India reports 5-fold surge in COVID-19 cases since New Year

A few pedestrians walk along a partially deserted street with closed shops on either side in the old quarters of the walled city of Delhi during an state-wide weekend curfew imposed by the directive of the Delhi government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in New Delhi on Jan 9, 2022. (MONEY SHARMA / AFP)

BEIRUT / SYDNEY / PHNOM PENH / TOKYO / NEW DELHI – India reported on Sunday 159,632 new COVID-19 cases, which is over a five-fold increase since the beginning of the new year. On Jan 1, the total number of new cases was only 27,553.

The virus continues to spread at an unprecedented pace, largely driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), which is now present in 27 states.

The virus continues to spread at an unprecedented pace, largely driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), which is now present in 27 states

The daily case numbers are yet to match last year's enormous figures seen during the brutal second wave of COVID-19, while thousands died each day and crematoriums maintained round-the-clock pyres for mass cremation of pandemic victims.

Since last Monday, the daily infections have increased over four times, an indication that has worried experts who feared the country's hospitals could be overwhelmed again.

The hospitals across India once had to struggle for oxygen supplies to keep patients alive.

To avoid the spread of infections, authorities in many states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Karnataka are implementing restrictions such as a night curfew, ordering a reduction in the gatherings and closure of shopping malls and recreational places.

Data shows the country last year reported over 100,000 cases on June 6.

At present, Maharashtra, one of the worst-hit states by the COVID-19 pandemic, added 41,434 cases in 24 hours. It was followed by Delhi and West Bengal that added 20,181 cases and 18,802 cases respectively during the past 24 hours.

"The active cases today comprise 1.66 percent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate is currently 96.98 percent," the federal health ministry said Sunday.

"The daily positivity rate was recorded at 10.21 percent, while the weekly positivity rate was recorded at 6.77 percent."

Meanwhile, the health ministry on Friday said people flying in from abroad will need to home quarantine for a week after landing in India and test on the eighth day.


Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, recorded its highest number of daily COVID-19 deaths on Saturday as the Omicron variant sweeps the country and lawmakers face pressure to close widening supply chain gaps.

Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, recorded its highest number of daily COVID-19 deaths on Saturday as the Omicron variant sweeps the country and lawmakers face pressure to close widening supply chain gaps

The home to Sydney and a third of Australia's 25 million people reported 16 deaths from the coronavirus in the previous day. New South Wales reported 30,062 new infections, near record levels.

The second-largest state, Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open tennis tournament this month, reported 44,155 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths.

With most of the six other states and territories yet to report daily numbers, the initial figures were below the national record of 116,025, reported on Saturday.

The nation was on track to surpass 1 million cumulative infections on Sunday, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported.

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With the surge bringing a rush for government-funded pop-up testing clinics, the authorities have shifted their messaging and urged people to instead take rapid antigen tests at home, then report positive results to their doctor, who enters it into a database.

Authorities are calling for calm amid reports of bare supermarket shelves as people stay home to avoid infection and delivery personnel self-isolate due to virus exposure.

"We have seen very low rates of significant illness," federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters. "It is the workforce furloughing which remains the principal challenge at this point in time."

The government and its health advisers have cut mandatory isolation times for close contacts and narrowed the definition of close contacts but were still reviewing the rules for furloughing workers, Hunt said.

Australia plans to start vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 on Monday. The government says it has enough supplies to ensure every child is vaccinated.

Despite the outbreak, political leaders have cited Australia's high vaccination rate – more than 90 percent of people over 16 are fully vaccinated – to justify a reopening plan. But several states in recent days have postponed non-urgent elective surgery to clear hospital beds for COVID-19 patients and reintroduced mask mandates.

New South Wales, emerged from more than 100 days of lockdown late last year, has reinstated a ban on dancing and drinking while standing up in bars.

A boy receives a dose of the Sinovac Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a health centre in Phnom Penh on Nov 1, 2021, as Cambodia begins vaccinating children from aged five and older. (TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP)


Cambodia has reported its first community transmission of COVID-19 Omicron variant from a Phnom Penh resident, the health ministry said.

The 23-year-old man was confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test conducted by the Pasteur institute in Cambodia on Saturday, the ministry said in a statement. 

The man tested for the virus while he had looked after his ill cousin at a hospital in Phnom Penh, the ministry said, adding that his cousin, who came to Cambodia from Australia on Dec 27, had also tested positive for the Omicron variant.

The health ministry's secretary of state and spokeswoman Or Vandine said both persons had traveled to many places in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kampong Thom, Siem Reap and Kampot.

"This is the (first) Omicron community transmission case," she said in the statement, urging people to continue complying with the three dos and three don'ts measures.

The three dos include wearing a face mask, washing hands regularly and maintaining physical distancing of 1.5 meters, and the three don'ts are avoiding confined and enclosed spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and avoiding touching each other.

World Health Organization (WHO) representative to Cambodia Li Ailan on Sunday called on people to be cautious to curb the spread of Omicron variant into communities.

"It serves as another vital reminder to all of us. We must be ready for a possible surge. Managing COVID-19 risk is everyone's choices and responsibilities," she wrote on Twitter.

Cambodia has so far registered 151 confirmed cases of Omicron, with the latest one being the first community transmission. 


The United States has agreed to impose stricter COVID-19 measures at its military bases in Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Sunday, amid concerns that outbreaks at bases have fueled infection in local communities.

"We have agreed with the United States in principle that unnecessary outings should be controlled and prohibited, and we are discussing specifics now," Kishida said during a debating programme at public broadcaster NHK.

Japan reintroduced coronavirus restrictions in three regions that host US military bases, the first such emergency controls since September. Governors of the regions requested the tougher measures after seeing a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant. 

Kishida said Japan had urged the United State to address the concerns at a virtual meeting of their foreign and defence ministers on Friday and other occasions.

Japan halted the entry of almost all foreign travelers in late November after the World Health Organization listed Omicron as a variant of concern. But the US military moves staff in and out under a separate testing and quarantine regime.

Lebanese protest against the mandatory Covid-19 vaccine pass in the centre of Lebanon's capital Beirut, near the Mosque of Mohammed al-Amin, on Jan 8, 2022. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)


With 7,547 new COVID-19 cases registered nationwide on Saturday, the COVID-19 Omicron wave that started three weeks ago in Lebanon has turned into a "tsunami," warned the country's Health Minister Firas Abiad.

The national tally now stood at 769,400, and 17 more people died from the disease, bringing the country's death toll to 9,267, the ministry reported.

Firas Abiad tweeted that "the situation in hospitals and ICUs remains stable, while capacity is being boosted."

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He noted that 30,582 people flocked Saturday to get COVID-19 vaccination after the authorities called for a speedier rollout in the hope of curbing the surge.