People wearing protective masks walk around the famed Shibuya scramble crossing in a shopping and entertainment district on Oct 25, 2021 in Tokyo. (KIICHIRO SATO / AP)
HANOI / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / JAKARTA / YANGON / SINGAPORE / TEHRAN / ANKARA / JERUSALEM / AMMAN / KATHMANDU / KUALA LUMPUR / WELLINGTON / NEW DELHI / TOKYO / SYDNEY / ULAN BATOR / ISLAMABAD – The first step in Japan's planned phased re-opening of borders, which centres on business travellers, will be put into effect from Nov. 8, the government said on Friday.
The phased easing was confirmed earlier this week, but fell short of demands from business lobbies for rules more closely aligned with those of major trading partners.
The change will shorten COVID-19 quarantine periods for inbound business travellers from 10 days to three, if they have proof of vaccination, the government said.
Students and trainee workers with valid visas will also be allowed in.
No mention was made of tourists, or of media reports that the daily limits on the numbers of border entrants would be raised to 5,000 people later this month from 3,500.
Japan currently requires a 10-day quarantine for travellers, regardless of vaccination status. That time was shortened from 14 days last month.
Domestic and foreign business groups in Japan have lobbied the government to ease border restrictions to be more in line with other countries.
Australia's Northern Territory has introduced coronavirus restrictions after reporting its first locally-acquired case.
Michael Gunner, chief minister of the NT, on Thursday night announced that an unvaccinated man in his 20s was diagnosed with the virus in Katherine, about 300 km south of the capital Darwin.
He said the man has not traveled outside the NT recently. "We don't know where and we don't know when but this is community transmission," Gunner told reporters.
"He has caught it from someone in the territory but we don't know who."
It is the first confirmed case of community transmission in the NT since the start of the pandemic.
As a result, Katherine has been plunged into a 72-hour lockdown that started at midnight Friday.
Darwin residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are required to wear masks outdoors but can otherwise go about life as normal, while those who are not inoculated are subject to full lockdown restrictions
Passengers wear face masks as they arrive at the departures terminal at Sydney Domestic Airport in Sydney, Australia on Nov 5, 2021. Flights between New South Wales and Victoria have resumed without any COVID-19 restrictions, as the border between the two states reopens. (BIANCE DE MARCHI / AAP IMAGE VIA AP)
In another development, Victoria state removed entry restrictions to citizens of neighbouring New South Wales on Friday, allowing almost blanket reciprocal travel between the country's two biggest states ahead of the busy Christmas period.
Travel between the pair, home to more than half Australia's 25 million population, has been severely disrupted for months because of an outbreak of Delta variant-fuelled COVID-19 cases.
"Victoria and NSW have been through so much over the last few months, and we're pleased that more families will now be able to reunite just in time for Christmas and the holiday season," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement late on Thursday.
Victoria on Friday downgraded all virus hotspots in its neighbour to safe for the first time in months, and also permitted unvaccinated NSW citizens to enter without quarantine. Victoria had already opened up entry for fully vaccinated New South Wales residents without quarantine last month, after closing its border in July.
New South Wales, which had allowed entry throughout the crisis to vaccinated Victorians provided they complete a two-week quarantine, earlier this week dropped the quarantine requirement. However, it remains closed to any unvaccinated travellers aged above 16 from its neighbour.
Victoria reported 1,343 cases on Friday, while New South Wales reported 249. Australia has reported a total of about 177,000 cases and 1,794 deaths, far lower than many other comparable countries.
Brunei reported 99 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total tally to 13,545.
According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, all the newly recorded cases were local infections.
While the source of 48 local infections was still under investigation, five new clusters were detected and two clusters were closed following no new cases for 28 days, bringing the total number of active clusters to 179.
A health worker inoculates a woman with a dose of the Covaxin vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a health center in New Delhi on Oct 21, 2021. (PRAKASH SINGH / AFP)
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 34,333,754 on Friday, as 12,729 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data.
Besides, as many as 221 deaths due to the pandemic have been reported since Thursday morning, taking the total death toll to 459,873.
Indonesia on Thursday confirmed 628 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 4,246,802, according to the country's Health Ministry.
The ministry reported that the death toll from the virus in the country rose by 19 to 143,500.
The Iranian Health Ministry reported on Thursday 9,862 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,964,824.
According to an official briefing published on state TV, the pandemic has claimed 126,921 lives in the country so far, after 158 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours.
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In this file photo taken on Aug 22, 2021, an Israeli child undergoes COVID-19 antibody testing in the coastal city of Netanya, before the start of the new school year. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Israeli Ministry of Health on Thursday held an open public discussion about vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19.
The five-hour meeting, which was broadcast live, aimed to present to the ministry's vaccination advisory committee and pandemic response team the professional basis before deciding whether to recommend vaccinating children in this age range.
The meeting took place six days after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the emergency use of the pediatric dose for children in that age group.
At the discussion, Alejandra Gurtman, Vice-President for R&D vaccine at Pfizer, presented test results regarding the efficacy and safety of the company's vaccine for children aged 5-11. Then the experts presented data on COVID-19 morbidity, complications, side effects and trends in the age range.
The Japanese government and ruling coalition have agreed to provide a cash payment of 100,000 yen ($878.73) to all children as part of an economic stimulus package to weather the pain of COVID-19 pandemic, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Friday.
The payout would cover all minors up to age 18 regardless of household income for a budget of about 2 trillion yen, the paper reported.
Jordan on Thursday received the second batch of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine donated by the Chinese government.
A handover ceremony was held at a vaccination center in the capital Amman, attended by Chinese Ambassador to Jordan Chen Chuandong and Jordanian Minister of Health Firas Hawari.
Hawari expressed his appreciation to the Chinese government for the generous donation and support provided to Jordan in various fields, especially in fighting the pandemic, adding that this donation will contribute to Jordan's national campaign of vaccination against the coronavirus.
The vaccines arrived in Amman on Oct 31, representing the second batch received from China. The first batch was received in April 2021.
Malaysia reported another 5,713 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight Thursday, bringing the national total to 2,492,343, according to the health ministry.
Some 32 of the new cases are imported, with 5,681 being local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed.
Another 64 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 29,155.
Mongolia's health ministry on Friday reported 1,182 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the national caseload to 366,421.
The latest confirmed cases were locally transmitted, and 783 of them were detected in the national capital Ulan Bator, the area hardest hit by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the national death toll from COVID-19 rose to 1,715 after 11 more people died of the virus in the past day.
Myanmar reported 1,002 new COVID-19 positive cases with 22 more deaths in the past 24 hours, according to a release from the Ministry of Health on Thursday.
The number of total COVID-19 infections has increased to 503,981 while its death toll has risen to 18,766 as of Thursday, the release said.
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)
Patan Hospital, one of the largest government-run facilities in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, is currently treating just over 50 COVID-19 patients, as the South Asian country has seen a sharp drop in new infections nationwide in recent months.
On Thursday, Nepal reported 287 new cases, continuing a downward trend of having daily cases in the hundreds in the past weeks even after the country has just celebrated the largest Dashain festival, and the daily deaths dropped to two on the day from 225 on May 11, according to the Ministry of Health and Population.
With the number of COVID-19 patients in decline, Patan Hospital has reduced the number of beds allocated for them to 180 from 320, said Dr. Ravi Shakya, director at the hospital.
Yet the hospital is not ready to cut significantly the facilities for coronavirus patients any time soon.
"We still fear another wave of COVID-19 amid reports about increasing cases of coronavirus in some other countries," said Shakya. "So we will wait for some time and see how the situation evolves. We have not yet reduced the ICU beds."
Nepali officials and experts attributed declining cases to two factors. One is the emergence of no new variant of the coronavirus and the other is the increasing vaccination against the virus.
The vaccination campaign starting in late January has made 8.73 million of the 30 million population administered first dose by Thursday and 7.43 million fully vaccinated, thereby contributing as well to falling cases in the country.
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The addition of another drug to the suite of COVID-19 medicines available in New Zealand is good news for patients and for the health system, Health Minister Andrew Little said on Friday.
The national pharmaceuticals-buying agency Pharmac has secured supplies of another drug "Baricitinib" shown to work against the COVID-19 virus, Little said in a statement.
"Baricitinib is the fifth drug Pharmac has secured, and sits alongside remdesivir, tocilizumab, molnupiravir and Ronapreve as treatments doctors can turn to help people with a range of COVID-19 symptoms," he said.
Like tocilizumab, baricitinib can be used to treat patients who are very sick, as it reduces the severity of symptoms and cuts time in hospital and reduces the likelihood of death, he added.
Pharmac expects to receive 500 doses of baricitinib this month, which is important because there is a global shortage of tocilizumab and this gives clinicians another option, said the minister.
Pakistan on Thursday confirmed 515 new COVID-19 cases and 11 more deaths, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Friday.
The Philippines is easing coronavirus restrictions in the Manila capital region from Friday until November 21 to spur economic recovery as infections declined.
The Southeast Asian nation’s virus task force decided to place the capital – which accounts for a third of economic output – under Alert Level 2, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement late Thursday. The government initially said Manila will stay under the second-strictest Alert Level 3 until mid-November.
Indoor restaurants, gyms and cinemas can accept fully-vaccinated customers at half capacity, while outdoor establishments can operate at 70 percent capacity. Businesses have been pushing to further loosen virus curbs, banking on holiday spending to support a nascent economic recovery.
Daily COVID-19 cases have fallen to below 2,000 in the past two days, although vaccine coverage remains limited.
By December, alert-level assignments will be determined every 15th and 30th of the month, Roque said. The government will look at manufacturing, mobility and airline passenger data to monitor socio-economic recovery, he added.
An officer manages the flow of people into a market in an attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Singapore on Oct 9, 2021. (ROSLAN
RAHMAN / AFP)
Singapore’s weekly infection rate, a key indicator used by the government to ease restrictions in the financial hub, fell for a second day to its lowest since at least early September.
The ratio of community cases for the past week to those a week earlier dropped to 0.93, the Ministry of Health reported Thursday.
Singapore recorded 3,003 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total tally to 210,978, the ministry said.
Of the new cases, 2,780 were reported in the community and 220 in migrant worker dormitories while three were imported cases.
A local district health official in protective gear disinfects shop fronts as a precaution against the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea on Oct 29, 2021. (LEE JIN-MAN / FILE / AP)
South Korea on Friday purchased an additional 30 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for 2022, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said in a statement.
Also, South Korea exercised an administrative order to secure hospital beds in greater Seoul area to handle up to 7,000 daily new virus cases, in what the government said was a preemptive move because of increasing infections with the easing of restrictions.
South Korea reported 2,344 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Thursday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 375,464
Turkey on Thursday confirmed 29,482 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 8,150,708, according to its Health Ministry.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 228 to 71,526, while 34,743 more people recovered in the last 24 hours.
Vietnam on Thursday reported 6,580 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 6,576 locally transmitted and four imported.
The Ministry of Health said the community cases were mostly detected in southern localities, including 981 in Ho Chi Minh City, 948 in Binh Duong province, and 939 in Dong Nai province.
The newly reported coronavirus infections brought the total tally to 946,043, with 22,342 deaths, the ministry said.