In this file photo taken on April 26, 2021, commuters wearing protective face masks walk along Pratunam pier in Bangkok, after the government imposed strict restrictions for not wearing a mask in public following the recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Thailand. (MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP)
SYDNEY / NEW DELHI / WELLINGTON / BANGKOK / SEOUL / CANBERRA - Thailand announced on Friday it would abandon its much-criticized pre-registration process for foreign visitors and no longer require face masks to be worn in public, responding to a slower COVID-19 spread.
Thailand was visited by nearly 40 million people in 2019, but received less than 1 percent of that number last year, despite easing its quarantine requirements
The "Thailand Pass" system, where foreign tourists must seek prior approval from Thai authorities, will be halted from July 1, Tourism Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakan told reporters, removing one of the country's last remaining travel curbs.
Thailand is one of the world's most popular travel destinations, but tourism businesses have long complained its requirement for foreigners to submit multiple documents - from vaccine and swab test certificates to medical insurance and hotel bookings - was impeding the sector's recovery.
Thailand was visited by nearly 40 million people in 2019, but received less than 1 percent of that number last year, despite easing its quarantine requirements.
Though tourism has picked up in recent months, the industry is far from recovering, with huge jobs and businesses losses in a sector that typically accounts for about 12 percent of Thai gross domestic product.
The coronavirus task force on Friday also said use of face masks would from next month be voluntary, but advised people to wear them if in crowded settings or if suffering from health conditions.
Thailand has suffered more than 30,000 COVID-19 deaths overall, but has largely contained its outbreaks, helped by a vaccination rate of more than 80 percent.
A medical worker collects a swab sample at a drive-through COVID-19 testing station in Melbourne, Australia, on Aug 19, 2021. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)
The Australian government has agreed to extend its coronavirus health funding model until the end of 2022.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday chaired his first meeting of the national cabinet where he addressed health funding with state and territory leaders.
Following the meeting, he announced that the 50/50 split in hospital funding between the states and territories and the federal government, which was due to end in September, will continue until the end of the year.
The measure will cost the federal government an additional 760 million Australian dollars (about $533.9 million).
Amid rising coronavirus cases and an influenza resurgence, state and territory leaders united to demand the agreement be extended.
A nurse stands outside Tamara Twomey hospital in Suva, Fiji, Friday, June 25, 2021. A growing coronavirus outbreak in Fiji is stretching the health system and devastating the economy. It has even prompted the government to offer jobless people tools and cash to become farmers. (AILEEN TORRES-BENNETT / AP)
Fiji's Ministry of Health has asked those testing positive for COVID-19 to conduct a compulsory seven-day isolation and not to work or go to school after more COVID-19 cases were reported in the island nation.
Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong has reiterated that if someone tests positive, isolation is mandatory for 7 days and anyone who is sick with COVID-19 like symptoms should not be attending work or school, according to the Fijivillage news website on Friday.
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 continues to witness a sharp rise in the number of new COVID-19 cases per day as more than 12,000 new cases were recorded for the second consecutive day on Friday.
According to official data released by the federal health ministry, as many as 12,847 new COVID-19 cases were registered across the country over the past 24 hours, taking the total tally to 43,270,577.
A day ago, 12,213 new cases were registered.
The daily positivity rate is 2.47 percent, while the weekly positivity rate is 2.41 percent, revealed the federal health ministry.
Besides, 14 people died due to the pandemic across the country since Thursday morning, taking the total death toll to 524,817.
New Zealand recorded 4,869 new community cases of COVID-19 and 16 more deaths from the pandemic, the Ministry of Health said on Friday.
Among the new community infections, 1,478 were reported in the largest city Auckland, the ministry said.
In addition, 64 new cases of COVID-19 were detected at the New Zealand border.
Currently, 370 COVID-19 patients are being treated in hospitals, including nine in intensive care units or high dependency units.
New Zealand has reported 1,258,816 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic hit the country in early 2020.
A mother arrives with her daughter the French Lycee in the Qatari capital Doha on Jan 30, 2022, following the reopening of schools in the Gulf emirate after a brief closure to fight COVID-19. (KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)
Studying more than one million people in Qatar during the Omicron wave in early 2022, researchers found that in unvaccinated people, immunity from infection with an earlier variant reduced symptomatic Omicron BA.2 infections by 46.1 percent, compared to unvaccinated people without previous infections.
The effectiveness of inoculation by the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine plus a recent booster, but without prior infection, was 52.2 percent, while a previous infection plus three mRNA vaccine doses - so-called hybrid immunity - was 77.3 percent effective against Omicron infection, according to a report published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. Patterns were similar in recipients of Moderna's mRNA vaccine.
A medical worker wearing protective gear in a booth, takes sample from a woman during a COVID-19 testing at a coronavirus testing site in Seoul, South Korea, Aug 12, 2021. (Lee Jin-man / AP)
South Korea reported 7,198 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight Thursday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 18,263,643, the health authorities said Friday.
The daily caseload was down from 7,994 in the previous day, hovering below 10,000 for the eighth consecutive day, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
A health worker takes swab samples of a security officer for COVID-19 testing at the venue of Vietnam's Communist Party congress in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan 29, 2021. (HAU DINH / AP)
Vietnam recorded 774 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, down by 92 from Wednesday, according to its Ministry of Health.
All the new infections were domestically transmitted cases, reported in 44 provinces and cities.
The Vietnamese capital Hanoi was the pandemic hotspot with 145 new cases recorded on Thursday, followed by the central city of Da Nang with 48 and the central Nghe An province with 45.
The newly registered COVID-19 infections brought the total tally to 10,734,925, with 43,083 deaths. Nationwide, a total of 9,583,105 COVID-19 cases, or about 89 percent of the infections, have recovered.