India’s COVID-19 cases surge, vulnerable groups given boosters

A health worker takes a swab sample of a traveler to test for COVID-19 at a train station in Mumbai, India, Dec 23, 2021.  (RAFIQ MAQBOOL / AP)

JERUSALEM / SUVA / ULAN BATOR / KUWAIT CITY / ANKARA / SYDNEY / MANILA / NEW DELHI / KATHMANDU / SEOUL / MANILA / PHNOM PENH – India began administering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine to frontline workers and vulnerable elderly people on Monday, with the fast-spreading Omicron variant fuelling an almost eight-fold rise in daily infections since the start of the year.

India reported 179,723 new cases on Monday, most of them in the country's biggest cities – Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata – where Omicron has overtaken Delta as the most prevalent strain of the virus.

There were 146 deaths reported on Monday, bringing the toll to 483,936 since the pandemic first struck India in early 2020. Only the United States and Brazil have recorded more deaths.

In recent days, hundreds of healthcare and frontline workers, including police, have contracted the virus, and there were media reports that hundreds of parliamentary staff have also tested positive ahead of a budget session on Feb 1.

Facing this rising third wave of infections, the government sent booster reminders to more than 10 million people who took their second dose of the Covaxin or Covishield shot nine months ago.

Only healthcare personnel, frontline workers and people above 60 years suffering from other health conditions are eligible for what the government calls a "precaution dose".

"The government is committed to provide additional security cover to healthcare and frontline workers on priority," Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya wrote on Twitter.

Health care workers administer COVID-19 tests at a drive-through clinic in Sydney on Dec 31, 2021. (BIANCA DE MARCHI / AAP IMAGE VIA AP)


Australia on Monday surpassed 1 million COVID-19 cases, with more than half of them recorded in the past week, as the Omicron variant ripped through most of the country driving up hospitalization numbers and putting a strain on supply chains.

Having successfully kept a lid on its virus caseload through aggressive lockdowns and tough border controls earlier in the pandemic, Australia is now suffering record infections as the country begins to live with the virus after higher vaccinations.

With New South Wales and Victoria on Monday reporting about 55,000 new cases between them, total COVID-19 infections in Australia touched 1.03 million since the first case was recorded nearly two years ago. Other states and territories will report their numbers later in the day.

A total of 2,387 deaths have been registered so far, though the death rate during the Omicron wave has been lower than during previous virus outbreaks, with 92 percent of people over 16 double dosed and the booster programme picking pace.

The rising hospitalization numbers forced officials to reinstate some restrictions in states, meanwhile staff shortages due to isolation rules or people out sick have hit businesses.

Authorities have cut mandatory isolation times for close contacts and narrowed the definition of close contacts but were still reviewing the rules for furloughing workers that have widened supply chain gaps.

From Monday, Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines will be offered to 2.3 million children aged five to 11 years old, amid reports of stock shortage of shots, which authorities ruled out.


Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen on Monday urged high-risk groups in capital Phnom Penh to receive the fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine starting from Jan 14.

The fourth-dose campaign will begin with frontliners including leaders of the government, the senate, the National Assembly, frontline doctors, government officials, the army and police, local authorities and the elderly, according to the health ministry.

Staff of embassies and both national and international organizations as well as journalists and celebrities are also invited to join the campaign, the ministry added.

The kingdom has reported three more local cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, bringing the total number of the variant to 183, Hun Sen said during the inauguration of a stretch of National Road 5 in northwestern Battambang province and his speech was live broadcast on the state-run National Television of Cambodia (TVK).


Fiji announced on Sunday tightened measures to contain spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the South Pacific island country.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Fiji's health ministry and police, Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport Faiyaz Koya said that with a rapid spread of the Omicron variant confirmed in the country, the key measures against COVID-19 should be tightened to contain the variant's transmission.  

According to the minister, people who fail to comply with the health protocols over COVID-19 will face fines from Monday.

The minister said those who fail to wear a mask in the required settings will be fined 250 Fijian dollars ($117). For the failure to conduct temperature checks, the fine for individuals will be 250 Fijian dollars ($117), and 1,000 Fijian dollars ($468.6) for businesses.

High-risk businesses failing to verify vaccination status will face 1,000 Fijian dollars ($468.6) in fine.

Among other measures to be strengthened From Monday, group sizes for gatherings in homes, communities, and community halls will be limited to 20 persons.

A man gets a PCR coronavirus test at a private nursing home in Netanya, Israel on Jan 5, 2022. (ARIEL SCHALIT / AP)


Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned on Sunday that 2 million to 4 million Israelis are predicted to be infected with coronavirus during the current outbreak mainly caused by the highly infectious Omicron variant.

"Information presented at a cabinet meeting indicates that in Israel, overall 2-4 million citizens will be infected in the current wave," Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.

Addressing a wide public criticism of the government's complicated and frequently changing restrictions, Bennett explained that Omicron is "contiguous to an extent we did not know," saying the restrictions have been frequently updated to adapt to the fast spread of Omicron.

Bennett has led a policy based on keeping the economy open while aggressively promoting vaccination.

Some 250,000 Israelis have received the fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine since the country began offering it to the elders and medical personnel a week ago, the prime minister said on Sunday.

"Almost a quarter of a million people have been vaccinated with the fourth booster," Bennett said in televised remarks at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Israel, with a population of 9.45 million, surpassed 1.5 million on Sunday, according to the latest figures issued by the country's health ministry.

People queue up to receive a dose of a coronavirus vaccine during the first day of the al-Adha feast, at a vaccination centre in Kuwait City, on July 20, 2021. (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)


Kuwait's Ministry of Health on Sunday urged people in the country to limit their overseas trips to emergencies only, as the country registered a record number of daily COVID-19 infections.

The number of people infected with COVID-19 in Kuwait reached 2,999 on Sunday, a new daily high since the country's first case of the virus was reported in February 2020, according to the ministry.

Since Jan 5, the number of daily COVID-19 cases has surpassed and remained above 2,000 in Kuwait, a country with a population of 4.27 million people.

By Sunday, the total number of COVID-19 infections in Kuwait has climbed to 433,919, according to the health ministry. So far, the pandemic has claimed the lives of 2,471 people in the country.


Mongolia's COVID-19 death toll has reached 2,001 after two more related deaths were registered over the past 24 hours, the country's health ministry said on Monday.

Meanwhile, 649 new COVID-19 infections, including 10 imported ones, were recorded across the country in the past day, raising the national tally to 396,456, the ministry said.

Less than 400 infections had been reported a day in the country until Jan. 4, when the number of daily infections has been resurging due to New Year celebrations.

The Asian country confirmed its first 12 imported cases of the Omicron variant on Friday, and its first five local cases of the Omicron variant on Sunday.


A government body in Nepal on Sunday recommended restrictive measures against large gatherings and in-person classes in response to rising daily COVID-19 cases.

The COVID-19 Crisis Management Coordination Center (CCMCC) suggested banning gathering of more than 25 people and closing primary and secondary schools till Jan. 29.

Within this period, the Ministry of Health and Population will have to supply vaccines to inoculate students aged 12-17 and fully vaccinate teachers and other staff members.

A senior CCMCC official told Xinhua that the decision was taken over suggestions by Health Ministry officials.

"There is a projection that the COVID-19 situation may worsen in the third week of January, so we decided to recommend restrictive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19," said the official who declined to be named.

As suggested by the CCMCC, people need to present their vaccination cards for entering public places like offices, hotels, restaurants, cinema halls, stadiums, airports and parks.

A health worker (right) walks past people queueing up for coronavirus swab tests outside a gymnasium in Manila on Jan 7, 2022. (STR / AFP)


The Philippines reported 33,169 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, a new record daily spike, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,998,530.

The Department of Health (DOH) said the positivity rate continued rising to a record 46 percent, 145 more people died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country's death toll to 52,293, with 10 laboratories failing to submit data.

Since Saturday, the Philippines' COVID-19 infections have surged to record levels, with officials blaming high mobility and poor compliance with safety health protocols during the holiday season when Filipinos traveled to their hometowns, held parties, and visited malls with families and friends, despite the threat of the highly transmissible Omicron and Delta variants.

Vince Dizon, the deputy chief implementer of the government's response against COVID-19, said the demand for COVID-19 tests surged, straining the country's laboratories.

Authorities imposed hard lockdowns in several areas with virus clusters in the capital region, home to over 13 million people. Police have set up checkpoints in Metro Manila's peripheries and only allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter the capital.

The Philippines, which has around 110 million population, has tested more than 24 million people since the outbreak in 2020.

South Korea

South Korea reported 3,007 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Sunday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 667,390.

The daily caseload was down from 3,373 in the previous day due to fewer virus tests over the weekend and tougher anti-virus measures. It stayed below 4,000 for the fourth consecutive day.


Hospitalizations for COVID-19 cases in Turkey have increased by 6.2 percent in the last three weeks, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Sunday.

"There is no significant increase in intensive care and intubation. The majority of our casualties are those over the age of 60 and those with chronic diseases," he tweeted.

Istanbul, Turkey's largest metropolis, is at the epicenter of the rise in Omicron variant cases, he said.

Turkey on Sunday reported 61,727 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 9,978,452, according to its Health Ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 173 to 83,702.