A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for a secondary school student at a vaccine center in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Sept 20, 2021. (VINCENT THIAN / AP)
YANGON / JAKARTA / HANOI / COLOMBO / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / SINGAPORE / BAGHDAD / TEHRAN / MELBOURNE / SYDNEY / KUALA LUMPUR / WELLINGTON / NEW DELHI / ISLAMABAD / SEOUL / VIENTIANE – Malaysia said on Thursday it would now be mandatory for all federal government employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with exceptions only to be allowed on health grounds.
The announcement comes as the country looks to boost vaccination rates with the aim of inoculating 80 percent of the population by the end of the year.
Malaysia has one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in Southeast Asia, with 61 percent of its 32 million population already fully vaccinated.
In a statement, the Public Service Department said vaccinations would be made compulsory for federal staff in order to boost public confidence and ensure government services can be delivered smoothly.
Nearly 98 percent of civil servants were already vaccinated, while 16,902 or 1.6 percent have yet to register under the country's inoculation program, the department said. Malaysia has around 1.6 million public servants.
Unvaccinated employees have been given until Nov 1 to complete their inoculations, while those who are unable to be vaccinated must submit health information verified by a government medical officer.
Those who fail to get vaccinated in time will face disciplinary action, the department said.
A woman carries her shopping while police officers stand guard on a Melbourne street on Sept 29, 2021 as the city grapples with a surge in COVID-19 infections recording 950 cases, the largest daily total since the start of the pandemic. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)
COVID-19 cases in Australia's Victoria state surged to record levels on Thursday despite Melbourne, the state capital, being stuck in a hard lockdown for nearly two months as officials race to vaccinate the population before easing curbs.
A total of 1,438 new infections were reported, the majority in Melbourne, eclipsing the previous daily high of 950 on Wednesday. Five new deaths were recorded in the state.
Australia's largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra are in a weeks-long lockdown to combat a third wave of infections fuelled by the fast-moving Delta variant. Authorities have ditched a COVID-zero strategy and are looking at higher vaccination as their exit strategy from lockdowns.
The record cases in Victoria come as the federal government on Thursday decided to phase out its emergency financial support for businesses impacted by the lockdowns, in line with its plan to end support to virus-impacted employees.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the temporary payments will stop once 80 percent of the adult population in states and territories becomes fully vaccinated.
But Victoria's businesses will receive a fresh A$2.27 billion ($1.65 billion) support from the federal government through the next six weeks at which point the state should hit that dosage target, from around 50 percent now.
The federal government decision to wind down support payments, shared equally between states and Canberra, will put pressure on virus-free states to keep their economies open and avoid lockdowns to fight future outbreaks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been pressing all states and territories to begin living with the virus once full inoculations reach 70-80 percent but Queensland and Western Australia, largely COVID-free, flagged they may delay their reopening.
Despite the latest Delta outbreaks, total cases in Australia stand at around 104,000 and deaths at 1,283, well below other comparable nations.
Brunei reported 137 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the national tally to 6,950.
According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, all the new cases are local infections. While the source of infection of 95 local cases is still under investigation, four new clusters have been detected.
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India's COVID-19 tally rose to 33,739,980 on Thursday, as 23,529 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data.
Besides, 311 deaths due to the pandemic since Wednesday morning took the total death toll to 448,062.
Most of the new cases and deaths were reported from the southern state of Kerala, which is 12,161 and 155 respectively.
There are still 277,020 active COVID-19 cases in the country, a decline of 5,500 during the past 24 hours.
The active caseload was the lowest in 195 days, said the federal health ministry.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 1,954 in the past 24 hours to 4,213,414, with the death toll adding by 117 to 141,826, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
A COVID-19 patient is tended by a nurse at the COVID-19 ICU ward of Amir Al-Momenin hospital in the city of Qom, some 125 km south of the capital Tehran, Iran on Sept 15, 2021. (VAHID SALEMI / AP)
Iran's overall COVID-19 death toll reached 120,160 on Wednesday after 272 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours, according to Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education.
It also reported 13,271 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,572,962.
By Wednesday, 37,748,710 people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine in the country, while 16,060,951 have taken two doses
The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday 2,254 new coronavirus cases, raising the nationwide caseload to 2,000,869.
A statement by the ministry also reported 34 new deaths, bringing the death toll from the virus to 22,221, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 3,389 to 1,907,411.
A total of 29,741 people were vaccinated against COVID-19 in the past 24 hours across the country, bringing the total number of doses administered to 4,727,375, it said.
Laos' COVID-19 tally rose to 23,846 on Thursday with 358 new cases registered in the past 24 hours, while the death toll swelled to 18.
Deputy Director General of the Department of Communicable Diseases Control under the Lao Ministry of Health, Sisavath Soutthaniraxay, told a press conference here on Thursday that the country recorded 358 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death in the past 24 hours.
Sisavath said the new death involved a 75-year-old man living in Lao capital Vientiane.
He added that the country recorded 23 imported cases and 335 local transmissions
The COVID-19 cases have risen to 462,608 including 17,682 deaths in Myanmar, the country's Health Ministry reported Wednesday.
The ministry said in a release that 1,542 new confirmed cases and 51 more deaths from the pandemic were recorded in the past 24 hours.
New Zealand reported 19 new Delta variant cases of COVID-19 in the community on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the country's community outbreak to 1,249.
The new infections were all recorded in the largest city Auckland, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a press conference.
Eighteen community cases are being treated in hospitals, including four in intensive care units (ICUs) or high dependency units (HDUs), Bloomfield said.
There are 1,212 cases that have been clearly epidemiologically linked to another case or sub-cluster, and a further 15 cases for which links are yet to be fully established, he said.
Pakistan on Wednesday confirmed 1,742 new COVID-19 cases and 39 more deaths, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Thursday.
The NCOC, the country's department leading the campaign against the pandemic, said the country's total cases have risen to 1,245,127, including 1,169,566 recoveries.
The number of active cases has dropped to 47,832 who are under treatment across the country.
According to the NCOC, the pandemic killed 39 people on Wednesday, increasing the overall death toll to 27,729.
Singapore posted a record eight deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, a potential test of the government’s resolve to reopen amid fears tied to its recent exponential increase in infections.
New cases topped 2,200 for a second straight day even as the government reimplemented some domestic curbs to combat infection rates that are hitting their highest levels since the pandemic began.
While officials said they are committed to reopening the country where four in every five residents are fully vaccinated, the rise in the death toll doesn’t bode well.
Public perceptions of the virus situation are already strained in the city-state, where strict social measures to combat the pathogen have been in place for well over a year.
Of those whose deaths were reported on Wednesday, six were unvaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health. All were seniors aged 72 to 90. The deaths brings the total loss of life from the virus in Singapore to 93.
Still, evidence remains that high vaccination rates are warding off many serious infections. More than 98 percent of the 26,088 people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 28 days had mild or no symptoms.
Thirty-four patients are in critical condition in the intensive care unit, breaking the prior record of 32 from April, and 197 need oxygen supplementation, according to government data. Most of them are seniors, older than the age of 60.
“We are committed to reopening our economy and our society progressively, but our aim has always been to do this without putting too much stress on our hospital system,” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong told Bloomberg on Monday. “We want to keep our health care system intact and under control, and we want to avoid unnecessary deaths.”
ALSO READ: Philippines to open vaccinations to general public
South Korea reported 2,564 more cases of the COVID-19 as of midnight Wednesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 311,289.
The daily caseload was down from 2,885 in the prior day, but it hovered above 1,000 for 86 straight days since July 7. The daily average tally for the past week was 2,656.
The recent resurgence was attributable to cluster infections in the Seoul metropolitan area.
Children wait to get a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a children's hospital in Colombo on Sept 24, 2021, as the country began inoculating children over 12. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)
Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday instructed related authorities to lift the existing nationwide quarantine curfew over COVID-19 on Oct 1 as the South Asian country has seen a decline in coronavirus infections.
Sri Lanka's Army Commander and head of the National Operations Center for the Prevention of COVID-19 General Shavendra Silva told Xinhua that the nationwide curfew would be lifted on Friday under the president's directive and that health guidelines would be issued accordingly.
"Strict health guidelines are being prepared by the health authorities which will come into effect on Oct 1. The guidelines will be released to the public on Thursday," Silva said.
A nationwide quarantine curfew came into effect on Aug 20 as Sri Lanka faced a third wave of COVID-19 infections triggered by the highly contagious Delta variant, health officials said.
Vietnamese military personnel stand guard at a checkpoint in Ho Chi Minh City on Aug 23, 2021, after the government imposed a stricter lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 . (PHAM THO / AFP)
Vietnam's commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City will start relaxing its coronavirus curbs from later on Thursday, officials said, allowing more business and social activities after four months of measures aimed at arresting a spiralling death rate.
Policies will seek to spur the economy and restore some normalcy while coexisting with the virus, which hit the country hard in recent months, with overall deaths jumping from 36 in mid May to more than 19,098 as of Wednesday.
"All checkpoints on the streets will be lifted and no travel permits will be needed after today," Le Hoa Binh, deputy chairman of the city's people's committee, told a news conference.
"We are gradually opening but put our resident's safety first."
The city about 9 million people has borne the brunt of Vietnam's coronavirus crisis, accounting for 80 percent of the country's fatalities and half of its nearly 780,000 cases.
The capital Hanoi, however, has by comparison been only mildly impacted.
From Oct 1, Ho Chi Minh City's industrial parks, construction projects, malls, barber shops, hospitality facilities and restaurants for takeaways can resume operations, Binh said.
Movement curbs have forced the closure of many factories in its industrial belt, prompting warnings from some foreign commerce groups that prolonged curbs could see them shift business to other countries.
"We foresee a huge shortage of labour force at manufacturing factories and construction when the city reopens," Binh added.
"There are many chances for the unemployed to find new jobs and start over."
Authorities are seeking to accelerate inoculation, prioritizing workers and people over 50. About one-third of the city's residents have been fully vaccinated.