People at a cross junction in Shibuya, Japan, Oct 1, 2021. (KIICHIRO SATO / AP)
SINGAPORE / JERUSALEM / SYDNEY / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / NEW DELHI / TEHRAN / TOKYO / BEIRUT / ULAN BATOR / WELLINGTON / ISLAMABAD / SEOUL / MANILA / HANOI / JAKARTA – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday he would do his utmost to lead Japan out of the COVID-19 crisis while protecting its territory and people in an increasingly tough security environment.
"I'm determined to devote body-and-soul to overcome this national crisis with the people, carve out a new era and pass on to the next generation a country whose citizens are rich at heart," Kishida said in his first policy speech to parliament.
The 64-year-old former foreign minister, who has a reputation as a low-key consensus builder, said the government would quickly put together a stimulus package to support those hit hard by the pandemic and take legislative steps to secure medical resources.
He did not specify the size of the stimulus package in his speech but last month he suggested a sum of 30 trillion yen ($268 billion).
Kishida underscored the need to support those in need to win public cooperation and he called for cash payouts to companies hit hard by the pandemic.
He also pledged to give cash payouts to so-called non-regular workers, families with children, and those struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic.
Also on Friday, Japan's health ministry said it concluded a deal with Pfizer Inc to secure another 120 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from January 2022.
READ MORE: Israel's COVID-19 cases exceed 1.3m
The Australian state of Victoria's COVID-19 outbreak continues to accelerate alarmingly, breaking a national daily record of 1,838 new cases and five related deaths, according to figures released on Friday.
As of Friday morning, there were 16,823 active cases in the state, mostly concentrated in the state capital of Melbourne, putting unprecedented demand on Victoria's struggling health system.
Ambulance Victoria has reported that daily demands are at an all-time high, and in response its besieged paramedics will be joined next week in their emergency work by drivers from other services such as the Australian Defence Force, St John Ambulance Australia, State Emergency Service, or student paramedics.
An Australian doctors group warned that a too-rapid easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney could put pressure on health systems and risk lives, as the country’s biggest city prepares for an end to more than 100 days in lockdown.
Many restrictions are due to be lifted on Monday after New South Wales state hit a targetted 70 percent rate for full vaccinations, and authorities on Thursday bumped up permitted limits for home gatherings, weddings and funerals in the capital Sydney.
However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), which represents the country’s doctors, said opening “too fast or too early” will result in avoidable deaths and the reintroduction of lockdowns.
“New South Wales must not be reckless at this critical time,” AMA President Omar Khorshid said in a statement late Thursday.
State Premier Dominic Perrottet has defended his move to bring forward the relaxation of several restrictions amid a steady fall in infections, saying the pandemic “is an economic crisis too”.
Neighbouring Victoria, meanwhile, logged a record 1,838 new cases on Friday, the highest number of any state in the country since the pandemic began, exceeding the previous high of 1,763 set three days earlier, and five new deaths.
Australia is fighting a third wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant that has locked down Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra, forcing the closure of thousands of businesses and people to remain at home.
More than 70 percent of the total population in Brunei has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine under the national vaccination program, the Brunei government announced on Thursday.
According to the Ministry of Health, as of Oct. 6, 319,711 individuals have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is 70.5 percent of the total population.
Meanwhile, 206,482 individuals have been fully vaccinated, accounting for 45.5 percent of the total population.
Brunei previously announced that COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, China's Sinopharm, and Johnson and Johnson would be administered in the country.
Merck & Co's experimental antiviral drug molnupiravir has not shown "significant efficacy" against moderate COVID-19, a source with the Drug Controller General of India said.
Aurobindo Pharma Ltd wants to discontinue a late-stage trial of molnupiravir in moderate COVID-19 patients, the regulator's expert committee said on Friday.
"There is no significant efficacy against moderate COVID and the effective efficacy is towards mild cases," the source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the discussions.
The regulator and health ministry did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 33,915,569 on Friday, as 21,257 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data.
Besides, 217 deaths due to the pandemic since Thursday morning took the total death toll to 450,127.
The local government in the Indian capital New Delhi said Friday it will not allow unvaccinated employees to attend offices from Oct 16.
According to an order issued by Delhi's government Disaster Management Authority, all unvaccinated Delhi government employees will be treated as having gone "on leave" until they get vaccinated.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 1,384 within one day to 4,225,871, while the death toll increased by 66 to 142,560, the country's Health Ministry said on Friday.
According to the ministry, another 3,514 people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries to 4,057,760.
To date, at least 56.10 million people in the country have received two shots of vaccines while 98.14 million have taken their first dose, the ministry added.
The Iranian Health Ministry reported on Thursday 11,625 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,674,083.
According to an official briefing published by Iran's state TV, the pandemic has claimed 122,012 lives in the country so far, after 233 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours.
In this Aug 29, 2021 photo, a health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on a man at the Clalit Health Services in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Beit Hanina, in the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A comprehensive Israeli study that analyzed data of over 2.5 million people has found that the risk of myocarditis after receiving a coronavirus vaccine is significantly rare, Beilinson Hospital in central Israel said on Thursday.
The hospital noted that the incidence of myocarditis is rare even among young men, who are the most at-risk group for myocarditis after vaccination.
The study was conducted by the hospital along with Clalit, the largest health maintenance organization (HMO) in Israel, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
It was based on data analysis of over 2.5 million patients over the age of 16 who were vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Pfizer shots, with 94 percent of them receiving two doses.
Of all vaccinated people included in the study, only 54 myocarditis cases were detected, of whom 51 were men, during a period of up to 42 days after receiving the shot.
This reflects an incidence of 2.13 cases per 100,000 vaccinated, 4.12 in men and 0.23 in women.
In addition, the side effect appeared more among men than women, and more between the ages of 16-29 compared to those aged 30 and over.
Also, 41 of the myocarditis patients, or 76 percent, suffered from it mildly, 12 patients with moderate severity, and only one patient was in severe condition.
"The findings show that in the vast majority of cases, it is a mild disease that does not significantly affect cardiac function in the short term and is not expected to affect patients' health in the long term," the researchers concluded.
Lebanese Health Minister Firas Abiad said on Thursday that Lebanon will receive more COVID-19 vaccines to boost its vaccination campaign ahead of the winter season.
Speaking at a press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Abiad said that France agreed to donate 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, while Lebanon had also agreed with the World Bank to buy 1 million additional doses.
Abiad noted that although the pandemic situation in Lebanon has improved, the vaccination must increase as a new wave of the pandemic may occur in the winter season.
The Lebanese Health Ministry reported on Thursday that only 26.7 percent of the Lebanese population have been so far fully vaccinated against the pandemic.
As of Thursday, Lebanon's total number of COVID-19 infections rose to 628,241 while its death toll from the virus reached 8,375.
Malaysia has granted conditional approval for the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech to be used as a booster shot, the health ministry said on Friday.
The approval allows the vaccine to be used only on adults aged 18 and above, at least six months after they have received their second dose, the ministry said in a statement.
Authorities earlier said booster shots would not be compulsory but were highly recommended for those in vulnerable and high-risk groups.
The mixing of different vaccines will also be allowed for booster doses. In addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, Malaysia uses vaccines made by Britain’s AstraZeneca and Chinese firms Sinovac and CanSino Biologics in its national inoculation campaign.
About 64 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million population are fully vaccinated, including 89 percent of adults.
Malaysia reported another 9,890 COVID-19 infections as of midnight Thursday, bringing the national total to 2,313,727, according to the health ministry.
Eighteen of the new cases are imported and 9,872 are local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed.
Another 132 deaths were reported, bringing the death toll to 27,113.
Mongolia's COVID-19 tally rose to 321,657 on Friday after 2,410 new local infections were registered over the past 24 hours, according to a statement by the country's health ministry.
In addition, 13 more people over 20 years of age have died from the viral disease in the past day, leaving the death toll at 1,331, the ministry said in a statement.
Currently, a total of 20,482 COVID-19 patients, including over 4,000 children and more than 1,500 pregnant women are being hospitalized across the country, and 351 of the patients are in critical conditions. Meanwhile, 58,394 COVID-19 patients are receiving home-based care due to a shortage of hospital beds and medical staff.
New Zealand reported 44 new Delta variant cases of COVID-19 in the community on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the country's community outbreak to 1,492.
Forty-one of the new infections were recorded in the largest city Auckland and three in nearby Waikato, according to the Ministry of Health.
Pakistan's daily COVID-19 cases dropped below the 1,000-mark on Thursday after a period of more than three months, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Friday.
The NCOC, a department leading Pakistan's campaign against the pandemic, said that 912 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Thursday.
People walk past a temple with traditional Chinese architecture in Singapore on Oct 6, 2021. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)
Singapore plans to widen its quarantine-free travel programme to include fully vaccinated individuals from South Korea and the United States as the financial hub moves cautiously to reopen its borders.
Fully vaccinated travelers can travel between the city-state’s Changi airport and South Korea’s Incheon airport, taking COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests instead of observing quarantine from Nov 15, the transport ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Singapore, a travel and tourism hub, began a similar programme for visitors from Germany and Brunei last month, and is working to include the United States by year-end.
“We have had successful pilots of Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) with Germany and Brunei,” Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Thursday during a visit to Washington, DC.
“We are now working on a VTL with the US as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of the year.”
Vaccinated visitors using these lanes can bypass the isolation requirements if their polymerase chain reaction tests prove negative.
Singapore reported 3,483 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total tally in the country to 116,864.
Of the new cases, 2,783 were in the community, 692 were in migrant worker dormitories and eight were imported cases, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a press release. Among the local cases, 607 are above 60 years. Of the imported cases, one was detected upon arrival in Singapore, while seven developed the illness during Stay-Home Notice(SHN) or isolation.
Three more patients have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection. Of these, two were male Singaporeans and one was a female Singaporean aged between 57 and 90 years old. Amongst them, two had been vaccinated, and all of them had various underlying medical conditions.
In total, 136 have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 Infection.
South Korea reported 2,176 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Thursday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 327,976.
The daily caseload was down from 2,425 in the prior day, but it hovered above 1,000 for 94 straight days since July 7. The daily average tally for the past week was 2,030.
The recent resurgence was attributable to the cluster infections in the Seoul metropolitan area.
Thirty-one cases were imported, lifting the combined figure to 14,648.
Ten more deaths were confirmed, leaving the death toll at 2,554. The total fatality rate stood at 0.78 percent.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) on Friday reported 10,670 new COVID-19 infections, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,643,494.
The DOH also reported that 295 more people died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country's death toll to 39,232. It corrected the death toll published on Thursday from 39,937 to 38,937 due to "typing error."
The DOH added 104 deaths were recorded in the past two days after the agency reported zero deaths due to "technical issues."
READ MORE: WHO: Virus testing, vaccination declined in Afghanistan
Vietnam reported 4,150 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the lowest number since July 18, including 4,147 locally transmitted and three imported, according to the country's Ministry of Health.
Most of the community cases were detected in southern localities, including 1,730 in Ho Chi Minh City, 840 in Binh Duong province, and 589 in Dong Nai province.
The new infections brought the country's total tally to 826,837, with 20,223 deaths, the ministry said.