People walk along a street in Shibuya, an entertainment district of Tokyo, on Oct 1, 2021, as Japan lifts the coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months. (KIICHIRO SATO / AP)
MELBOURNE / PHNOM PENH / JAKARTA / JERUSALEM / TEHRAN / YANGON / KUALA LUMPUR / WELLINGTON / SINGAPORE / ISLAMABAD / BANGKOK / ANKARA / HANOI / MANILA – Tokyo's daily COVID-19 infections dropped to 87 on Monday, falling below 100 for the first time since Nov 2 last year.
The seven-day rolling average in Tokyo stood at 196.7 per day, and the number of hospitalized patients with severe symptoms reduced by 11 from Sunday to 77, according to the metropolitan government.
Japan’s Health Ministry is in talks to procure Merck’s antiviral pill molnupiravir with an aim to approving its use within this year, Nikkei reported without attribution.
The ministry will consider fast-track approval of the treatment if Merck files for approval in Japan.
People walk their dogs in Melbourne on Sept 30, 2021. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)
Australia on Monday reported 2,029 new COVID-19 infections, up from Sunday, even as its two most populous states remained under extended lockdowns and vaccination rates rose.
The state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, reported 623 new cases and six deaths, down from 667 cases and 10 deaths on Sunday.
Victoria state reported 1,377 new COVID-19 infections, up from 1,220 on Sunday. There were also four new deaths.
Victoria's case count was, however, down from a record high of 1,488 on Saturday, the highest for any state since the start of the pandemic last year.
State officials have blamed the recent spike in cases on Australian Rules football final parties, which breached lockdown rules the previous weekend. Nearly half of the new cases on Monday were people between the ages of 10 and 29.
The state's capital Melbourne, in the midst of its sixth lockdown, on Sunday overtook Buenos Aires as the city under the longest lockdown at a cumulative total of 245 days since March last year.
The Australian government has increased its supply of a potentially life-saving COVID-19 treatment as the country continues to battle the third wave of infections.
Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health, announced on Monday that the government increased its orders of sotrovimab for the National Medical Stockpile from 7,700 doses to more than 31,000.
The sotrovimab treatment requires a single dose to be administered through an intravenous (IV) infusion in a health care facility and has been shown to reduce hospitalization or death by 79 percent in adults with mild to moderate COVID-19, who are at risk of developing severe COVID-19, according to the media release.
Hunt said medical experts estimate that between eight and 15 percent of Australian adults with COVID-19 will be recommended for treatment with sotrovimab, and this treatment must be given within five days of symptoms onset.
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Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen on Sunday called on people to take extra precautions to prevent large-scale COVID-19 transmission during the Pchum Ben public holiday on Oct 5-7.
During the holiday, people are expected to travel across the Southeast Asian nation, which can pose high risk of large-scale transmission, especially its Delta variant, the prime minister said in a circular.
He advised local authorities to enforce preventive measures at tourism-related businesses and resorts during the holiday and encouraged state institutions and private companies to rapid test their employees for COVID-19 when they return to work from the holiday.
"The measures aim to prevent and contain large-scale COVID-19 transmission and to protect people's lives and health as the Kingdom of Cambodia is stepping toward reopening the country fully in all fields in the near future," Hun Sen said.
Pchum Ben festival is the kingdom's second largest festival after the Khmer New Year. This year's festival is canceled to curb the spread of the disease, but the three-day holiday is maintained for all state institution and private company workers.
Indonesia will reopen its tourist island Bali for some international travellers, including those from China, New Zealand, and Japan, among others, from Oct 14, senior cabinet minister Luhut Pandjaitan said on Monday.
Bali's Ngurah Rai international airport will be open to foreign tourists from that date, with visitors required to quarantine for eight days at their own expense, Luhut told reporters.
The country's reopening and easing of social restrictions is being conducted in stages, he said, because Indonesia "doesn't want the unexpected to happen".
The number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 922 in the past 24 hours to 4,220,206, the Health Ministry reported on Monday.
The death toll climbed by 88 to 142,261, the ministry said.
To date, at least 53 million people in Indonesia have received two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine while 94.22 million have taken their first dose, the ministry said.
Israel on Monday lifted the ban on travels to Bulgaria, Brazil and Turkey previously imposed due to their high coronavirus morbidity, according to the Israeli Ministry of Health.
These countries, popular for Israeli tourists, were the last three listed as "red" to which Israel had banned its citizens from flying.
From now on, all passengers arriving in Israel are obliged to enter quarantine for only 24 hours at most, until a negative result is obtained from a COVID-19 test.
Also on Monday, the ministry reported 2,653 new cases, bringing the country's tally to 1,291,808.
The death toll rose by 16 to 7,827 while the number of active cases dropped to 38,088.
The number of people who have received the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Israel reached 6.14 million, or 65.4 percent of its total population, while over 5.6 million have taken two doses and over 3.5 million have got three jabs, according to the ministry.
Israel on Sunday piled pressure on its vaccinated citizens to get a booster shot by making only those who received their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine eligible for a "green pass" allowing entry to restaurants, gyms and many other venues.
The new green pass is being issued to those who received three shots or recently recovered from COVID-19, replacing a previous system that required just two shots. It raises the bar for what the government considers full immunization.
Starting on Tuesday, store owners or event organizers will have to scan a customer's digital barcode before allowing entry. There will be some exemptions, such as museums and libraries.
The Iranian health ministry reported on Sunday 12,428 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,624,128.
According to an official briefing, the pandemic has claimed 121,109 lives in the country so far, after 229 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours.
Malaysia reported another 9,066 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight Sunday, bringing the national total to 2,277,565, according to the health ministry.
Some 12 of the new cases are imported and 9,054 are local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed.
Another 118 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 26,683.
Myanmar reported 1,194 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 468,463 in the country on Sunday, according to a release from the Ministry of Health.
The death toll has increased to 17,883 on Sunday after 48 more deaths were reported, the release said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives with director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, right, for the post-Cabinet press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, Oct 4, 2021. (MARK MITCHELL / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
New Zealand on Monday abandoned its long-standing strategy of eliminating coronavirus amid a persistent Delta outbreak, and will instead look to live with the virus and control its spread as its vaccination rate rises.
The Pacific nation was among just a handful of countries to bring COVID-19 cases down to zero last year and largely stayed virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in mid-August frustrated efforts to stamp out transmission.
“With this outbreak and Delta the return to zero is incredibly difficult,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference in a major policy shift.
“This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time. Our Delta outbreak has accelerated this transition. Vaccines will support it,” she said.
Ardern said a lockdown affecting 1.7 million people in the biggest city Auckland will be scaled back in phases, with some freedoms introduced from Wednesday.
The change of direction came as the country recorded 29 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, taking the total number in the current outbreak to 1,357. Most cases are in Auckland, which has been in lockdown for nearly 50 days.
Amid mounting pressure, Ardern has said her strategy was never to have zero cases, but to aggressively stamp out the virus. She said strict lockdowns will end once 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated.
More than 2 million people have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, marking a significant milestone for the largest vaccination program in New Zealand's history, Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins said on Monday.
As of Monday morning, 2,018,305 people were fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, representing 48 percent of Kiwis aged 12 and over, Hipkins said in a statement.
New Zealand reported 29 new Delta variant cases of COVID-19 in the community on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the country's community outbreak to 1,357.
Twenty-eight of the new infections were recorded in the largest city Auckland and one case in nearby Waikato, according to the Ministry of Health.
Thirty community cases are being treated in hospitals, including five in intensive care units (ICUs) or high dependency units (HDUs), a ministry statement said.
An increasing vaccination rate and strict health measures, including a ban on businesses and lockdowns in selected areas, have helped Pakistan bring down the daily number of COVID-19 cases by more than 50 percent in September.
According to the statistics released by the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) on Friday, the country's daily cases dropped to 1,411 on Sept 30 from 4,103 on Sept 1
During the first 11 days of September, daily cases hovered well above 3,000, prompting the government to impose strict measures, according to the NCOC, the country's department leading the anti-pandemic campaign.
The stern measures included school closure, a ban on gatherings and dining at restaurants, closure of cinemas and sports centers, besides restrictions on business activities.
Head of the NCOC Asad Umar told media earlier this week that the strict measures and the vaccination campaign have brought positive results.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported 10,748 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, pushing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,604,040.
The DOH also reported that 61 more people died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country's death toll to 38,828.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the COVID-19 infections in Metro Manila showed a slow downward trend, with reported cases decreasing by 28 percent compared to the previous week.
The Philippines has administered over 46 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. More than 21.8 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Cyclists ride past the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the Marina Bay area of Singapore, Sept 25, 2021. (ORE HUIYING / BLOOMBERG)
Singapore is looking to launch new vaccinated travel lanes by the end of the year and is in negotiations with several countries including those in Europe and also the US, Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong said, signaling continued caution even as other advanced economies open up.
Gan, who is one of the co-chairs of the government’s virus taskforce, said that Singapore is hopeful it can unveil new vaccinated travel lanes “by end of the year or even earlier” given that pilots with Germany and Brunei have gone smoothly.
“Vaccinated travel lanes are going to play an increasingly important role in international travel,” he told Bloomberg News in an interview on Monday. “As more and more countries ramp up their vaccination rate this will become a reality because most countries will begin to insist on the vaccination before they allow travelers to enter the country.”
While Australia is moving away from COVID-Zero isolation by lifting a ban on international travel earlier than anticipated, Singapore is focusing on gradually opening borders using vaccinated travel lanes and other arrangements. At the same time, the country is grappling with a new wave of COVID-19 infections as it looks to forge a path toward reopening its small but trade-reliant economy.
Gan said Singapore needs to step up on efforts to develop vaccinated travel lanes with countries. The government “will see how we can take this one step further, but it will require both sides to discuss how the arrangement will be and what’s the process like,” he later told Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin.
Gan said the government is committed to reopening Singapore gradually after reimposing domestic curbs such as making work-from-home the default and cutting the number of diners to deal with a surge in cases. The country remains largely restricted to foreign travel despite its population touting one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
Singapore reported 2,057 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total tally in the country to 103,843.
Of the new cases, 1,676 were in the community, 373 were in migrant worker dormitories and eight were imported cases, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a press release.
Four more cases passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection on Saturday, and six more cases passed away on Sunday.
In total, 113 have passed away from complications due to COVID-19 infection in Singapore.
Thailand rolled out COVID-19 vaccines to high school students for the first time on Monday, as it seeks to boost its immunization rate ahead of a planned school reopening next month.
About 88 percent of high school students aged 12-18 in the capital Bangkok had signed up for the vaccine, city authorities said.
Nationwide, 3.6 million of more than 5 million eligible students have registered, according to official figures.
Thailand's government is in talks with US drugmaker Merck & Co to purchase 200,000 courses of the company's experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 treatment, a Thai official said on Monday.
Many Asian countries are scrambling to lock in supplies of the potential treatment early after they lagged behind Western nations in COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, hit by tight supplies.
Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Department of Medical Services, told Reuters that Thailand is currently working on a purchasing agreement for the antiviral drug, known as molnupiravir.
The molnupiravir pills, designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.
Interim clinical trials indicated it could reduce by around 50 percent the chance of hospitalisation or death for patients at risk of severe disease from COVID-19.
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Turkey on Sunday reported 27,351 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 7,238,267, according to its health ministry.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 194 to 64,661, while 22,004 people recovered in the last 24 hours.
Vietnam reported 5,383 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 5,382 locally transmitted and one imported, according to the country's Ministry of Health.
The new infections brought the country's tally to 813,961, including 19,845 deaths, the ministry said.
A total of 721,480 COVID-19 patients have so far recovered, up 27,683 from Sunday.
Nearly 45.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, according to the ministry.