India announces free booster doses as COVID-19 cases spike

A girl walks past a poster at a vaccination centre in New Delhi on April 10, 2022, after government announced the paid precaution dose against the coronavirus to be available for everyone above 18 years of age at private vaccination centers. (MONEY SHARMA / AFP)

MANILA / HANOI / YANGON / SINGAPORE / TOKYO / WELLINGTON / KUALA LUMPUR / CANBERRA / SEOUL / VIENTIANE / SYDNEY / NEW DELHI / JAKARTA / ISLAMABAD – The Indian government announced Wednesday evening that all adults will be able to get free booster (precaution) doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at government centers under a special drive over the next 75 days. The drive will start on Friday.

Health officials said the new move has been taken to increase vaccination coverage among the population in wake of the detection of new variants.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed the hope that the decision for free COVID-19 precaution dose for all citizens above 18 years of age will further India's vaccination coverage and create a healthier nation.

Reports said so far less than 1 percent of the 18-59 age group have been administered the booster dose.

The detection of super contagious Omicron mutant BA.2.75 that has begun to gain ground in India has worried health officials. There are fears that the new mutant may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infections.

The health ministry data showed on Thursday that 20,139 new cases of COVID-19 were reported during the past 24 hours, taking the total tally to 43,689,989 in the country.

Indian capital Delhi logged 490 new cases in the last 24 hours, and the active caseload currently stands at 136,076.

The country also logged 38 related deaths during the period, which has pushed the overall death toll to 525,557, the ministry said.

The daily positivity rate has risen to 5.10 percent and the weekly positivity rate has increased to 4.37 percent, the ministry data showed.

Staff check a client at a drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia on Jan 8, 2022. (MARK BAKER / AP)


Australia's Health Minister Mark Butler has warned that "millions" of people could get infected with coronavirus in the coming weeks amid a winter surge.

Butler recently asked the Australians to wear masks and work from home when needed to mitigate the impact of a wave of BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariant infections.

There were 316,574 active COVID-19 cases in Australia by Wednesday – a figure Butler said could increase within weeks.

"I think this is a very concerning wave. This is the third wave just this year that Omicron has thrown at Australia," he said on the TV program Sunrise on Wednesday.

"It's likely over coming weeks that some millions of Australians will catch COVID-19, some of them catching it again after perhaps having caught it earlier this year."

Australian hospital admissions are already hovering near levels seen in the last major Omicron outbreak earlier this year with its health system also under pressure from high COVID-19 and influenza numbers.

On Thursday, Australia reported more than 35,000 new COVID-19 infections and more than 70 deaths.

According to government data published by the Guardian Australia on Thursday, 91 deaths were reported by aged care providers in the week ending July 8, up from 58 the week prior, and well above the weekly average of 69 since the beginning of March, when the last Omicron wave ended.

More than 2,000 aged care residents have died with COVID-19 in 2022 – more than twice as many as the 917 in 2020 and 2021 combined.

As of Wednesday afternoon, a total of 8,596,145 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Australia, including 10,437 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Department of Health.

Health care workers administer COVID-19 tests at a drive-through clinic in Sydney on Dec 31, 2021. (BIANCA DE MARCHI / AAP IMAGE VIA AP)

In another development, the Australian state of New South Wales  has announced that from Monday, citizens would no longer legally be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to visit aged care homes in the state.

A spokesperson from NSW Health said on Thursday that the ruling would bring the state's rules in line with neighboring states Queensland and Victoria.

"However, NSW Health continues to urge all visitors to stay up to date with their vaccinations, as this will give them the greatest protection against severe illness," said the spokesperson.

As of Thursday, 95.2 percent of the state's population aged 16 and over had received at least two vaccine doses, and 68.4 percent had received a booster.

The change would mean that previous legal requirements would be turned into recommendations, which included visitor screening, use of rapid antigen tests, mask-wearing, and a limit of two adults and two children per visit, and individual aged care centers would be left to enforce these measures.

The change of the ruling came as COVID-19 cases are still surging across the nation due to the highly transmissible Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants.


Indonesia is recording 3,822 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, almost seven times higher than the 551 cases registered one month ago.

The death rate is not significantly increasing, figures suggested.

"The increase means that the transmissions grow worse again," spokesman for the country's COVID-19 Task Force Wiku Adisasmito told a virtual press briefing on Wednesday.

He said the positivity rate was also growing to 5.12 percent, beyond the World Health Organization's safety standard of 5 percent.

The spokesman urged all Indonesians to observe health protocols to avoid further spread of the virus.

A woman wearing a face mask checks out her mobile phone as she walks across an intersection of the famed Ginza shopping district in Tokyo on June 3, 2022. (HIRO KOMAE / AP)


Japan warned on Thursday that a new wave of coronavirus infections appeared to be spreading rapidly and urged people to take special care ahead of an approaching long weekend and school summer vacations.

Tokyo's 16,878 new cases on Wednesday were the highest since February, while the nationwide tally rose above 90,000, in a recent surge of COVID-19 infections to levels unseen since early this year. The Japanese capital marked 16,662 new cases on Thursday.

In his first news conference since former premier Shinzo Abe was killed and after the ruling coalition won an election on Sunday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the highest level of caution was needed.

"The coronavirus is spreading throughout the nation and through all age groups," he said, urging people to make sure they got their booster shots – especially those in their 20s and 30s, whose vaccination rate is lagging.

"With summer vacations coming up, interaction between all generations will be increasing."

Additional steps included making fourth shots available to a wider range of people and establishing free testing sites at railway stations and airports, he said.

But he added that the number of people who were seriously ill and deaths still remained low, and that no restrictions on movement were needed at this time.

The capital, Tokyo, raised its alert level to the highest tier.

The BA.5 variant accounts for more than half of the new cases.

"Tomorrow, we will hold a meeting … to decide on measures to be taken this summer," Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told a meeting earlier on Thursday, adding that the gathering would weigh expert opinion and the nationwide trend.

A man receives a dose of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Vientiane, Laos, June 17, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)


A total of 5,172,408 people in Laos, or 70 percent of the population, have received the second doses of COVID-19 vaccines

A total of 5,856,153 people have received at least one doses of COVID-19 vaccines, or 79 percent of the population, according to a report by the Center of Information and Education for Health under the Ministry of Health on Thursday.

The number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 throughout Laos has declined in recent months thanks to an vaccination program, while only in a few provinces, vaccination uptake remains low, like in Savannakhet province.

According to Savannakhet province's health department, 67 percent of people in the province have had the first COVID-19 doses, while about 57 percent have had two doses.

Furthermore, about 20 percent of people in Laos have got boosters.

According to the report, the focus of the vaccination rollout is now on children because they are at a high risk of infection.


Malaysia reported 3,934 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight Wednesday, bringing the national total to 4,604,670, according to the Health Ministry.

There are seven new imported cases, with 3,927 cases being local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed.

Nine new deaths have been reported, pushing the death toll to 35,828.
A woman receives a shot of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in Yangon, Myanmar, Aug 29, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)


Myanmar confirmed 13 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 613,773 on Wednesday, according to the country's Health Ministry.

The health authorities tested 6,283 people for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, and the daily positivity rate was 0.21 percent.

The ministry said that the death toll from COVID-19 in the country remained unchanged at 19,434 as no new deaths were confirmed in the past 24 hours.

People return to shopping at Newmarket in Auckland, New Zealand as some COVID-19 restrictions were eased, Nov 10, 2021. (ALEX BURTON / NEW ZEALAND HERALD VIA AP)

New Zealand

The New Zealand government on Thursday announced free masks and rapid antigen tests as it tries to stem the spread of COVID-19 and relieve pressure on the country's health system which is dealing with an influx of COVID and influenza patients.

There has been a significant jump in the number of new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand in the past couple of week and authorities are forecasting that this wave of Omicron might be worst than the first.

The hospital system is already struggling with increases in wait times and surgeries having to be cancelled.

"There's no question the combination of a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the worst flu season in recent memory and corresponding staff absences are putting health workers and the whole health system under extreme pressure," Ayesha Verrall, Minister for COVID-19 Response, said in a statement.

New Zealand, which has a population of 5.1 million, recorded 11,382 new cases of COVID on Thursday, with a total of 68,737 currently infected with the virus. Of those 765 cases are currently in hospital.

Verrall said while COVID-zero was no longer a possibility people did need to wear masks, to get tested and to isolate if either they or someone in their home tests positive to the virus.

The government is making free masks and tests more widely available, allowing pharmacies to sell COVID medicines and is expanding the criteria for who is eligible for antiviral medication.

"Now's not the time to stop wearing masks. Evidence tells us wearing a mask halves your chance of being infected with COVID-19. It also helps protect you against influenza and other winter illnesses so if you don't wear a mask for yourself, please wear one for healthcare workers," said Verrall.


Pakistan reported 390 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths during the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 1,544,131, the country's ministry of health said on Thursday.

The death toll has increased to 30,426 people, the figure suggested.

New Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, accompanied by his wife Louise (left), and son and Congressman Sandro Marcos (2nd left) arrive at the Malacanang presidential palace, following his inauguration ceremony in Manila on June 30, 2022. (MARIA TAN/AFP)


Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos has no more COVID-19 symptoms and will likely end his seven-day isolation on Friday, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said on Wednesday.

Quoting the health bulletin that Marcos' doctor issued, Angeles said the 64-year-old Philippine leader "has been free from all symptoms of COVID-19 for the past two days."

Moreover, she said that Marcos' vital signs are all within normal limit, without any signs of respiratory distress.

Marcos has been in isolation since last Friday after he contracted the highly-infectious coronavirus. He had tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020.

The Philippines' Department of Health reported 1,604 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 3,723,014.

New infections and hospitalizations in the Philippines remain low, but the government has warned case numbers could rise at least 20-fold by the end of the month.

Manila is urging more people to get their booster shots as health ministry data shows only a quarter of eligible adults have received their first booster as of July 12.

A notice warning people not to gather in groups larger than five persons as part of restrictions to hald the spread of the coronavirus is displayed at Raffles Place financial business district in Singapore on Jan 4, 2022. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)


Singapore reported 16,870 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total tally to 1,557,648.

Of the new cases, 15,978 were local transmissions and 892 were imported cases. Among the local cases, 906 cases were detected through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and 15,072 through ART (antigen rapid test) tests, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health.

A total of 734 cases are currently warded in hospitals, with 12 cases in intensive care units.

Three deaths were reported due to COVID-19 infection, pushing the death toll to 1,440, the ministry said.

South Korea

South Korea reported 39,196 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight Wednesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 18,641,278, the health authorities said Thursday.

The daily caseload was slightly down from 40,266 the previous day, but it doubled 18,504 tallied a week earlier, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

For the past week, the daily average number of confirmed cases was 27,071.

Sixteen more deaths were confirmed, leaving the death toll at 24,696. The total fatality rate was 0.13 percent.  

Officials and experts expect South Korea's new daily cases to reach 200,000 by around mid-August to end-September and are expanding inoculations of booster shots but not planning renewed curbs.

A man passes walks past a billboard on the coronavirus in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec 4, 2021. (NHAC NGUYEN / AFP)


Vietnam recorded 1,001 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up by 128 from Tuesday, according to its Ministry of Health.

The infections brought the total tally to 10,757,257. The country reported no death from the disease on Wednesday, with the total fatalities staying at 43,090.

Roughly 236.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the country, including over 208.1 million shots on people aged 18 and above, said the ministry.