Omicron sub-lineage BA.4 detected in Australian state

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)

SEOUL / YEREVAN / JAKARTA / KUALA LUMPUR / VIENTIANE / SUVA – Health authorities in Australia's state of New South Wales confirmed that the Omicron sub-lineage BA.4 was detected in the state.

NSW Health reported on Thursday that the state's first case of BA.4 was a traveler who returned from South Africa.

At the same time, COVID-19 infections continue to increase in NSW, which recorded 11,903 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths on Friday. There are 1,645 cases in hospitals with 68 in ICU.

Speaking to the local newspaper Sydney Morning Herald, James Wood, a mathematician from the University of New South Wales's School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said it's likely that thousands of Australians have already been reinfected with the virus after multiple strains emerged.

Meanwhile, from Friday, masks will no longer be mandatory in the state of Western Australia, except in high-risk settings including hospitals, residential aged care, airport and public transport.

The two square meter rule and capacity limits will be removed from all venues throughout the state, and asymptomatic close contacts will no longer have to isolate for seven days.

Vaccination requirements for interstate travelers are also removed, but the double dose vaccination requirement for international arrivals remains.


Armenia on Thursday lifted more restrictions on COVID-19 amid a steady decrease in daily new cases.

According to the Health Ministry of the country, the rule of demanding employed citizens to either get vaccinated or produce a negative PCR test result every seven days to their employer will be canceled on May 1.

Social distance requirement in public space was also lifted, according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, a foreigner entering Armenia will not be required to show a PCR test result or a vaccination certificate upon arrival at the airports or borders.

Traditional dancers in grass skirts welcome holidaymakers in Nadi on Dec 1, 2021, as Fiji opens its borders to international travelers for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and devastated its tourism-reliant economy. (LEON LORD / AFP)


Effective on May 1, fully vaccinated visitors to Fiji will no longer be required to produce a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 test prior to entry, a move that reduces costs and lends greater convenience to those traveling to the country, a Fijian government said in a statement on Friday.

The change applies to all visitors entering Fiji by air or sea who were previously required to take a polymerase chain reaction test or rapid antigen test prior to their arrival to Fiji.

The Fijian government said that this step is in line with best practice for entry requirements among highly vaccinated societies and follows countries such as Australia and Singapore who have also removed COVID-19 testing as an entry prerequisite.

The requirement to book an in-country pre-COVID RAT test, prior to departing for Fiji remains. The test must be done within 48-72 hours of arrival.

Commencing May 1, the vaccination requirement for entry into Fiji has also been widened. All visitors above the age of 16 years must now display proof of full COVID-19 vaccination prior to entering the country.

Muslims visit a mosque to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on April 7, 2022. (DEVI RAHMAN / AFP)


Indonesia has accelerated its COVID-19 vaccinations, as Muslims across the archipelago country are making their homebound trips for celebrations of the Eid al-Fitr, a festival at the conclusion of the fasting month which falls on Monday next week.

To date, the government, which is aiming to fully vaccinate 208.26 million people in the country, has administered over 400 million doses of vaccines, the country's Health Ministry said Thursday, adding that more than 199.19 million people have received their first doses of vaccines, and over 164.65 million the second.

Meanwhile, at least 37.45 million people have received booster shots, which have been included in the government's existing vaccine mandates for exodus travelers.

Tarmizi called on the public to continue to encourage people aged above 60 years to get vaccinated because they are at the highest risk of serious symptoms.

Meanwhile, health authorities continue to provide vaccination centers across the country, she added.

Since April 14, the country has recorded less than 1,000 daily cases nationwide, with 412 new cases on Thursday. To date, the total number of COVID-19 infections in the country rose to 6.04 million with 156,217 deaths due to the viral disease.


A total of 99.67 percent of people living in areas of the country designated by the Lao government as Tourism Green Zones have been vaccinated against COVID-19, a study by the country's Ministry of Health and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has revealed.

Deputy Minister of Health Snong Thongsna and UNICEF Representative to Laos Pia Rebello Britto co-chaired a media briefing on Thursday on the results of the survey on vaccination coverage in the designated travel zones, which comprise the Lao capital Vientiane, Vientiane province and Luang Prabang province.

The survey, which was conducted between January and March in 2022, found that vaccination coverage in these areas was high, reaching almost 100 percent in the places allocated by the government for tourist travel.

A woman carries an infant upon arrival from Jakarta after landing at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA 2), as Malaysia reopened its borders for travelers fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, in Sepang on April 1, 2022. (MOHD RASFAN / AFP)


Further relaxations of COVID-19 restrictions are a positive and practical step forward as Malaysia aims to move toward endemicity, a health expert said on Thursday.

While conceding that some restrictions such as the use of face masks are still an important measure to guard against infection, new standard operating procedures (SOP) announced by the health ministry would move the country towards a post-pandemic phase, Malaysia Medical Association President Koh Kar Chai told Xinhua in a phone interview.

Koh also expressed concern about the move to drop travel insurance requirements on foreign visitors entering the country, a move which he cautioned could strain the public healthcare system should cases take an upward trend.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced further relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday in a bid to help the country recover from the economic effects of the pandemic, in particular to promote the country's struggling tourism industry.

Testing will not be required for certain categories of travelers before departing to Malaysia and upon arrival, including those fully vaccinated who were 13 years of age and above, and those who had been infected and recovered within six to 60 days from the date of recovery before departing for Malaysia.

Face masks will no longer be mandatory outdoors but still required indoors and on public transport, while physical distancing is no longer required and check-in with the country's COVID-19 management app will no longer be required when visiting places.

People wearing face masks pass by a poster reminding precautions against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea on Feb 16, 2022. (AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP)

South Korea

South Korea said on Friday it will lift an outdoor face mask mandate next week in the country's latest step to ease COVID-19 restrictions, despite opposition from the incoming government which labelled the decision "premature".

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the decision was made as the government could "no longer look away" from the inconveniences experienced by its citizens when the country's virus situation was stabilizing.

People are still required to wear masks at events with 50 attendants or more, such as at rallies, concerts and sports stadiums, Kim said.

South Korea reported 50,568 new coronavirus cases on Friday, well down from the peak of more than 620,000 a day in mid-March.

The decision came just days ahead of newly elected President Yoon Suk-yeol's inauguration on May 10 and despite his team's opposition, prompting them to immediately express regrets and concerns over the announcement.

"The transition team agrees with pushing for the lifting of mask-wearing mandate as part of efforts to return to normal life, but we have stressed multiple times that removing the outdoor mask mandate at this point would be premature," a spokesperson for Yoon's team, Hong Kyung-hee, told a briefing.

Ahn Cheol-soo, the head of Yoon's transition team, had said earlier this week that the new government will consider going mask-free outdoors around end-May.