A woman waits with others to receive a dose of the Covaxin vaccine against the coronavirus at a vaccination center in New Delhi on Sept 29, 2021.
(SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP)
SYDNEY / NEW DELHI / TEHRAN / JERUSALEM / YANGON / SINGAPORE / ANKARA / KUALA LUMPUR / WELLINGTON / SEOUL / VIENTIANE / NEW DELHI / ULAN BATOR / ISLAMABAD / TOKYO – India's top court ordered state authorities to pay $672 (50,000 rupees) as compensation for each death caused by COVID-19, as a way to help families cope with the loss, according to its order reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday.
India has recorded 449,260 deaths overall, a tally experts say is a massive undercount, as millions more may have died in the vast hinterlands. In major cities including the capital New Delhi, experts said a large number of deaths were unreported as hospitals ran out of beds and oxygen supplies.
Petitioners had appealed to the Supreme Court to provide at least eight times the compensation, or 400,000 rupees, under the National Disaster Management Authority, through which the government provides some financial help in natural disasters such as earthquakes.
The government, in its affidavit, which was approved by the top court, agreed to the minimum payable amount to be disbursed by local authorities under the State Disaster Response Fund.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 33,853,048 on Tuesday after 18,346 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, according to the federal health ministry's latest data.
The number of active cases stood at 252,902, the lowest in 209 days, according to the data.
A few doses of COVID-19 vaccines were delivered with the help of a drone in India's north-eastern state of Manipur on Monday, said the country's Minister of Health Mansukh Mandaviya.
The vaccine doses were delivered by the Made-in-India drone to an aerial distance of 15 kilometers in around 15 minutes. The actual road distance between the two places is over 26 kilometers.
The minister said that this practice would be regularly carried out in the future, adding that India is home to geographical diversities and drones can be used to deliver essentials to the last mile.
A health worker prepares to conduct coronavirus tests outside a makeshift clinic at a sports stadium in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on April 1, 2021. (ANDREW KUTAN / AFP)
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has ebbed and flowed in Pacific countries for more than 18 months, continues to rapidly evolve throughout much of the region with current outbreaks being more severe than previous ones.
Health authorities in countries and territories such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), New Caledonia and Fiji generally share similar logistical problems such as limited medical supplies and specialized facilities.
PNG reported 333 new cases on Monday, bringing the number of active cases to 2,499, which are mainly in the Eastern Highlands Province. The nation has so far reported 234 related deaths.
The crisis is pushing the already stretched medical system to the brink, according to the nation's leading newspaper, the PNG Post-Courier. It reported on Monday that the Port Moresby General Hospital in the capital city only had five ventilators, all of which are now being used for critically ill patients. Meanwhile, other hospitals lack essential facilities such as isolation wards for such highly infectious patients.
Elsewhere, New Caledonia is desperately fighting to accelerate its vaccine rollout program with congress unanimously voting last month in favor of compulsory vaccinations for all adults. By the end of August, about 32 percent of eligible New Caledonians have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The chain of islands, with a population of more than 288,000, has not had any COVID-19 related deaths before September. But the situation rapidly deteriorated in the past four weeks following the first three cases of the Delta variant reported on Sept 6 and the first related death just three days later.
According to the latest figure released on Tuesday, New Caledonia has recorded 364 new cases and a total of 8,506 cases since Sept 6.
Meanwhile, Fiji has been battling its own outbreak since early April. On Monday, there were 22 new confirmed cases and one new fatality.
People exercise in Melbourne on Oct 4, 2021. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)
Australia will buy 300,000 doses of Merck & Co’s experimental antiviral pill, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as Victoria logged the highest number of daily COVID-19 infections of any state in the country since the pandemic began.
Molnupiravir, which would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19 if it gets regulatory approval, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for people most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19, according to experts.
“These treatments mean that we are going to be able to live with the virus,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Nine News on Tuesday as Australia aims to reopen its borders next month for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents. The drug is expected to be available in Australia by early next year.
Australia is stepping up its vaccination rate, with Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra enduring a weeks-long lockdown to combat the highly infectious Delta variant. The national first-dose rate in the adult population is expected to top 80 percent later on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Western Australia said that it would require all employees that work with natural resources to have a first COVID-19 shot from December to help protect vulnerable Indigenous communities as the country begins opening up.
People working in mining, oil and gas exploration are required to have their first dose by Dec 1 and must be fully vaccinated by Jan 1, the government said. The mandate also applies to any workers flying in and out of remote sites and any visitors to these operations, it said.
ALSO READ: Tokyo sees less than 100 new virus cases, first time since Nov 2
Iran's health ministry on Monday reported 14,607 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,638,735.
The pandemic has so far claimed 121,347 lives in the country, after 238 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours, said Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education.
Israeli researchers have found that the antibody levels among people who were infected with COVID-19 shortly after receiving the first vaccine dose remained unchanged despite infection, Bar Ilan University (BIU) in central Israel said on Monday.
Therefore, people tested positive after receiving the first dose should be offered with the second dose, as it provides optimal protection, the team suggested.
The findings are included in a joint study conducted by BIU and Ziv Medical Center (ZMC) in northern Israel and published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection.
The team tracked a cohort of 541 ZMC health care workers, some of whom had already recovered from COVID-19, to determine how those previously infected with the virus responded to vaccination compared to those who weren't infected.
It was found that previously infected individuals who received one dose of the vaccine had much higher antibody levels than fully vaccinated workers who were never infected.
However, infection after the first dose did not increase antibody levels.
Thus, those infected after the first dose while never received the second one had similar antibody levels to those who received one dose and were never infected.
Also, workers infected post-vaccination had antibody levels at 21 and 50 days similar to those never infected who received the same number of doses and much lower than those infected pre-vaccination.
Japan's COVID-19 case numbers have plummeted to the lowest in nearly a year just as other parts of Asia are struggling with surging infections, leaving health experts perplexed and raising concern of a winter rebound.
New daily cases in Tokyo dropped to 87 on Monday, the lowest tally since Nov 2 last year, and a precipitous decline from more than 5,000 a day in an August wave that hammered the capital's medical infrastructure.
The pattern is the same across the country.
After a slow start, Japan has made rapid progress in its vaccination campaign and almost six months of emergency distancing restrictions have likely helped stem the spread of the virus.
Japan has vaccinated 61 percent of its population and the government was gearing up for booster shots to head off the breakthrough cases seen elsewhere in the world, Noriko Horiuchi, the new minister in charge of vaccines, said in her first press briefing since her appointment.
Lao health authorities are considering allowing COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms to self-isolate at home as health facilities are reaching capacity, state-run daily Vientiane Times reported on Tuesday.
The recommendation is also being considered for people known to have had close contact with an infected person, Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, director general of the Department of Communicable Disease Control under the Lao health ministry, said at a media briefing on Monday.
Even though more temporary hospitals have been set up in many provinces, and medical personnel will soon be unable to adequately deal with the growing number of COVID-19 cases, he added.
The National Taskforce for COVID-19 Prevention and Control, the Ministry of Health and other relevant bodies are assessing the situation and may advise people with no or mild symptoms in various parts of capital Vientiane to self-isolate, so as to free up hospitals for people in need of treatment, said the official.
Laos reported 454 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the tally to 25,987 with 22 deaths.
Malaysia reported 8,075 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight Monday, bringing the national tally to 2,285,640, according to the health ministry.
Another 76 deaths were reported, dipping to double digits for the first time since July and bringing the death toll to 26,759.
The country said that 221,812 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Monday, and some 73.3 percent of the population have received at least one shot while 63.4 percent are fully vaccinated.
Mongolia reported 2,225 new COVID-19 cases and 15 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 314,601 and the toll to 1,289, the health ministry said Tuesday.
More than 380 of the 22,214 COVID-19 patients being hospitalized across the country are in very critical conditions, according to the ministry.
Although over 65 percent of the population of 3.4 million people has received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the resurgence of the pandemic has continued due to the Delta wave, and more than 2,000 infections and nearly 20 deaths have been reported daily.
So far, more than 320,000 Mongolians have received the booster.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has increased to 469,782 on Monday after 1,319 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, according to a release from the Ministry of Health.
Thirty-eight new deaths were reported, bringing the death toll to 17,921 in the country as of Monday, according to the release.
New Zealand said on Tuesday that it will start using COVID-19 vaccine certificates as proof of inoculation at large events and other high-risk settings from next month, as the country battles the spread of the Delta variant.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who on Monday abandoned a long-standing strategy of eliminating coronavirus in the face of a persistent Delta outbreak, said the certificates would help ensure large gatherings such as music festivals did not become superspreader events.
"We will use them (vaccine certificates) as a tool to lessen risks at what are currently considered as high risk settings, including large scale events," Ardern said at a news conference, urging people to bring forward their vaccination plans.
She added they were unlikely to be needed in places like health services and supermarkets.
New Zealand recorded 24 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, taking the total number of infections in the current outbreak to 1,381. About 48 percent of the adult population is currently fully vaccinated.
Pakistan on Monday confirmed 1,308 new COVID-19 cases and 54 more deaths, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Tuesday.
To date, the country has recorded 1,252,656 confirmed cases, 27,947 deaths and 1,178,883 recoveries.
Pakistan has administered 86,630,655 doses of vaccines so far, said the NCOC, adding that 31,020,211 people are fully vaccinated.
Residents queue for COVID-19 vaccination in Marikina City, suburban Manila, Philippines, on Aug 6, 2021. (TED ALJIBE / AFP)
The Philippines will take longer to reach its goal of fully vaccinating 70 percent of its population, which officials said will be achieved in February before the 2022 elections, instead of this year.
Half of the population will be fully inoculated by year-end, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said at a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night. Up to 160 million doses will be delivered within the year, Galvez said.
The Philippines is lagging peers in Southeast Asia in the vaccine rollout, with about 23 percent of the population fully vaccinated, compared with 63 percent in Malaysia. The slow progress is hampering the easing of mobility curbs, which is hurting the economic growth outlook for this year.
The Philippine government is in talks with up to 5 vaccine makers for 90 million doses with delivery expected to start in the first quarter of next year. A deal for 6 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be signed this week, Galvez said.
Singapore reported 2,475 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total tally in the country to 106,318.
Of the new cases, 1,859 were in the community, 601 were in migrant worker dormitories and 15 were imported cases, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a press release.
A total of 1,355 cases are currently warded in hospitals, with 226 of serious illness requiring oxygen supplementation, and 35 in critical condition in the intensive care units, said the MOH.
Eight more cases have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection.
READ MORE: Singapore seeks to contain virus disruption in worker dorms
South Korea saw 1,575 new cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Monday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 321,352.
The daily caseload was down from 1,673 but it has hovered above 1,000 for 91 straight days since July 7.
Meanwhile, the death toll rose by 11 to 2,524.
The country has administered COVID-19 vaccines to a total of 39,739,505 people, or 77.4 percent of the total population.
A total of 27,225,977 people have been fully vaccinated, representing 53 percent of the population.
The Thai Red Cross Society kicked off a vaccination campaign on Tuesday for migrant workers, one of the country's most vulnerable groups that has been largely left behind in the broader COVID-19 inoculation rollout.
About 300 workers received their first doses along with a small number of undocumented refugees as part of a campaign due to run until the end of the month that is initially targeting 5,000 workers.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said the Thai Red Cross has set aside 10,000 of 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Red Cross Society of China – enough to fully vaccinate 5,000 migrant workers.
The rest of the batch would be allocated to other vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, IFRC told Reuters.
The Thai Red Cross said in July it had bought 1 million doses of Moderna's vaccine, which it planned to administer to medical personnel and vulnerable groups and sell to organizations around the country for general distribution.
That shipment has not yet arrived in the country.
Turkey on Monday reported 28,810 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 7,267,077, according to its Health Ministry.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 248 to 64,909, while 33,152 people recovered in the last 24 hours.