolando Enrique Domingo told a public briefing.
Covovax, which had efficacy of 89.7 percent in clinical trials, will be administered in two doses not less than 21 days apart, Domingo added.
Novavax received its first emergency use authorization from Indonesia early this month. Novavax also filed an application for approval of the vaccine in Canada and with the European Medicines Agency.
Domingo also said on Tuesday that the Philippines' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of China's Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine and three other brands as booster shots against the COVID-19.
During a pre-recorded meeting aired on Tuesday, Domingo said the FDA has already amended the emergency use authorization of Sinovac, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sputnik Light, "meaning six months after the second dose, another can be administered."
The Philippines has inoculated more than a quarter of its 110 million population.
Singapore reported 2,021 cases on Nov 16, the lowest such number for a Tuesday since Sept 28.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Singapore usually see the highest case counts, processing tests from the start of the work week.
The Ministry of Health did not flag any reason for the drop in its evening announcement of the numbers.
Children wait to get a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a children's hospital in Colombo on Sept 24, 2021, as the country began inoculating children over 12. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)
Sri Lankan government has endorsed the use of Molnupiravir, the first oral antiviral pill to treat patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the country's health minister said Tuesday.
Quoted in local media reports, State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Channa Jayasumana said that the pill was approved by Sri Lanka's COVID-19 Technical Committee and a panel of medical experts.
The pill reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by 50 percent, according to the minister.
It has been developed by the drug companies Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
Turkey on Tuesday confirmed 25,101 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 8,457,119.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 227 to 73,973, while 27,447 more people recovered in the last 24 hours, according to the Turkish Health Ministry.
Ho Chi Minh City relaxed restrictions on recreational establishments and public transportation on Tuesday, saying people who join activities must be partially vaccinated at least for 14 days or have recovered from COVID-19 infection.
Spas, bars, cinemas, discotheques, museums, tourist sites, taxis and ride-hailing cabs are allowed to fully operate or operate on a limited basis depending on virus control levels.
HONG KONG NEWS