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)
SYDNEY / TOKYO / HANOI / SINGAPORE / SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called a snap meeting of federal and state leaders next week as he faces pressure to reinstate compensation pay for casual workers forced to isolate due to COVID-19 amid a fresh wave of infections.
"I've said to the (state leaders) that we'll meet from time to time. And it's appropriate that we meet on Monday. We're not meeting today because I'm here," Albanese told reporters in Fiji on Friday after a meeting of the Pacific leaders.
Albanese, in power for just under two months, said an end date of June 30 for quarantine pay of up to A$750 ($500) for casual workers was put in place by the previous Liberal-National coalition government.
"We inherited these decisions, but we also inherited a trillion dollars of debt. And that's something that was not our responsibility," Albanese said. Several state leaders have urged Albanese to bring back the income support.
As of the end of last year, the government had spent almost A$13 billion ($8.8 billion) on 2.4 million employees, according to official data, while total federal support since the pandemic began is estimated to be over A$300 billion.
Since the pandemic began, Australia has reported about 8.7 million cases and 10,549 deaths, far lower than many countries. Just over 4,500 are in hospitals due to COVID-19.
In another development, the government of the Australian state of New South Walesannounced it would provide free rapid antigen tests (RATs) for vulnerable residents, responding to the ending of a federal government scheme.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Friday the state government would ensure that no one would be left behind and support would continue throughout the winter.
Under the program, concession card holders, including pensioners, disabled persons, and culturally diverse groups would have access to 10 rapid tests until the end of October.
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)
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday that "maximum caution" is necessary amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Japan.
The prime minister's remarks were made as the government confirmed 97,788 new infections nationwide on Thursday.
The government's COVID-19 panel of experts warned Thursday that the nation's capital may see an explosive increase in infections that has never been experienced before.
They said if the pace of transmission continues at the current rate, the daily tally will exceed 23,000 after a week, surpassing the peak of the sixth wave. The number could top the 53,000-mark after two weeks, they said.
Tokyo reported 16,662 new cases on Thursday.
They raised Tokyo's COVID-19 alert level to the highest on the four-tier system. It's the first time since April that the alert level has been raised to the highest level.
Kishida said the government will accelerate the vaccination drive, with about 8 million health care and nursing care workers targeted for fourth shots.
In another development, Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE have sought approval from Japan's health ministry for use of their COVID-19 vaccine for use in children aged six months to four years, the companies said in a statement on Thursday.
The majority of COVID-19 vaccinations in Japan have used the Pfizer vaccine, authorized by regulators for children aged five to 11 in January.
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 11,772 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total tally to 1,569,420.
Of the new cases, 10,992 were local transmissions and 780 were imported cases. Among the local cases, 986 cases were detected through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and 10,006 through ART (antigen rapid test) tests, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health.
Four deaths were reported due to COVID-19 infection, pushing the death toll to 1,444, the ministry said.
Vietnam recorded 932 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, down by 69 from Wednesday, according to its health ministry.
The newly reported infections brought the total tally to 10,758,189. The country reported no new deaths from the pandemic on Thursday, with the total fatalities staying at 43,090.
On Thursday, there were a total of 36 severe cases in need of assisted breathing recorded in the Southeast Asian country, according to the ministry.