Malaysia bans large-scale New Year celebrations amid virus

People queue for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during the first mega vaccination at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre in Kuala Lumpur on May 31, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

ISLAMABAD / JAKARTA / JERUSALEM / KUALA LUMPUR / SEOUL / SYDNEY / TOKYO / WELLINGTON – Large scale New Year celebrations in Malaysia have been banned over concerns that the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 could spread in the country, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

The decision was made following the confirmation of a second Omicron case in the country and at least 18 more suspected cases, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told a press conference.

The Health Ministry has introduced new rules against travellers from Britain to prevent the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Starting on Dec 17, travellers from Britain would need to do daily self-tests during their quarantine period and all results need be reported on the government's COVID-19 management app.

In addition, the list of countries that were classified as "high-risk" have increased to nine. Travellers from Britain, the United States, Australia, France, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Nigeria and India, where the Omicron variant has been spreading in the community, are required to be fitted with wrist digital trackers upon arrival and during their quarantine.

Travellers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi are still not allowed to enter Malaysia for the time being.


Australian state leaders must not "panic and overreact" to predicted outbreaks of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Thursday, as some states ease curbs despite rising cases.

New South Wales and Victoria, on Wednesday rolled back most tough restrictions, including for the unvaccinated, as double-dose vaccination levels in people above 16 topped 90 percent

New South Wales and Victoria, home to more than half of Australia's near 26 million people, on Wednesday rolled back most tough restrictions, including for the unvaccinated, as double-dose vaccination levels in people above 16 topped 90 percent.

More relaxations have come as New South Wales, home to Sydney, on Thursday reported its biggest caseload since the pandemic began. The state reported 1,742 new cases, eclipsing a rise of 420 just a week ago. A total of 1,622 new infections have been logged in Victoria, its biggest in nearly seven weeks.

Amid a surge in cases as social distancing rules ease, Frydenberg urged state leaders to "not panic."

"Don't overreact, show compassion and common sense. Understand that we need to live with the virus … (No one) wants to go back to lockdowns," Frydenberg told Seven News, as he looks to deliver the mid-year budget review later on Thursday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is urging people to focus less on case numbers and more on hospitalization rates, which are still low, although some experts have called for restrictions to be tightened to stop the spread of the Omicron strain.

Authorities have warned daily infections could rise to 25,000 in New South Wales by the end of January as Omicron infections creep up.

A man receives the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine at Bur Telege, a popular spot for tourists overlooking Laut Tawar lake in Takengon, Aceh province, Indonesia, on Sept 19, 2021. (CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP)


Indonesia has identified its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the country’s health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Thursday.

The variant was detected on Wednesday evening in an employee at the Wisma Atlet hospital in Jakarta, who had no history of overseas travel.

The health minister said so far there was no community transmission, but there were five more suspected Omicron cases.

Indonesia on Wednesday confirmed 205 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally of the country to 4,259,644, with the death toll adding by nine to 143,969, according to the country's Health Ministry.

West Java, the country's most populous province, still recorded the most increasing number with 52 new cases, followed by Central Java with 19 cases and East Java with 28 cases.

During the past 24 hours, 237 people have been recovered, raising the number of recoveries to 4,110,811.


Israel's health ministry on Wednesday said it decided to ban travel to seven more countries to prevent the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

The ban will take effect on Monday and will include the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Finland, France and Sweden, which will be labeled as "red" countries, according to the ministry.

All Israelis returning from the banned countries, including vaccinated and recovered ones, must enter quarantine for at least seven days.

Foreign nationals are not allowed to travel from these countries to Israel, except in humanitarian cases with the approval of a special governmental committee. 


Japan on Thursday officially approved Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine for its booster program, while Novavax Inc filed for first approval of its shot in the country.

Moderna's mRNA-type vaccine, used mostly in Japan to date at workplace inoculation sites, was approved for used as a third booster shot for those aged 18 or older, following a recommendation from health ministry experts on Wednesday.

That's the same age range applied to the shot developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, which has been given out about 93,000 times as a booster through Wednesday, taking in about 0.1 percent of the population.

Novavax's protein-based vaccine was submitted to regulators by its Japanese distributor Takeda Pharmaceutical Co, the company said in a statement. Pending approval, Takeda plans to make the vaccine in Japan and distribute it in early 2022.

Japan's House of Representatives Wednesday approved a record 36.0 trillion yen (320 billion US dollars) supplementary budget for fiscal 2021 to prop the economy hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget will fund part of the government's new stimulus measures which were launched in mid-November to support the coronavirus-hit economy and prepare for a possible winter wave of COVID-19 infections, government officials said.

Under the supplementary budget, 18.6 trillion yen (163.5 billion dollars) will be used for measures to control the spread of the virus and improve medical care systems, 2.0 trillion yen (17.6 billion dollars) of which is intended to secure more beds for COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

READ MORE: Less than 1 COVID death a day in Japan as new cases plummet

Customers stand outside a bar in central Auckland, New Zealand, Dec 3, 2021. (ALEX BURTON / NZ HERALD VIA AP)

New Zealand

New Zealand's health regulator Medsafe has granted provisional approval for the Pfizer Inc COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years old, the health ministry said in a statement.

The provisional approval is for two doses of the paediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, given at least 21 days apart, it said.

If approved by the cabinet, the introduction of the paediatric Pfizer vaccine is expected to start in New Zealand no later than the end of January 2022, the ministry said.

New Zealand has reached the 90 percent fully vaccinated milestone across the country, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday.

It means 3,788,151 New Zealanders have rolled up their sleeves to protect themselves, their families, friends and communities, he said.

Hipkins added this means all New Zealanders are safer and more protected, and can get back to doing the things they love, such as travelling to catch up with friends and family for Christmas, heading out to restaurants, pubs and cafes, or enjoying the many festivals and outdoor events planned for the summer.


Pakistan added 370 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the National Command and Operation Center said on Wednesday.

The country's number of overall confirmed cases has risen to 1,289,913, according to the NCOC, the department leading Pakistan's campaign against the pandemic.

Another four people lost their lives due to the pandemic over the past 24 hours in Pakistan, taking the death toll to 28,843, according to the NCOC, and 706 are in critical condition.

People wait for the coronavirus testing outside a public health center in Seoul, South Korea, Dec 15, 2021. (AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP)

South Korea

South Korea said on Thursday it will reinstate social distancing rules a month-and-a-half after lifting them under a 'living with COVID-19' policy, as spiraling numbers of both new infections and serious cases threaten to overwhelm its medical system.

Curbs will return from Saturday to Jan 2, limiting gatherings to no more than four people – as long as they are vaccinated – and forcing restaurants, cafes and nightly entertainment facilities to close by 9 pm and movie theatres and internet cafes by 10 pm, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said.

Unvaccinated people can only dine out alone, or use takeout or delivery services.

The measures came a day after South Korea posted another new record daily coronavirus tally amid a persistent spike in breakthrough infections among those vaccinated and serious cases.