A health personnel prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a children's hospital in Colombo on Sept 24, 2021, as the country began inoculating children over 12. (ISHARA S KODIKARA / AFP)
TOKYO / SEOUL / SYDNEY / DHAKA / PHNOM PENH / NEW DELHI / TEHRAN / JERUSALEM / VIENTIANE / KUALA LUMPUR / ISLAMABAD / SINGAPORE / ULAN BATOR / KATHMANDU / WELLINGTON / BANGKOK / ANKARA / HANOI – Singapore said on Friday it will tighten COVID-19 curbs to limit social gatherings to two people and make working from home a default, in a bid to contain a spike in infections and reduce pressure on the healthcare system.
Despite a rapid vaccination drive, the city-state has been seeing more than 1,000 daily cases this week, including 1,504 on Thursday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
In a statement on Friday, the health ministry said: "many COVID positive individuals with mild symptoms are seeking medical attention at our hospitals when it might not be necessary."
With 82 percent of the population fully vaccinated, about 98% of the coronavirus cases in the past four weeks had no or mild symptoms, it said in a report a day earlier.
Singapore ministers told a media briefing on Friday that the jump in COVID-19 cases in the island of 5.7 million people had put "tremendous" pressure on its healthcare system.
The latest curbs come into force on Monday and will run until Oct 24.
Gan Kim Yong, trade minister and co-chair of the government's coronavirus taskforce, said it had been a "very difficult decision" to tighten curbs again due to the impact on businesses and people.
But he told the briefing "it will allow us to slow down the speed of increase (in infections) and avoid overtaxing our healthcare workers."
Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc is in discussions with Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority regarding obtaining a full license application for its COVID-19 vaccine, the company said in response to a query from Reuters.
Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine has interim authorization under the pandemic special access route in Singapore. The US Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the vaccine last month.
ALSO READ: S'pore reports highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases
More than half of Australia's adult population were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday, authorities said, as they step up inoculations in hopes of easing restrictions while cases linger near daily record levels in Victoria.
Victoria on Friday reported one new death and 733 new infections, its second biggest daily rise in the pandemic, down from the record high of 766 on Thursday. Most cases were detected in Melbourne.
Healthcare workers in Victoria battling a rising number of COVID-19 cases believe that a series of violent demonstrations in the capital city of Melbourne could trigger an even worse spike in the disease.
The demonstrations were sparked by vaccine mandates imposed on construction workers but have quickly devolved into a broader show of pent-up fury against the ongoing lockdowns imposed on the city as well as people opposed to vaccinations.
Meanwhile, Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state reported on Friday 1,043 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19, down from 1,063 a day earlier, as first-dose vaccination levels in the state’s adult population neared 85 percent.
NSW also reported 11 additonal deaths from the virus, with 10 of them unvaccinated. A total of 1,186 cases are hospitalised, with 232 in intensive care, 110 of whom require ventilation.
Both NSW and Victorian leaders have pledged more freedom to residents once full vaccinations in people older than 16 reach 70 percent, expected next month. So far, 57 percent have been fully vaccinated in NSW, above the national average of 50.1 percent. Two million doses were administered in country in the last seven days.
Bangladesh has received a new batch of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines from China.
A plane of Biman Bangladesh Airlines carrying 5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine arrived at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on Thursday, Health Ministry spokesperson Maidul Islam Prodhan told Xinhua Friday.
"We've received 5 million Sinopharm vaccine doses from China Thursday," he said.
On Sept 18 and 11, Bangladesh respectively received 5 million and 5.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's pharmaceutical Sinopharm Group.
Bangladesh's vaccination drive is currently running smoothly in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere largely thanks to China's continued vaccine support.
Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen has decided to suspend the ongoing two-week Kan Ben and Pchum Ben celebrations across the kingdom in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"The move is to ensure the protection of people's lives and health, as the Kingdom of Cambodia has been reopening schools as well as planning to reopen the country fully in the future," he said in a decision released at Thursday midnight.
Hun Sen said any mass gatherings at Buddhist pagodas during the celebrations could put the country at high risk of a large-scale nationwide COVID-19 outbreak, particularly the Delta variant.
The decision came after a COVID-19 outbreak confirmed at a Buddhist pagoda in Phnom Penh capital city on Thursday, just a day after the two-week Kan Ben festival began.
Kan Ben festival is part of the Pchum Ben festival or the Ancestor's Day, which is one of the largest festivals in Buddhism. This year's Pchum Ben festival will fall on Oct 6.
Although the celebrations were canceled, the three-day public holiday for the Pchum Ben festival from Oct 5 to 7 will be maintained, Hun Sen said.
Cambodia on Friday received a new batch of 3 million doses of China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine.
A flight carrying the vaccine, purchased from Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, landed at the Phnom Penh International Airport shortly before 10 am local time, said Ministry of Health (MoH) Secretary of State Yok Sambath.
The Southeast Asian nation on Friday reported a daily record of 822 new COVID-19 cases, lifting the national total caseload to 107,441, the health ministry said, adding that 21 more fatalities had been registered, taking the overall death toll to 2,197.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 33,594,803 on Friday, as 31,382 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, the health ministry's latest data showed.
Besides, as many as 318 deaths due to the pandemic were reported since Thursday morning, taking the total death toll to 446,368.
Most of the new cases and deaths, 19,682 and 152, respectively, were reported from the southern state of Kerala.
Indian drugmaker Shilpa Medicare Limited said on Friday it had agreed to produce Cadila Healthcare Ltd's three-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
The country's health authorities had given emergency approval in August for Cadila's vaccine, the world's first COVID-19 DNA shot, in adults and children aged 12 years and above. read more
Cadila, which is expected to begin supplying its vaccine from next month, aims to make 100 million to 120 million doses of ZyCoV-D a year.
The Iranian Health Ministry reported on Thursday 16,362 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,493,591.
According to a briefing published by Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education on its official website, the pandemic has claimed 118,508 lives in the country so far, after 317 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours.
Israeli teachers who have not been vaccinated against the COVID-19 will be banned from entering schools unless they present a negative test result, Israeli Ministry of Education said on Thursday.
Under the decision, teachers who do not present the Green Pass, which is a proof of COVID-19 vaccination or recovery from the disease, are required to present a rapid antigen test performed up to 84 hours earlier.
The ban is part of the Israeli government's efforts to reduce the high COVID-19 morbidity in the country, and particularly in the unclosed education sector amid the rapid spread of the virus.
Under the instructions of the ministry, the teachers of schools and kindergartens who do not meet these conditions will not be paid for the days of absence, nor will they be allowed to teach remotely through Zoom.
A woman looks at the sunset from an observatory deck with Mount Fuji in the background, Japan's highest mountain at 3,776 meters, in Tokyo on Sept 23, 2021. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
Japan’s COVID-19 infection situation is improving such that emergency conditions could soon be lifted in most parts of the country, the health minister said on Friday.
Hospitalisation rates and patient bed availability will factor into whether the state of emergency prevailing over Tokyo and much of the country can be lifted at the end of this month, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters.
“After hearing the opinions of experts, the Cabinet will make a final decision,” he said.
The infectious Delta variant sparked a fifth wave of COVID-19 in Japan that drove infections to record levels last month. To prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, the government extended emergency restrictions covering about 80 percent of the population until the end of September.
The curbs have centred on asking restaurants to close early and refrain from serving alcohol. Residents are being urged to work from home as much as possible and refrain from travel.
The government is considering using checks of inoculation status or negative COVID-19 results as a means to ease restrictions on businesses and human mobility.
Laos has authorized the use of rapid COVID-19 tests which were previously prohibited.
Director General of the National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology under the Lao Ministry of Health, Phonepadith Xangsayarath, told a press conference here on Friday that there are many benefits to use rapid test kits, such as being able to see results within 15 to 20 minutes without utilizing a laboratory, and these kits are easy to use.
"However, we must be aware of the limitations of rapid tests, such as unclear test results, and the fact that the test must be undertaken in an environment with a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius or lower. If people test in the heat it will not produce reliable results," said Phonepadith.
He also mentioned that proper disposal of medical waste was a big issue, and users of the rapid tests must understand how to properly dispose of the kits to prevent the further spread of the virus.
Phonepadith said that Laos will allow the use of the rapid tests that are approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), and can be found under the WHO's Emergency Use Listing.
The Lao Ministry of Health on Friday reported 28 new imported cases and 406 locally transmitted cases.
As of Friday, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Laos has reached 21,080 with 16 deaths.
Malaysia reported another 13,754 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight Thursday, raising the national total to 2,156,678, according to the health ministry.
Four of the new cases are imported and 13,750 are local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed. Another 116 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 24,681.
Mongolia's COVID-19 tally rose to 289,929 after 2,612 more local infections were reported over the past 24 hours, the country's health ministry said Friday.
The death toll increased to 1,071 after 12 more deaths were reported in the past day.
Meanwhile, 22,305 COVID-19 patients, including 1,721 pregnant women and 3,259 children, are currently being hospitalized in 420 health facilities across the country, while 68,133 patients are receiving home-based care due to a shortage of hospital beds.
Nepal on Thursday resumed the on-arrival visa service to foreign tourists fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a view to reviving the tourism sector.
In a travel advisory to be effective immediately, Nepal's Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation said that foreign tourists would be able to receive on-arrival visas after producing documents showing they are fully inoculated against the coronavirus at least 14 days prior to their arrival in Nepal.
In addition, foreign tourists should produce documents about testing negative for the coronavirus in polymerase chain reaction tests 72 hours before they check in for boarding flights for Nepal, evidence of hotel booking in Nepal, and permits issued by Nepali authorities if foreigners are coming to Nepal for mountaineering and trekking, among others.
Foreign visitors need to go through antigen tests after arrival in Nepal, and shall be put in isolation if they test positive.
It is for the first time the South Asian country has resumed on-arrival visa facility for foreign tourists after suspending the service in March last year when being hit by the first wave of COVID-19.
New Zealand reported nine new Delta variant cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country's community outbreak to 1,131.
The new infections were all recorded in the largest city Auckland, Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay told a press conference.
Thirteen community cases are being treated in the hospital, including three in intensive care units (ICUs) or high dependency units (HDUs), McElnay said.
There are 1,096 cases that have been clearly epidemiologically linked to another case or sub-cluster, and a further 14 cases for which links are yet to be fully established, she said.
Pakistan reported 2,233 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Friday.
The overall tally of the infected people climbed to 1,234,828 across the country, said NCOC, the department leading Pakistan's campaign against the pandemic.
Pakistan's southern Sindh province has been the worst hit, with a total of 453,858 cases, followed by eastern Punjab province where the virus was detected in 426,639 people.
A total of 27,482 people died of COVID-19 in Pakistan, including 50 patients who lost their lives to the pandemic over the last 24 hours, the NCOC said.
Visitors pose for photos on a glass floored section of the 123-story Lotte World Tower skyscraper in Seoul on Sept 22, 2021. (ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)
South Korea has set a record for daily COVID-19 cases at 2,434, breaking the previous record set last month here, as the country grapples with a wave of infections that began in early July, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said Friday.
The mortality rate and severe cases remain relatively low and steady at 0.82 percent and 309, respectively, helped largely by vaccinations that prioritised older people at high risk of severe COVID-19, KDCA said when reporting figures for Thursday.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum stressed the need for virus-prevention rules to be stricter as adherence could have been lax during this week’s three-day holiday.
Authorities have advised people returning from holiday to be tested even for the mildest COVID-19-type symptoms, especially before going to work.
Thursday’s new cases brings total infections to 295,132, with 2,434 deaths.
South Korea has given 72.3 percent of its 52 million population at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine through Thursday, and has fully inoculated nearly 44 percent.
Thailand on Friday started to administer COVID-19 booster shots to people who have been fully vaccinated, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Public Health.
The authorities started to give the third dose of booster shots to about 150,000 people. Around 3 million people are eligible to be vaccinated with booster shots, according to the official figures.
Thailand on Friday reported 12,697 new COVID-19 cases and 132 additional fatalities, according to the country's Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Of the new cases, 3,721 were found in Bangkok and its five neighboring provinces, the CCSA said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic early last year, there have been more than 1.53 million COVID-19 infections in the country, while the cumulative fatalities currently stand at 16,016, or around 1 percent of the total infections.
READ MORE: Novavax applies to WHO for emergency listing of vaccine
Turkey on Thursday confirmed 27,844 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally of infections in the country to 6,960,297.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 217 to 62,524, while 21,267 more people recovered in the last 24 hours, according to the Turkish Health Ministry.
A total of 356,132 tests were conducted over the past day, the ministry said.
Vietnam has pushed back a plan to re-open the resort island of Phu Quoc to foreign tourists until November, after failing to meet targets for inoculating residents due to insufficient vaccine supplies, state media reported.
Authorities had initially planned to allow vaccinated foreign tourists to start returning to Phu Quoc in October to revive the tourism sector and prop up the economy. Last week, the island's authorities said an additional 250,000-300,000 doses were needed to achieve herd immunity.
So far only 2.9 percent of residents in Kien Giang, the province that hosts Phu Quoc, had received two doses, official data showed.
Overall, 7.3 percent of Vietnam's 98 million people are fully vaccinated – one of the lowest rates in the region.
Vietnam will allow residents to have a smaller gap between AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses in the country's virus epicenter Ho Chi Minh City, the health ministry said on Friday.
People in the city of around 9 million people can now receive a second dose of the vaccine six weeks after the first, down from between 8 and 12 weeks, the ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese pharmaceutical company Vabiotech plans to start commercial production of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in days, using semi-finished material shipped from Russia, a company spokesman said.