In this file photo taken on July 1, 2021, an international passenger reacts after a medical worker gave him a COVID-19 swab test following his arrival for the “Phuket Sandbox” tourism scheme that allows the entry of vaccinated visitors, at Phuket International Airport in Phuket, Thailand. (LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
SYDNEY / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN / NEW DELHI / JERUSALEM / TOKYO / VIENTIANE / KUALA LUMPUR / YANGON / ISLAMABAD / SINGAPORE / SEOUL / MANILA / ISTANBUL – Thailand unveiled a roadmap to revive its tourism-reliant economy by gradually scrapping a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated visitors, joining a growing list of nations in making cross-border travel easier ahead of the year-end holiday season.
Visitors from 10 low-risk countries including the US, China, Singapore, Germany and the UK will not be required to undergo isolation on arrival from Nov 1, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in remarks prepared for an address to the nation on Monday. The list of travelers eligible for quarantine waiver will be further expanded from December, he said, adding the government will also consider allowing restaurants to resume the sale of alcohol from Dec 1.
With countries such as Singapore, Australia and the UK moving to ease travel curbs on international travelers in recent weeks, Thailand could no longer delay its reopening, Prayut said.
“With these developments, we must act quickly but still cautiously, and not miss the opportunity to entice some of the year-end and new year holiday season travelers during the next few months to support the many millions of people who earn a living from our tourism, travel and entertainment sectors as well as the many other related sectors,” Prayut said.
“All that visitors will need do is to show that they are Covid-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and do a test in Thailand, after which they will be free to move around Thailand in the same way that any Thai citizen can do,” Prayut said.
While the decision may come with some risk of a resurgence in the outbreak, the government will closely monitor and contain any flare-up in infections, the prime minister said.
Sydney's cafes, gyms and restaurants welcomed back fully vaccinated customers on Monday after nearly four months of lockdown, as Australia aims to begin living with the coronavirus and gradually reopen the country.
Some pubs in Sydney, Australia's largest city, opened at 12:01 am (1301 GMT) and friends and families huddled together for a midnight beer, television footage and social media images showed.
"I see it as a day of freedom, it's a freedom day," New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters in Sydney, the state capital. "We are leading the nation out of this pandemic but this will be a challenge."
Perrottet warned that infections would rise after reopening, and virus-free states such as Western Australia and Queensland are watching what living with COVID-19 is going to look like amid concerns health systems could be overwhelmed.
Nearly a dozen Australian groups have urged the government to donate millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to help inoculate other countries against the deadly virus.
In a report published on Monday, a coalition of 11 health, business and society groups called on Australia to become a vaccine factory for the region.
It said the government should donate another 20 million vaccines through the COVAX Facility, an international initiative co-led by the World Health Organization and partners to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines, to help low income countries fight the pandemic and spend 250 million Australian dollars ($182.6 million) on the initiative.
The report identified 19 low income countries that it said at the current rate will not fully vaccinate 70 percent of their adult populations until after 2030.
Residents play rugby on Bondi beach at the end of a 106-day lockdown against COVID-19 in Sydney on Oct 11, 2021. (SAEED KHAN / AFP)ALSO READ: M'sia to begin interstate travel as 90% adults fully jabbed
Brunei reported 381 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, a record daily rise, bringing the national tally to 8,980.
According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, all the new cases are local infections. While the source of infection of 126 new cases is still under investigation, five new clusters have been detected and one cluster has been closed following no new detected cases in the cluster for 28 days, which brings the total number of active clusters to 160.
Fiji will reopen to fully vaccinated international travelers from Dec 1, ending more than 20 months of isolation that smashed the nation’s tourism industry.
US tourists will be the first to be able to travel to the popular South Pacific holiday destination. National carrier Fiji Airways will launch daily flights from Los Angeles to Nadi using new Airbus A350-900 aircraft, as well as five flights a week from San Francisco and two flights a week from Honolulu.
Fiji is on track to have its entire working population vaccinated by November. All arriving travelers must be fully vaccinated, present evidence of a 72-hour negative RT-PCR test prior to boarding, and complete an additional rapid test at their pre-booked resort or hotel upon arrival before commencing their holiday quarantine free.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 33,971,607 on Monday, as 18,132 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data.
The number of new cases recorded in a day are the lowest in the past 215 days, said a statement by the federal health ministry.
Besides, as many as 193 deaths from the pandemic since Sunday morning took the total death toll to 450,782.
People walk through a connecting bridge to shopping malls in Jakarta on Oct 10, 2021. (ADEK BERRY / AFP)
Indonesia is reopening its borders further, allowing visitors from more countries to enter and imposing a shorter quarantine period.
Southeast Asia’s largest economy will allow arrivals from 18 countries and reduce the minimum quarantine period to five days, from eight previously, said Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime and investment affairs who’s overseeing the pandemic response. He didn’t specify which are the 18 countries.
The country has gradually eased border restrictions, starting with the resumption of offshore visa applications and followed by the reopening of tourist spot Bali to foreign visitors this week. People’s mobility has started to bounce back as cinemas and gyms are reopened, with daily COVID-19 case and fatality numbers continuing to ease to the lowest since June 2020.
The eased rules apply to visitors who are fully vaccinated, has insurance coverage for COVID-19 care and come from countries with positivity rate below 5 percent. Batam and Bintan islands will be reopened to foreign tourists on Oct 14.
Indonesia is conducting a COVID-19 seroprevalence survey across 100 cities to guide policymakers in turning the pandemic into an endemic situation, said Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin. Just 21 percent of Indonesians have been fully vaccinated.
The positivity rate for new reported COVID-19 cases in Israel fell to 1.88 percent on Monday, according to the Ministry of Health.
It is the lowest rate for daily positive tests for coronavirus in about two and a half months, after it stood at 1.73 percent on July 24.
This is a significantly low rate of positivity compared to the rate of 8.42 percent recorded on Sept 2, and 15.52 percent on Sept 28, 2020.
The ministry also reported 1,457 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 1,306,333.
The death toll rose by 16 to 7,920 while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 463 to 447.
The number of people who have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines surpassed 6.18 million, or 65.8 percent of its total population, while nearly 5.7 million have taken two doses and over 3.7 million three jabs, according to the ministry.
Japan's Chugai Pharmaceutical Co said on Monday it has applied to regulators to expand the use of an antibody treatment for COVID-19 to also allow for preventative care.
Japanese regulators approved an antibody cocktail known as Ronapreve as a treatment for COVID-19 in July. The latest filing seeks to use the drug as both a prophylaxis for COVID-19 and as treatment of asymptomatic cases, Chugai said in a release.
Lao Ministry of Health on Monday reported 310 new COVID-19 infections and four new deaths, bringing the national total to 28,856 cases and 30 deaths.
Some six of the new cases were imported and 304 were local transmissions, Deputy Director General of the Department of Communicable Diseases Control under the Lao Ministry of Health, Sisavath Soutthaniraxay, told a press conference in Lao capital Vientiane on Monday.
Another four deaths have been reported in the past 24 hours, Sisavath said.
The new deaths involved a 57-year-old man living in Vientiane province, with kidney disease, hypertension, and diabetes, an 83-year-old man in Savannakhet province, who suffered from Cerebral arteriosclerosis and a 79-year-old woman living in Lao capital Vientiane, who suffered from underlying conditions including diabetes and kidney disease.
All of them had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Another death case was a 42-year-old prison inmate in lao capital Vientiane, who began exhibiting severe symptoms on last Friday.
Laos reported its first two confirmed COVID-19 cases on March 24 last year.
Malaysia's inter-state and national borders are finally open starting Monday, with many hailing the move as the start to a return to normalcy.
The easing of travel restrictions applies to those who are fully vaccinated, including those who are returning to their hometowns, following an announcement by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Sunday.
In a televised address, Ismail Sabri urged those opting to travel to remain on guard and not become complacent, follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) and other guidelines for their own health and safety.
Ismail Sabri added that opening state borders would also allow the hard-pressed tourism sector and other economic activities a chance to recover.
The decision comes after the national immunization program reached a target of having 90 percent of the adult population being fully vaccinated on Sunday and for the country to jumpstart its economic activities, following a series of long lockdowns.
It will be the first time since January that inter-state travel will be allowed without the need for permission. Those in the country had also been barred from traveling overseas for non-official or emergency reasons since the onset of the pandemic in March last year.
Malaysia reported 7,373 new COVID-19 infections and 64 more deaths as of midnight Sunday, bringing the tally to 2,339,594 and the toll to 27,329, according to the health ministry.
Myanmar will launch a COVID-19 vaccination program for schoolchildren aged over 12 years next week, state-run media reported on Sunday.
About 1 million students of middle and high school level who have enrolled for 2021-2022 academic year will be vaccinated, in an effort to cut the spread of COVID-19 infections, the report said.
According to a release from the Ministry of Health on Sunday, over 4.11 million people have been fully vaccinated nationwide, while over 5.78 million people have received the first jabs of COVID-19 vaccines as of Saturday.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has increased to 478,651 on Sunday after 1,318 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, the ministry's release said.
Thirty new deaths were recorded, bringing the death toll to 18,134 in the country as of Sunday, the release said.
New Zealand will require teachers and workers in the health and disability sectors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday, as she extended restrictions in Auckland, its largest city, for another week.
New Zealand is fighting the highly infectious Delta outbreak that forced it to abandon its long-standing strategy of eliminating the new coronavirus amid persistent infections and is looking to live with the virus through higher vaccinations.
New Zealand on Monday reported a slight easing in new COVID-19 cases, all of them in the country’s biggest city of Auckland, as authorities look to step up the pace of vaccination efforts to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant.
A total of 35 new cases were reported, down from 60 on Sunday, taking the total cases in the current outbreak to 1,622.
New Zealand last week abandoned its long-standing strategy of eliminating coronavirus amid persistent infections and will instead look to live with the virus and control its spread through higher vaccinations.
About 2.4 million New Zealanders have so far been fully vaccinated, or about 53 percent of the eligible population.
Pakistan on Sunday confirmed 1,004 new COVID-19 cases and 28 more deaths, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Monday.
The NCOC, a department leading campaign against the pandemic, said that the country has conducted 19,911,021 tests so far and confirmed overall 1,258,959 cases, including 1,188,562 recoveries.
The number of active cases has dropped to 42,263 who are under treatment across the country, while 2,473 are in critical condition.
According to the NCOC, the pandemic killed 28 people on Sunday, increasing the overall death toll to 28,134.
People sail along the East Coast waterway, as the city skyline is seen in the background, in Singapore on Oct 11, 2021. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)
Singapore is considering more vaccinated travel routes after opening up to the US and other key trading partners, with Transport Minister S Iswaran saying Monday that the city state is keen to work with regional neighbors including Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
“Certainly, Australia is a very important partner country for us. And there’s a great deal of connectivity between Australia and Singapore, and through Singapore to other parts of the world as well,” Iswaran said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “So we are quite keen to work with Australia, with New Zealand, with Japan and many other countries in the region, in terms of how we can move forward in this regard.”
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is pushing on with a strategy of living with COVID-19 without being paralyzed by fear, saying in a televised address Saturday that the nation can’t stay “locked down and closed off indefinitely.” Singapore has added more countries, including the US, the UK, France and Italy, to its list of places fully-vaccinated people can travel quarantine-free starting as early as Oct 19, after kicking off a similar arrangement with Germany and Brunei last month.
Singapore has been gradually reopening its borders after shifting from a COVID-zero strategy that was centered around stamping out infections. The country, one of Asia’s most-important financial hubs, now aims to treat the disease as endemic, considering 83 percent of its population is fully inoculated and most people who are getting infected aren’t falling seriously ill. The vast majority have little or no symptoms.
While all nations navigate their own domestic situations, Singapore intends to “maintain the conversation and the discussion, because we are ready, we have a template of sorts in the VTLs we have established and will be prepared to work with our partners, including in Australia, to see how we can implement some of these as part of an initial set of moves,” Iswaran said, referring to so-called vaccinated travel lanes.
READ MORE: Australia to ease international border curbs from November
South Korea reported 1,297 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Sunday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 332,816.
The daily caseload was down from 1,594 in the previous day, but it has hovered above 1,000 for 97 straight days since July 7. The daily average tally for the past week was 1,864.
Thirteen cases were imported from overseas, lifting the combined figure to 14,724.
Eight more deaths were confirmed, leaving the death toll at 2,583. The total fatality rate stood at 0.78 percent.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported 8,292 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,674,814.
The DOH also reported that 36 more people died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country's death toll to 39,660.
Monday's caseload is the lowest since Aug 5.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the COVID-19 situation in the economic hub Metro Manila has improved and floated the possibility of easing the restrictions to allow more businesses to open and more people to work.
More than 112 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Turkey as of Monday, according to the country's health ministry.
Over 46.3 million people, or 55.7 percent of the country's 83 million population, have taken received their second shot, the ministry said.
Currently, 70 percent of citizens aged 18 and above in Istanbul have received two vaccine doses.