Afghanistan begins vaccination drive amid rising violence

This photo taken on Feb 23, 2021 and released by the Press Office of President of Afghanistan shows Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, left, wearing facemasks during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, as Afghanistan launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign. (PHOTO / AFP)

DUBAI / SEOUL / JERUSELAM / BANGKOK / WELLINGTON – Afghanistan began its first COVID-19 vaccinations on Tuesday, administering doses initially to security force members, health workers and journalists, in a campaign that may face challenges from a sharp rise in violence.

The war-damaged country received 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the vaccine for mid- and low-income countries, earlier this month.

In a ceremony at the presidential palace, acting health minister Waheed Majroh said the vaccines would be provided to 250,000 people, mostly from the security, health, education and media sectors.

New Zealand

New Zealand reported three new locally transmitted cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, as the cluster in its biggest city of Auckland expanded just days after authorities were forced to impose fresh curbs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lifted a brief COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland last week, saying the measures had helped limit the spread of the infection to a family of three.

Five imported cases of COVID-19 came from Germany, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and the United States. They have remained in managed isolation facilities in Auckland. 


Australia will ramp up its COVID-19 immunisation drive with more shots to be rolled out from next week, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday, after a second shipment of the vaccine reached the country overnight.

About 166,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and Germany’s BioNtech arrived late Monday, authorities said, as the country entered the second day of a nationwide inoculation programme.

Total weekly doses will be raised to 80,000 next week from 60,000 doses this week, with the number expected to reach 1 million a week by the end of March when CSL Ltd begins to locally produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.


Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen Monday decided to close all schools in capital Phnom Penh and southern Kandal province again for two weeks after a new community COVID-19 outbreak had been detected.

The move was to prevent the spread of the virus into schools, he said in an audio message released to the public.

“Just in three days, nearly 100 people have been tested positive for the COVID-19, which is the highest-ever number in our country since the virus was first found (in January 2020),” he said.

Hun Sen called on all people who had connections to the Feb. 20 community outbreak to go for COVID-19 tests and to undergo a 14-day quarantine at their houses.

“I’d like to urge people not to leave home if unnecessary; it can be said that the outbreak this time is bigger than the Nov. 3 and Nov. 28 outbreaks,” he said.

Cambodia on Tuesday reported 25 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the kingdom to 593, said a Ministry of Health (MoH) statement.

The new infections included 23 locally-transmitted cases, including three cases of the variant first found in Britain, and two imported cases, the statement said.

It said the two imported cases were found on Cambodian UN peacekeepers who returned to the kingdom on Sunday from the Central African Republic with a connecting flight in India.

READ MORE: Duterte wants vaccinations before further easing virus curbs


India’s COVID-19 tally rose to 11,016,434 on Tuesday as 10,584 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, said the latest data from the federal health ministry.

According to the official data, the death toll mounted to 156,463 with 78 new deaths.

There are 147,306 active cases in the country, while 10,712,665 people have been discharged from hospitals after medical treatment.

The chief minister of the Indian state of Maharashtra, which includes the financial capital of Mumbai, warned that new regional localized lockdowns could be imposed after the number of daily COVID-19 cases rose to almost 7,000 on Sunday, accounting for about half the entire country’s reported infections.

Uddhav Thackeray said that he will monitor the situation in the state over the next two weeks and would impose movement restrictions if mask wearing rules weren’t being followed. So far India has avoided a large-scale second wave since a September peak of nearly 100,000 cases a day. The country began its vaccination drive last month, but with only 11 million people inoculated so far, is lagging behind a target to inject 300 million people by August.

ALSO READ: Israel starts reopening as number of COVID vaccinees nears 50%


The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 9,775 within one day to 1,298,608, with the death toll adding by 323 to 35,014, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

According to the ministry, 7,996 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,104,990.

The virus has spread to all the country’s 34 provinces.

Specifically, within the past 24 hours, West Java recorded 4,334 new cases, Central Java 827, Jakarta 782, East Java 546 and South Sulawesi 506. 


Iran’s health ministry reported 8,263 daily COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising the total nationwide infections to 1,582,275.

The pandemic has so far claimed 59,572 lives in Iran, up by 89 in the past 24 hours, said Sima Sadat Lari, the spokeswoman for Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education, during her daily briefing.

A total of 1,351,390 people have recovered from the disease and been discharged from hospitals, she added.

Iran’s health minister Saeed Namaki on Monday criticized non-compliance of some citizens to the health directives in some parts of the country.

After over one year of emergence of the first cases of COVID-19 in the country, “we are now facing its dangerous mutant variant,” said Namaki.


The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported on Monday 3,864 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total nationwide infections to 671,801.

The ministry also reported 23 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,295, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 2,236 to 620,745.

Ruba Falah, head of the ministry’s media office, said in a press release that the epidemiological situation is unstable in the country with the recent increase of infections and deaths, especially after the detection of the new strain of the virus.

“The coming days will witness an increase in infections if citizens continue to ignore the seriousness of the virus and not adhere to health protective measures,” she warned.


Israel’s Ministry of Health reported 6,516 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising the total confirmed tally in the country to 754,481.

The death toll from the COVID-19 in Israel reached 5,593 after 30 new fatalities were added, while the number of patients in serious condition decreased from 858 to 801, out of 1,303 hospitalized patients.

The total recoveries in Israel rose to 709,196, with 11,522 newly recovered cases.

The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in Israel has surpassed 4.41 million, or 47.4 percent of the total population, since the vaccination campaign began on Dec. 20, 2020.


Japan is planning to lift the state of emergency in places outside the Tokyo metropolitan area earlier than planned, with falling numbers of coronavirus cases easing the strain on hospitals, the Asahi newspaper reported Tuesday.

The government is considering lifting the emergency in six prefectures including Osaka and Kyoto at the end of the month, rather than waiting until the planned end date of March 7, the report said, citing several government officials it didn’t name. The decision could come as soon as Friday after meetings Wednesday to assess the situation, the Asahi said.


Lebanon registered on Monday 1,541 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number in the country to 356,597, the Health Ministry said. Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus went up by 47 to 4,387.

Lebanon started its vaccination campaign over a week ago, as health experts urge people to register for vaccination in a bid to protect against COVID-19.


Mongolia launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign across the country on Tuesday, with frontline workers in the health and security sectors receiving the first jabs.

Mongolia’s Ministry of Defense on Tuesday held a handover ceremony to receive 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine donated by China.

Mongolia reported 30 more COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to 2,723, the country’s National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) reported on Tuesday.

The latest cases were locally transmitted and detected in the country’s capital Ulan Bator, which is the hardest hit by the outbreak, the NCCD said in a statement.

Mongolia on Monday night received 300,000 doses of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine donated by China.

The vaccine donation was welcomed at the Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulan Bator by Mongolian Deputy Prime Minister Sainbuyan Amarsaikhan and Chinese Ambassador to Mongolia Chai Wenrui.

“On behalf of the Mongolian government and people, I would like to express my deep gratitude to China, our friendly neighbor and comprehensive strategic partner, for extending its helping hand during this difficult time,” said Amarsaikhan.

“There is a Mongolian saying that goes, ‘Close neighbors have one life, far away neighbors have one mind.’ Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Mongolia and China have provided each other with material and emotional support, which is a real example of how neighboring countries are overcoming difficulties together,” he said.


The Omani health ministry on Monday announced 330 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 139,692.

Meanwhile, 195 people recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 130,848, while three deaths were reported, pushing the tally up to 1,555.

A Palestinian health worker prepares a shot of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Gaza City on Feb 22, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)


The Gaza Strip launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Monday, while over 5.9 million people in Turkey have been vaccinated against the virus.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza launched the vaccination campaign to inoculate the medical staff. Those who are vulnerable to the virus, especially the elderly as well as patients with chronic diseases, will also be vaccinated, Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman of the ministry, said at a press conference held in Gaza city.

Al-Qidra added that the vaccination campaign came after the Gaza health ministry received two batches of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines.

Former Palestinian ministers and dozens of medical staff were vaccinated at Shuhadaa al-Remal medical center in Gaza city on Monday.

The Gaza Strip has recorded a total of 54,770 COVID-19 cases.


The Qatari health ministry on Monday announced 463 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 160,889.

Meanwhile, 495 more people recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 150,715, while the fatalities increased by one to 257.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia reported 327 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 375,333 in the country.

The death toll has reached 6,466 after five more deaths were registered. The total recoveries in the country reached 366,412 in the country.


Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 10 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 59,879.

Of the new cases, nine are imported cases, one is community case.

On Monday, 15 more cases of COVID-19 infection have been discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 59,746 have fully recovered from the infection and have been discharged from hospitals or community care facilities, the ministry said.

There are currently 19 confirmed cases who are still in hospital. Of these, most are stable or improving, and one is in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

South Korea

The first of three expert panels in South Korea reviewing a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech gave its recommendation on Tuesday for the government to approve the vaccine.

The national pharmaceutical panel is planning to make its recommendation on Friday, the same day that South Korea will begin its immunisation drive. But, the government will wait for a third panel, which has not said when it will reach its conclusion, before deciding whether to grant approval.

High-risk individuals, prioritised at the start of the vaccination campaign, will be inoculated with a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

South Korea reported 357 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Monday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 87,681.

The daily caseload was up from 332 in the previous day, but it stayed below 400 for two straight days.

The daily number of infections hovered above 100 since Nov. 8 last year owing to cluster infections in Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi province as well as imported cases.

Of the new cases, 118 were Seoul residents and 122 were people residing in Gyeonggi province.


Thailand may scrap its two-week mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors with proof of COVID-19 vaccination as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to revive its pandemic-hit tourism industry.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said on Tuesday his government will consider allowing visitors who can produce a vaccination certificate to skip the quarantine and authorities will come up with a plan to track them during their stay in the country.

The plan to ease rules for tourists signal a shift in Thailand’s stance after months of insisting all visitors must stay in quarantine in the absence of enough evidence that inoculations can prevent virus transmission. If implemented, the move could bolster Thailand’s tourism sector that contributed about one-fifth to the nation’s pre-pandemic economy.

Thailand will start vaccinating priority groups including health workers against COVID-19 by the end of this week, its prime minister said on Tuesday, a day ahead of the arrival of the country’s first coronavirus vaccines.

The Philippines

The Philippines will let thousands of its healthcare workers, mostly nurses, take up jobs in Britain and Germany if the two countries agree to donate much-needed coronavirus vaccines, a senior official said on Tuesday.

The Philippines, which has among Asia’s highest number of coronavirus cases, has relaxed a ban on deploying its healthcare workers overseas, but still limits the number of medical professionals leaving the country to 5,000 a year.

Alice Visperas, director of the labour ministry’s international affairs bureau, said the Philippines was open to lifting the cap in exchange for vaccines from Britain and Germany, which it would use to inoculate outbound workers and hundreds of thousands of Filipino repatriates.

Nurses are among the millions of Filipinos who work overseas, providing in excess of US$30 billion a year in remittances vital to the country’s economy.

The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines reported on Tuesday 1,414 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 564,865.

The death toll climbed to 12,107 after 16 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said, adding that 72 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 522,941.


Turkey on Monday confirmed 8,104 new COVID-19 cases, including 623 symptomatic patients, taking the total number of positive cases in the country to 2,646,526.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 78 to 28,138, while the total recoveries climbed to 2,529,450 after 5,690 more cases recovered in the last 24 hours, according to the Turkish health ministry.

Turkey started mass COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 14 after the authorities approved the emergency use of the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine. More than 5,939,000 people have been vaccinated so far.