Passengers look at the flight schedule screen at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on Feb 1, 2022, as Thailand resumes its quarantine free-travel scheme for vaccinated travelers. (JACK TAYLOR / AFP)
SYDNEY / WELLINGTON / ANKARA / BANGKOK / SEOUL / KATHMANDU - Thailand welcomed fully-vaccinated tourists from all countries and regions with quarantine-free travel starting Tuesday, its latest step to revive the tourism sector and economic recovery.
Inbound visitors from all countries and regions could apply for the quarantine-free entry as long as they have been fully-vaccinated and take RT-PCR tests on the first and fifth days of their arrival in Thailand.
Inbound visitors from all countries and regions could apply for the quarantine-free entry as long as they have been fully-vaccinated and take RT-PCR tests on the first and fifth days of their arrival in Thailand
The wider reopening, with previous quarantine-free program restricted to more than 60 countries and regions that were designated as low-risk, is expected to bring in up to 300,000 travelers into Thailand in February, with the number likely to further increase in March, according to government spokesperson Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.
The number of the country's international tourist arrivals shrank to 427,869 in 2021, with more than three quarters of the total entering in November and December, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
The Thai government has unveiled a series of measures to support the pandemic-ravaged tourism sector, which accounted for about 20 percent of the economy before the pandemic. These included handing out subsidies to boost domestic travel and accelerating vaccine roll-out.
On Tuesday, the Southeast Asian country reported 7,422 new confirmed cases and 12 more deaths over the last 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to more than 2.44 million while that of fatalities to 22,185.
As of Monday, 69.9 percent of the country's nearly 70-million population had been fully-vaccinated while 20.5 percent had received booster shots, according to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration.
In this picture taken on January 18, 2022, an employee conducts a quality control on a Coviself Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kit to self-test for the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Mylab Discovery Solutions manufacturing facility in Lonavla, some 90 km south-east of Mumbai. (PUNIT PARANJPE / AFP)
The New Zealand government has secured the delivery of enough rapid antigen tests (RATs) to help New Zealand through a widespread Omicron outbreak in the coming months, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said on Tuesday.
Over the last week, the government has been in contact with a variety of rapid antigen test manufacturers. Those efforts have resulted in securing an additional 36 million tests for delivery over the next two months which corresponds with a predicted rise in Omicron cases, Verrall said in a statement.
Along with the 5.1 million tests already in the country, New Zealanders will have access to over 55 million rapid antigen tests in the coming two months
These additional 36 million tests are on top of the 16.9 million orders already confirmed for delivery in February. Along with the 5.1 million tests already in the country, New Zealanders will have access to over 55 million rapid antigen tests in the coming two months, Verrall said.
A total of 123 million rapid antigen tests have been ordered through to June, which will allow for regular and widespread testing to occur, she said.
"Modelling on the use of rapid antigen tests through the outbreak suggests that during the peak we may be using as many as nine million RATs a week which is equivalent to testing a quarter of New Zealand every day, or all of New Zealand twice a week," Verrall said.
"That scale of testing will go a long way to reducing the risk of an infected person going to work and infecting others, and will help with keeping critical services and supply chains open and moving," she said.
In the past week two more types of rapid antigen test have been approved for use in New Zealand, bringing the total number to 11, with several more going through the approval process, she said, adding the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research continue to only approve tests that meet a very high threshold for quality to reduce the number of false positives and negatives.
"Many of the RATs will be used to implement our 'test to return' policy for asymptomatic critical workers so our hospitals, supermarkets, and other services that keep the country running can continue operating," Verrall said.
The ministry has been placing regular orders of RATs since October last year, and the quantities ordered have increased substantially since early December.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, and Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw (R) listen to a question during a joint press conference in Sydney on June 8, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
Australia's prime minister faced up to criticism of his leadership on Tuesday, saying his government had been too optimistic about the impact of coronavirus vaccinations leading to disappointment and exhaustion when the Omicron variant hit.
Scott Morrison faces an approval rating falling to its lowest level in two years with an election due in four months and public confidence battered by widespread shortages of rapid antigen tests as Omicron cases surged past 1 million over the summer.
In an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Morrison said he would take the criticism that came with the leader's job.
"I haven't got everything right," he said.
Morrison said his focus had been on balancing health objectives with the economy, and Omicron had changed the rules, disrupting supply chains and causing a shortage of tests
Morrison said his focus had been on balancing health objectives with the economy, and Omicron had changed the rules, disrupting supply chains and causing a shortage of tests.
In early January, Morrison had said his government was adopting a "push through" approach to the pandemic instead of returning to lockdowns.
"As we went into the summer we were too optimistic perhaps," he said, adding this had heightened the disappointment people felt when vaccinations did not stop Omicron's spread.
Responding to criticism that his government had not anticipated the need for more tests, Morrison said it had been the responsibility of the states, in Australia's federal system, to supply COVID tests through most of the pandemic.
He acknowledged public frustration and, in an election pitch, said the country needed a leader with experience to persevere.
Australia's pandemic death rate was among the lowest in the world and it had a high vaccination rate despite a delayed rollout, he said.
Morrison highlighted the strength of the economy, with Australia maintaining a AAA credit rating, and said more people were in work than before the pandemic, with an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent.
The federal government will offer extra payments worth up to A$800 to staff of carehomes for the elderly, he announced, as more than 1,200 nursing homes deal with COVID-19 outbreaks that killed hundreds of people in January and led to staff shortages.
He also announced a A$2billion plan to boost manufacturing by commercializing research.
"We need to find and develop a new breed of researcher entrepreneurs in Australia," Morrison said.
The government will fund a A$2.2 billion plan to commercialize research, including A$1.6 billion for a program for early-stage research that is vulnerable to higher levels of uncertainty about commercial returns.
The science agency CSIRO will get A$150 million to expand a venture capital programme backing start-ups. Another A$296 million will be allocated over the next decade to universities to fund 1,800 PhDs and 800 fellowships with an industry focus.
An election is due in May or earlier.
A health worker inoculates a physically challenged man with a dose of the US Johnson and Johnson vaccine against the coronavirus at the Nepal Disabled Association Khagendra New Life Center in Kathmandu on July 19, 2021. (PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP)
Major hospitals based in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, are seeing fewer people lining up to get tested for the coronavirus in the last few days, and the South Asian country has been reporting falling daily cases.
"Around 250 to 300 people are getting tested for coronavirus every day in the last few days," said Dr. Prajwol Shrestha, deputy director at Bir Hospital, the largest hospital in Nepal now treating COVID-19 patients only. "As many as 500 people were tested in a day just a week ago."
The Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital also has fewer visitors coming for testing.
"We have not seen a rush of people queuing for PCR tests at our hospital over the last one week compared with the previous week," said Dr. Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at the hospital.
On Monday, Nepal reported 5,292 COVID-19 cases, a notable rise from 4,904 and 3,540 recorded on Saturday and on Sunday, but a sharp fall from 12,338 logged on Jan. 20, according to the Ministry of Health and Population.
However, doctors cautioned that it is not the right time to conclude that daily infections are on the wane.
"The latest trend shows that the infections are rising in some provinces while decreasing in other provinces," said Dr. Hemanta Chandra Ojha, chief of the Zoonotic and Other Communicable Disease Control Section under the Health Ministry.
According to officials and doctors, one of the main reasons behind the decline in national aggregate cases is that people are not getting tested for the virus despite developing symptoms of common cold and fever.
"People have been heavily infected and are staying at home. Because of relatively less severe symptoms caused by the Omicron variant compared with Delta, people are staying at home for isolation without getting tested," said Pun.
As a result, Pun did not expect the number of reported cases to rise significantly in the days to come. The Health Ministry had projected the COVID-19 cases in Nepal to peak in the first week of February before going downward.
"We still have to analyze the trend of the next few days to conclude if the cases in Nepal have already peaked," said Shrestha.
South Korea's daily number of COVID-19 cases hit a new record high, surpassing 18,000 amid spread of the Omicron variant of the virus, the health authorities said Tuesday.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country recorded 18,343 more cases of COVID-19 for the past 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to 864,042.
The daily caseload was up from 17,079 in the previous day, hovering above 10,000 for seven days in a row.
The recent resurgence was driven by cluster infections in the Seoul metropolitan area amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, which became a dominant strain here.
Of the new cases, 4,103 were Seoul residents. The number of the newly infected people living in Gyeonggi province and the western port city of Incheon was 5,509 and 1,366, respectively.
The virus also raged in the non-metropolitan region. The number of new infections in the non-capital areas was 7,145, or 39.4 percent of the total local transmissions.
Among the new cases, 220 were imported from overseas, lifting the total tally for this category to 25,516.
The number of infected people who were in a serious condition stood at 272, down by 5 from the previous day.
Seventeen more deaths were confirmed from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 6,772. The total fatality rate was 0.78 percent.
The Asian country has administered COVID-19 vaccines to 44,641,142 people, or 87.0 percent of the total population, and the number of the fully vaccinated people was 43,996,241, or 85.7 percent of the population.
The number of those who received booster jabs was 27,254,256, or 53.1 percent of the population.
Turkey on Monday reported 93,261 new COVID-19 cases, raising its total tally of infections to 11,619,882, according to its health ministry.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 182 to 87,416, while 93,438 more people recovered in the last 24 hours.
A total of 435,513 tests were conducted over the past day, the ministry said.
Turkey started mass COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 14, 2021, after the authorities approved the emergency use of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.
More than 57.42 million people have received their first doses of the vaccine, while over 52.39 million had their second doses. Turkey has so far administered over 141.98 million doses including third booster jabs.
HONG KONG NEWS