WHO: Virus testing, vaccination declined in Afghanistan

A health worker inoculates a man with a dose of the Johnson and Johnson CPOVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on July 14, 2021.

NEW DELHI / SEOUL / SYDNEY / NEW DELHI / TEHRAN / JERUSALEM / BISHKEK / VIENTIANE / KUALA LUMPUR / ULAN BATOR / WELLINGTON / ISLAMABAD / SINGAPORE / MANILA / ANKARA / MOSCOW / KABUL / HANOI / NUR-SULTAN / JAKARTA – COVID-19 testing and vaccination in Afghanistan have declined since the Taliban's takeover in mid-August, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

"Since August COVID-19 testing + vaccination has declined across Afghanistan. Around 1.6 million doses of vaccine could expire if not used quickly," the organization said on social media platform Twitter.

"To address this, WHO and partners are boosting testing and supporting the rollout of a vaccination campaign in 16 provinces of Afghanistan's 34 provinces," said the WHO.

More than 155,000 Afghans have been infected with COVID-19 while over 7,200 have died so far, according to the latest WHO figures. 


New daily COVID-19 cases in Australia’s Victoria and New South Wales states, the epicentres of the country’s worst virus outbreak, fell on Wednesday as authorities look to start easing tough restrictions amid a rise in vaccination rates.

A total of 1,420 new locally acquired cases were reported in Victoria, most of them in the state capital Melbourne, down from a record 1,763 on Tuesday. Eleven new deaths were registered, the state’s highest daily number in the current outbreak.

Melbourne has been in lockdown since Aug 5 as Australia grapples with a third wave of infections fuelled by the fast-moving Delta variant that has also put millions in Sydney, its largest city, and the capital Canberra, under strict stay-home rules. Most other states have zero or low cases.

Victorian authorities plan to relax some tough restrictions once 70 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated, expected in late October. More curbs will be eased at 80 percent.


India's school closures and its children's lack of smartphone and internet facilities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened an educational divide, the UN cultural agency said, flagging risks to young people's futures.

About 248 million students were hit by school closures since March last year, UNESCO said in a report, though many Indian states have started easing curbs as infections dwindled and vaccinations rose in the last two months.

Nearly 70 percent of students lacked smartphones or other devices to access classes online, while a majority grappled with poor Internet facilities, or none, especially in rural areas, it added.

"There is an urgent need to plan to get students and their teachers back to school," the agency said in its report on education in India issued on Tuesday.

Almost 40 percent of parents could not afford internet costs, affecting learning, and so widening the educational gap between different parts of society, it said in the report, based on government data.

Widespread economic distress and job losses as people fled home to villages in the countryside have pushed families into poverty, worsening distress for children from such woes as malnutrition and early marriages for girls, the agency said.Students attend their class at a school in Mumbai on Oct 4, 2021, after the state government reopened schools that were closed as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (SUJIT JAISWAL / AFP)

Worst-hit were private schools that receive no government grants, but where many poor families aspiring for a better education send their children, as parents found themselves unable to pay fees after the reduced economic activity.

India's economy contracted an annual 7.3 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March 2021, in the worst recession since independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1947.

Salary cuts or job losses faced teachers in the private schools employing nearly 30 percent of India's total of 9.7 million, as many students were withdrawn or shifted to schools subsidised by the government.

UNESCO called for India to recognize teachers as "frontline workers" in the battle on the pandemic, and improve working conditions for them to ensure better outcomes in education.

India's COVID-19 tally rose to 33,871,881 on Wednesday, as 18,833 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, according to the federal health ministry's latest data.

Besides, 278 more deaths were recorded since Tuesday morning, taking the death toll to 449,538. A total of 151 deaths were reported from the southern state of Kerala, the most affected state in India.

Bharat Biotech said on Wednesday it had submitted data from its COVID-19 vaccine trial in children aged 2 to 18 years to India's drug regulator, becoming the country's first company to have tested its shot in very young children.

ALSO READ: India's top court orders states to pay $672 for each virus death


The number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 1,484 in the past 24 hours to 4,223,094, and the death toll increased by 75 to 142,413, the Health Ministry reported on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, 2,851 new recoveries were reported, taking the total number of recoveries to 4,052,300.

To date, at least 54.44 million people in the country have received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 95.78 million have taken their first dose, the ministry said. 


The Iranian health ministry reported on Tuesday 13,226 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,651,961.

According to an official briefing published by Iran's state TV, the pandemic has claimed 121,563 lives in the country so far, after 216 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours.


Israel's Ministry of Health on Tuesday reported 3,186 new coronavirus cases, bringing the country's total infections to 1,294,701.

The death toll from the virus rose by 16 to 7,843, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 564 to 505.


Kazakhstan has signed a deal to buy about 4 million doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Healthcare Minister Alexei Tsoi said on Wednesday.

The Central Asian nation's government has said it will offer the Pfizer shots, at least initially, only to children aged 12 and older, and to pregnant women.


Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday confirmed 80 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths, the Republican Headquarters for Combating COVID-19 reported.

The new infections and deaths brought the national counts to 178,932 and 2,612 respectively.


Lao Ministry of Health asked education and sports officials around the country to work with local authorities to assess the number of schoolchildren aged 12 to 17 eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Education authorities suggested vaccinations for schoolchildren after numerous problems were encountered with online classes, which have been recommended while schools are closed, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Wednesday.

Many families have been unable to provide this kind of education for their children, while Internet access was patchy and unreliable in most areas.

The hope is that if sufficient numbers of children can be vaccinated, schools will be considered safe and allowed to reopen.


Malaysia reported another 8,817 new COVID-19 infections, as of midnight Tuesday, bringing the national total to 2,294,457, according to the health ministry.

Some 14 of the new cases are imported and 8,803 are local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed.

Another 117 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 26,876.


Mongolia reported 2,409 new COVID-19 cases and 14 more deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the national caseload to 317,010 and death toll to 1,303, the health ministry said Wednesday.

One of the latest confirmed cases was imported from abroad, and the remaining ones were local infections, said the ministry.


Myanmar reported 1,526 new COVID-19 cases with a daily test positivity rate of 8.4 percent in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 471,308 cases in the country on Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Health.

The death toll has increased to 17,957 on Tuesday after 36 more deaths were recorded, the ministry said in a statement.

New Zealand

New Zealand said on Wednesday that one person has died of COVID-19 in an Auckland hospital, and 39 new cases were recorded.

Majority of the cases are in the biggest city Auckland but more infections are now being reported in the Waikato region, health authorities said.

The new cases take the total number in the current outbreak to 1,420.


Pakistan on Tuesday confirmed 1,212 new COVID-19 cases and 39 more deaths, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Wednesday.

According to the NCOC, 39 more deaths were recorded, taking the death toll to 27,986.

People wearing walk in and out of subway train in the Chinatown district in Singapore on Oct 4, 2021. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)


Merck announced on Wednesday a supply and purchase agreement that will provide Singapore with access to its experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, the latest Asian country to try to snap up supplies.

Molnupiravir is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus and would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19. Merck is seeking approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration for the pill.

Singapore reported 3,486 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, marking the first time the daily cases surpassing 3,000 in the Southeast Asian country, and bringing the total tally to 109,804.

Of the new cases, 2,767 were recorded in the community and 713 in migrant worker dormitories, and six were imported cases, the Ministry of Health said in a press statement.

Of the new local cases 643 were reported in people above 60 years. Of the imported cases, three were detected upon arrival in Singapore, while the other three developed the illness during Stay-Home Notice (SHN) or isolation.

A total of 1,512 cases are currently hospitalized, with 247 of them in need of oxygen supplementation, and 34 in critical condition held in the intensive care unit, said the ministry.

The ministry reported nine more deaths from COVID-19 in Singapore, bringing the overall death toll to 130. 

South Korea

South Korea has secured 20,000 courses of an experimental antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co for COVID-19 treatment, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Wednesday, joining other Asian nations rushing to snap up supplies.

Molnupiravir, on its way to be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19. Merck is seeking approval by the US Food and Drug Administration for the pill.

The course of treatment involves patients taking four pills twice daily for five days.

South Korea will begin taking reservations for coronavirus vaccines from pregnant women this week as the country accelerates its inoculation drive to reach its goal for immunizing 80 percent of all adults by the end of the month.

Health authorities see pregnant mothers as key to the campaign and sought to drum up participation through public notices and news conferences saying they have a greater possibility of serious illness and death if infected with COVID-19.

Pregnant women are eligible to sign up for a shot starting Friday, for inoculation set to begin on Oct. 18 using Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

“The vaccines are safe for pregnant women and can meaningfully decrease their risks of contracting COVID-19 and becoming critically ill,” KDCA director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a public briefing on Monday.

Of the 731 pregnant women infected with the virus in South Korea as of August, about 2 percent of them developed serious illnesses, more than six times that of women aged 20-45, according to the KDCA.

But officials have advised people with shorter than 12 weeks of pregnancy to consult medical staff before getting a shot.

Some 54.5 of the country’s 52 million population and around 63 percent of adults were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, and authorities aim to complete vaccination for 80 percent of all adults by the end of October.

Pedestrians walk across a road in Seoul on Oct 1, 2021. (ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)

The Philippines

The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday reported 9,868 new COVID-19 infections, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,622,917.

The DOH reported zero deaths for the second day, citing "technical issues" affecting its digital platform for COVID-19 data. To date, the death toll remained at 38,828.

READ MORE: Tokyo sees less than 100 new virus cases, first time since Nov 2


Turkey on Tuesday reported 29,802 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 7,296,879.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 228 to 65,137, while 32,269 more people recovered in the last 24 hours, according to Turkish Health Ministry.


The United Arab Emirates has authorized the Russia-developed one-shot Sputnik Light as both a standalone COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot, Russia’s sovereign fund RDIF said on Wednesday.


Vietnam is planning from December to reopen key tourist destinations to vaccinated visitors from countries deemed a low COVID-19 risk, the government said on Wednesday, ahead of a full resumption targeted for June next year.

Vietnam imposed tight border controls at the start of the pandemic in an effort to keep out COVID-19, with some initial success, but that harmed its burgeoning tourism sector, which typically accounts for about 10 percent of gross domestic product.

Vietnam last month announced it would reopen the resort island Phu Quoc for vaccinated travellers from November. 

It will from December also allow tourists from approved countries to visit UNESCO world heritage site Halong Bay and Hoi An, the highlands town of Dalat and beach destination Nha Trang.

The country is trying to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations, with just 13 percent of its 98 million people inoculated so far, one of the lowest rates in Asia.

Vietnam reported 4,363 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the tally to 22,687 with 20,098 deaths, according to the country's Ministry of Health.