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Thailand seeks to slash quarantine period for visitors

A mother comforts her child receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Bangkok, Thailand on Sept 21, 2021. (SAKCHAI LALIT / AP)

MANILA / JAKARTA / JERUSALEM / SUVA / TEHRAN / HANOI / ISLAMABAD / COLOMBO / YANGON / SINGAPORE / ANKARA / SYDNEY / TOKYO / AMMAN / SEOUL / NEW DELHI / VIENTIANE / ULAN BATOR – Thailand’s disease control committee has proposed a halving of a two-week hotel isolation requirement for vaccinated arrivals, amid delays in plans to waive quarantine and reopen Bangkok and tourist destinations from next month.

Thailand is keen to welcome back foreign visitors, after nearly 18 months of strict entry policies caused a collapse in tourism, a key sector that drew 40 million visitors in 2019.

“Reducing the quarantine is not only about tourism, but will help business travel and foreign students,” senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference, adding tests would also be required.

Under the proposal, to be presented to government on Monday, those without vaccination proof would be isolated for 10 days if arriving by air, and 14 days if by land.

Authorities this week delayed to November plans to grant vaccinated visitors entry without quarantine, due to the country’s low inoculation rate.

Only Phuket and Samui islands currently waive quarantine for vaccinated tourists, as part of a pilot scheme.

Less than a quarter of the estimated 72 million people living in Thailand have been fully vaccinated.

The country is still fighting its most severe wave of infections, which has accounted for about 99 percent of its 1.5 million cases and 15,884 deaths.

Victoria police fire pepper spray during a clash with protesters at a Rally for Freedom in Melbourne, Australia on Sept 18, 2021. The protesters were demonstrating against the latest COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne. (JAMES ROSS / AAP IMAGE VIA AP)

Australia

Police in Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne prepared for a fourth day of anti-lockdown protests on Thursday after more than 200 arrests a day earlier, while COVID-19 cases across the state of Victoria hit a daily record.

Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in the city of 5 million since officials earlier this week ordered a two-week closure of building sites and made vaccines mandatory for construction workers to limit the spread of the virus.

A vaccination center at the Melbourne Town Hall would be shut until Monday, operator cohealth said on Thursday, after several of its staff were physically and verbally abused on their way to work.

“Why would you abuse, as I’m told, why would you spit on people who are doing that sort of work?,” Premier Daniel Andrews said in a media briefing in Melbourne, the state capital. “That is ugly, that is uncalled for.”

Police officers in central Melbourne on Thursday were checking people’s reasons for being outside, footage on social media showed, as authorities tried to prevent another protest in Australia’s second-largest city after more than 200 arrests on Wednesday.

Police used capsicum spray and foam baton rounds on Wednesday to disperse protesters who gathered at a memorial honouring war service, prompting veteran groups and some politicians to speak out against using the shrine as a rally point.

“It dishonoured those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice and I would hope any and all who were engaged in that disgraceful behaviour should be ashamed,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Washington DC on Thursday.

As authorities brace for more protests, Victoria reported 766 new locally acquired cases, topping its previous pandemic daily high of 725 hit on Aug 5, 2020, and four new deaths. It reported 628 cases on Wednesday. 

Neighbouring New South Wales reported 1,063 new infections, up from 1,035 a day earlier, and six new deaths.

Australia is fighting a third wave of infections from an outbreak of the Delta variant in its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and its capital Canberra, forcing nearly half the country’s 25 million people into strict stay-at-home restrictions.

Fiji

Fiji recorded 72 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 50,270 cases and 579 deaths since the pandemic started in the country.

Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong said 32 new recoveries have been reported with 12,982 active cases currently.

There have been 50,200 cases during the outbreak that started in April.

A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine for COVID-19 during a special vaccination drive in Hyderabad, India, Sept 17, 2021. (MAHESH KUMAR A. / AP)

India

India’s COVID-19 tally rose to 33,563,421 on Thursday as 31,923 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, federal health ministry’s latest data showed.

As many as 282 deaths due to the pandemic since Wednesday morning took the total death toll to 446,050. Most of the new cases and deaths were reported from the southern state of Kerala.

Indonesia

The number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 2,720 in the past 24 hours to 4,198,678, with the death toll adding by 149 to 140,954, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Iran

Iran’s health ministry on Wednesday reported 17,433 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country’s total infections to 5,477,229.

The pandemic has so far claimed 118,191 lives in the country, after 286 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours, said Iran’s Ministry of Health and Medical Education.

A medic from Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency service administers a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at a school in Holon, Israel on Sept 3, 2021. (TSAFRIR ABAYOV / AP)

Israel

Israel’s Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported 4,800 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally of infections in the country to 1,244,580.

The death toll from the coronavirus in Israel rose by 15 to 7,582, the ministry added.

Japan

Japan will double its COVID-19 vaccine donations to about 60 million doses intended for needy countries, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a virtual summit on Thursday.

The pledge adds to a previous agreement to provide 30 million doses and $1 billion to COVAX program, overseen by the GAVI alliance and the World Health Organization.

“Japan has provided approximately 23 million doses of COVID vaccine to various countries and regions across the world, which is the third largest provision of vaccine in the world so far,” Suga told the conference.

Much of Japan’s vaccine donations thus far have been via bilateral agreements with Asian neighbours, outside of the COVAX program.

Japan is giving away most of its domestically produced supply of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc.

The nation has relied mainly on imported mRNA-type vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc for its inoculation push, which has fully vaccinated about 55% of its population, according to government data.

Laos

Lao Ministry of Health on Thursday recorded 666 local COVID-19 transmissions, the highest daily infection ever reported in the country.

Director General of the Department of Communicable Disease Control under the Lao Ministry of Health Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh told a press conference in Lao capital Vientiane on Thursday that 5,652 tests had been conducted over the past 24 hours, with 694 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed.

He said the new infections included 666 locally transmitted and 28 imported, which altogether brought the country’s total tally to 20,646 with 16 deaths.

People wait to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Klang, Selongor, Malaysia, Sept 12, 2021. (CHONG VOON CHUNG / XINHUA)

Malaysia

Malaysia will resume interstate travel to help revive domestic tourism once 90 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The announcement came a day after the country met its target of fully inoculating 80 percent of adults. 

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Mongolia

Mongolia reported 3,361 more COVID-19 cases and 13 new deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total caseload to 283,956 and the death toll to 1,159, the health ministry said Thursday.

The latest confirmed cases were local infections, and 1,540 of them were detected in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, which has been the hardest hit by COVID-19, the ministry said.

Myanmar

Myanmar reported 1,818 new COVID-19 infections with 64 more deaths in the past 24 hours, according to a release from the Ministry of Health on Wednesday.

The total number of COVID-19 positive cases has increased to 451,663 while its death toll was recorded at 17,266 so far.

New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90 percent-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict coronavirus lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.

With its biggest city Auckland still in lockdown and new cases being reported every day, Ardern said vaccinations will replace lockdowns as the main tool against the virus, allowing authorities to isolate only those who are infected.

“If that rate (of vaccinations) is high enough then we will be able to move away from lockdowns as a tool,” she said.

The highest possible vaccine rates will give the most freedoms, Ardern said, adding that the country should be aiming for a 90 percent plus rate of vaccination.

After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, some 40 percent of adult New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and about 75 percent have had at least one dose.

Authorities reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all in Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,123.

The Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield warned earlier this week that New Zealand may not get to zero COVID-19 cases again.

Pakistan

Pakistan reported 2,333 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Wednesday.

The overall tally of the infected people climbed to 1,230,238 across the country, the department leading Pakistan’s campaign against the pandemic said.

Pakistan’s southern Sindh province has been the worst hit, with a total of 452,267 cases, followed by eastern Punjab province where the virus was detected in 424,701 people.

A woman receives a dose of the Sinopharm COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the Mount Elizabeth hospital vaccine center in Singapore on Sept 7, 2021. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)

Singapore

Virus cases are rising faster in Singapore than the government originally projected but the situation remains under control, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told a Straits Times sister publication. 

The Southeast Asian city-state had 1,457 new virus cases as of noon Sept 22, the Ministry of Health said – a higher per-capita rate than New York, and just below that of London, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

“We had planned to have a preparatory period, during which we could gradually open up while handling perhaps 100 to 200 cases a day,” Ong was quoted as saying in a Mandarin-language interview with Lianhe Zaobao, reported by the Straits Times. “But delta did not wait for us to be ready and attacked us first.”

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s health authorities on Wednesday said that COVID-19 vaccines would begin to be administered on children between ages 12 to 19 with disabilities and chronic illness from Sept 24.

Pharmaceutical Production, Supply and Regulation State Minister Channa Jayasumana said authorities would administer the Pfizer vaccines on these children.

Jayasumana said the vaccination drive will commence from the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children (LRH) in the capital Colombo and will be carried out from other hospitals in the urban Western Province.

It will then be extended countrywide on Oct 4.

South Korea

South Korean authorities warned people returning from a holiday to get tested even for the mildest COVID-19 type symptoms, especially before clocking in for work amid a new surge in coronavirus cases in and around the capital.

The country, which has been grappling with a fourth wave of infections since early July, will on Friday roll back the allowance gatherings during the Chuseok holiday week to two people after 6 pm in the greater Seoul area.

Seoul saw 1,400 daily confirmed cases on average last week, up 11 percent from a record high of 1,268 the prior week, Vice-Health Minister Kang Do-tae said on Wednesday.

Kang urged those returning from the three-day holiday, which started on Monday, to get tested to prevent transmission.

South Korea’s popular tourist island of Jeju saw an average of more than 41,000 visitors a day during the holiday, up from about 32,000 in the same period last year, the Jeju Tourism Association told Reuters. More than 258,000 people have visited the island in six days.

Despite the high daily case numbers, the mortality rate and severe cases have remained relatively low and steady at 0.83 percent and 312 respectively as of Wednesday, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data showed.

The KDCA reported 1,716 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the total to 292,699 infections, with 2,427 deaths.

South Korea struggled to get vaccine supplies initially, but has supercharged its campaign in recent months, administering 71.2 percent of the 52 million population with at least one dose through Wednesday and fully inoculated 43.2 percent.

A nurse prepares a syringe for a patient infected with the coronavirus in the intensive care unit at the Syrian American Medical Society Hospital, in the city of Idlib, northwest Syria on Sept 20, 2021.  (GHAITH ALSAYED / AP)

Syria

Syria is facing a new surge in COVID-19 infections in both government-held areas and territory outside state control that could overwhelm the war-ravaged country’s fragile health system, aid workers, officials and medical sources said on Wednesday.

Government health authorities said the number of cases reported in the last twenty four hours has hit 235, the highest daily tally since the first case was reported in March last year.

NGO’s, independent medics and aid workers say official data reflect a small fraction of the real toll.

Syria was hard hit by the pandemic last year during two major spikes in infections in August and December where medical staff privately say there was an official cover up of the extent of the pandemic, a charge denied by authorities.

The latest spike comes from the Delta variant blamed on a surge of visitors from abroad in the summer, they say.

Health workers say the country has administered only 440,000 doses of COVID vaccines so far, only a fraction of the country’s over 18 million people.

Official figures say there have been 31,148 infections and 2,146 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began last year.

Many hospitals were already stretched to the limit of their capacity even though many cases were less severe than previous waves, officials say.

“The occupancy of intensive care units (ICU) for COVID-19 patients have reached close to 100 percent,” said Issam al-Amin, the head of Mouwasat University Hospital, one of the largest public hospitals in the capital city of Damascus, with over 800 beds.

The spike in cases and deaths was more alarming in the country’s heavily populated opposition held northwest near the Turkish border where over four million live, among them nearly half a million alone in makeshift tents.

In that area, infections have doubled within a month to around a total of 63,000 cases, according to Western aid groups working in the area.

“In this current wave there have been more daily cases confirmed than we have ever seen before,” Tanya Evans, the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Country Director for Syria, said in a statement to Reuters.

The total number of active cases is now over 25,000, which almost equals the total number detected in northwest Syria in the entire past year, the IRC said.

“The situation has become catastrophic with all the hospitals overwhelmed,” said Ammar Shami, a medical official in Idlib city who said oxygen supplies were also running dangerously low.

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This file photo taken on Sept 6, 2021 shows a nurse in a personal protective suit walking past patients suspected of having COVID-19 in a parking lot-turned-into ward outside a hospital in Binan, Laguna province, south of Manila. (MARIA TAN / AFP)

The Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the police and the military to augment hospital staffing in the capital region as hundreds of health workers have contracted coronavirus.

At least five major hospitals in Metro Manila that are already running at full capacity have to quarantine infected frontliners and couldn’t accept more patients, Duterte said. 

About 400 workers in those hospitals have been infected, he said.

The Philippines, a global supplier of nurses, is experiencing a “dearth of supply,” according to Duterte. 

Medical staff in the Southeast Asian nation last month protested low pay, delayed benefits and government neglect as near-record high daily cases overwhelmed hospitals.

“I am ordering the medical corps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, please place your human resources on ready, on deck,” Duterte said, according to a transcript of his Wednesday briefing. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military has started to dispatch nurses to at least one hospital and can fly in more health personnel to Manila if needed.

In the same briefing, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez proposed to start inoculation of children aged 12 to 17 by mid-October as 20 million shots are expected to arrive on top of the country’s 23 million inventory of dosage. 

With government close to hitting the target it set for December, vaccination can be opened to the general public by November, he added.

Turkey

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 28,168 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 6,932,453, according to its health ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 242 to 62,307, said the ministry.

Vietnam

Vietnam reported 11,527 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 11,525 locally transmitted and two imported, according to the country’s Ministry of Health.

The new infections brought the country’s total tally to 718,963, with 17,781 deaths, the ministry said.

Most of the community cases were detected in southern localities, including 5,435 in the epicenter Ho Chi Minh City, 4,179 in the nearby Binh Duong province, and 930 in Dong Nai province

Reference