Customers sit outside bars in the Boat Quay area of Singapore, Jan 15, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
SYDNEY / NEW DELHI / KUALA LUMPUR / SEOUL / VIENTIANE - Singapore is limiting social gatherings to a maximum of five people and tightening border curbs as it reacts aggressively to a flareup linked to the new variant first identified in India, a setback to one of the world’s most successful virus containment regimes.
From May 8 to May 30, group gatherings must be cut from a maximum of eight to five, while daily visitors per household will be similarly capped, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Tuesday. At workplaces, no more than 50 percent of staff who are able to work from home can return to offices, down from the previous 75 percent limit.
Meanwhile, authorities plan to reduce the number of people at events like live performances and business meetings, and suspend all mass participation sports events. It is also closing indoor gyms and fitness studios, though outdoor exercise classes may continue.
Traveler quarantine from May 8 will be boosted to 21 days from the current 14, except for a small group of lower-risk places including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, the statement said.
Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday said it was "highly unlikely" travellers from COVID-ravaged India would face the maximum penalties of five years jail and a A$66,000 fine for breaking border rules as he faces pressure to overturn them.
Australia last week banned all travellers from India, including its own citizens, entering the country until May 15 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases there, and warned offenders will be prosecuted and penalised.
Australia relies on hotel quarantine receiving about 5,800 travellers from overseas each week who isolate for two weeks in hotels at their own expense.
States have been urging the federal government to set up designated quarantine centres, which could allow more repatriation flights. Repatriation flights from India may resume as planned by May 15, Morrison said, as the government looks to more than double the capacity in a quarantine facility in the country's Northern Territory by the middle of this month.
Bangladesh reported 1,914 new COVID-19 cases and 61 new deaths on Tuesday, making the tally at 765,596 and death toll at 11,705, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.
Bangladesh, now struggling to contain the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, is expecting to receive a batch of China's Sinopharm vaccine next week.
Bangladeshi Health Minister Zahid Maleque made the announcement on Monday after a cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.
"The vaccines from China will reach Bangladesh by May 10," he said, adding that officials are taking preparations necessary to receive the Chinese-made jab.
Bangladesh's drug regulator on April 30 authorized the emergency use of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in the country.
Last week, the Bangladeshi government gave the green light to a proposal of producing Chinese and Russian COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
Cambodia on Tuesday recorded an all-time high of 938 new local COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, pushing the national tally to 16,299, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said in a statement.
The figure topped the previous highest daily record of 880 cases reported on April 28.
The new infections included 608 capital Phnom Penh, 175 in Kandal province, and 77 in Preah Sihanouk province.
One more death was confirmed, bringing the death toll to 107, the statement said, adding that 361 patients have recovered, taking the total number of recoveries to 5,791.
Demoratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) state media warned on Tuesday of the prospect of a lengthy battle against the coronavirus, saying vaccines developed by global drugmakers were proving to be "no universal panacea".
The country has not officially confirmed any infections. The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party, said the pandemic was only worsening, despite the development of vaccines.
An attendant of an ambulance carrying a coronavirus patient checks the oxygen cylinder outside a civil hospital in Ahmedabad on May 3, 2021. (SAM PANTHAKY / AFP)
India's COVID-19 tally crossed the 20-million mark on Tuesday, confirmed the federal health ministry. Another 3,449 deaths were reported since Monday morning, taking the death toll to 222,408.
India's daily COVID-19 shots have fallen sharply from an all-time high reached early last month as domestic companies struggle to boost supplies and imports are limited, even as the country fights the world's worst surge in infections.
Daily inoculations have averaged 2.5 million since hitting a peak of 4.5 million on April 5. A quadrupling of coronavirus cases during the period has collapsed the public health system in many regions of the country.
India, with the world's biggest vaccine making capacity, has partially or fully immunised only 12 percent of its 1.35 billion people, according to data from the government's Co-Win portal.
Public forecasts by its only two current vaccine producers show their total monthly output of 70-80 million doses would increase only in two months or more, though the number of people eligible for vaccines has doubled to an estimated 800 million since May 1.
Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, will deliver 220 million doses to federal and state governments over the next few months. The central government will get 110 million of those doses of Covishield, the manufacturer said.
Israel will begin sending emergency medical aid, including badly needed oxygen equipment, to India on Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said, to help fight the world's biggest COVID-19 surge.
The Indonesian Health Ministry on Tuesday said the country had detected 17 cases of COVID-19 mutation based on genome sequencing from February to April this year.
"These COVID-19 new variants originate from the local transmission and are carried by Indonesian migrant workers who returned to their home," said Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the ministry's Director for Prevention and Control of Direct Infectious Diseases.
Amongst the COVID-19 mutase cases, 13 were variant B117 that were first detected in Britain.
The five cases of B117 were brought by migrant workers from Saudi Arabia, added Tarmizi.
Iran reported 20,732 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 2,555,587.
The pandemic has so far claimed 72,875 lives in Iran, up by 391 in the past 24 hours, while a total of 2,004,949 people have recovered from the disease or been discharged from hospitals across the country.
By Monday, 1,026,369 people have received the first doses of coronavirus vaccines in Iran and 225,530 have received the second shots.
The Iraqi authorities sent the first flight on Monday to evacuate citizens stranded in India after the new double mutant variant of the coronavirus was identified in this country, said a statement by the Ministry of Transportation.
According to the statement, the authorities have taken all protective measures to ensure the safety of crews and travelers, preventing the transmission of the pandemic.
More emergency evacuation flights will be arranged by Iraqi Airways and medical teams at Baghdad airport will carry out tests and quarantine measures for the evacuees, the statement said.
Israel detected three cases of two COVID-19 variants. Among them, two cases were of a variant first identified in Brazil, and one case was of another variant first discovered in Chile. Both variants have been detected for the first time in Israel.
It also reported 19 new patients tested positive for the variant recently discovered in India, bringing the total number of infections with the variant in Israel to 60.
Israel on Monday reported 87 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of cases in the country to 838,621, while its death toll from the virus increased by one to 6,367.
The Kuwaiti government announced citizens will be banned from travelling abroad unless they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The measure will start from May 22. Meanwhile, the previous decree of banning non-Kuwaitis from entering the country remains effective.
Kuwait has so far reported more than 276,000 cases.
Laos decided to extend the lockdown for 15 more days to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19.
According to a report by the Center of Information and Education for Health under the Lao Ministry of Health on Tuesday, the Lao government agreed to extend the lockdown for 15 more days until May 20, as part of the measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lebanon registered 249 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 528,457. The death toll from the virus went up by 21 to 7,345 in the country.
Malaysia reported 3,120 new COVID-19 infections, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday, bringing the national total to 420,632.
Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that six of the new cases are imported and 3,114 are local transmissions.
Another 23 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 1,574.
Mongolia recorded 1,015 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, taking its nationwide tally to 40,396, the country's National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Tuesday.
Sixteen of the latest confirmed cases are Indian nationals who have recently arrived in Mongolia on a chartered flight to participate in the implementation of a project, and the remaining ones were domestic infections, the NCCD said in a statement.
Meanwhile, eight more deaths and 1,401 more recoveries were reported, taking the respective tallies to 136 and 24,333, said the center.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Information said it is administering doses donated by China. The nation has been wracked by protests and deadly crackdowns by the armed forces since a military coup on Feb. 1.
Nepal urgently needs at least 1.6 million AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine doses to administer second shots as the Himalayan country is recording a surge in new coronavirus cases.
"People who have already got the first dose will be in difficulty if they don't receive their second dose within the stipulated time," said Samir Adhikari, a senior official of the Ministry of Health and Population in capital Kathmandu.
Nepal reported record high deaths and infections in a single day due to COVID-19 on Monday, which is spreading rapidly in the Himalayan country for the last few weeks.
According to the data released by the Ministry of Health and Population on Monday, the pandemic killed 37 people and a total of 7,448 people were infected with the coronavirus during the day. The figure of both deaths and infections are record high.
Earlier, the record death was reported on April 29 when 35 people died due to COVID-19. Likewise, the COVID-19 cases reported on Monday broke an earlier record registered on Sunday when the South Asian country reported 7,211 cases.
New Zealand reported one case of COVID-19 in managed isolation and no new cases in the community on Tuesday.
The newly imported case came from Britain and has remained in a managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland, according to the Ministry of Health.
Oman announced 1,093 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 196,900.
Meanwhile, 1,219 people recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 178,052, while 10 deaths were reported, pushing the tally up to 2,053 since the pandemic broke out in the country.
Palestine on Monday extended its coronavirus-related state of emergency to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 variants in the Palestinian territories.
In a decree issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the state of emergency was extended effective immediately.
Also in the day, Palestine recorded 565 new COVID-19 infections, 11 deaths and 779 recoveries during the past 24 hours. Over 258,065 people have received their first jabs of the COVID-19 vaccine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, of whom 186,040 received the second doses.
In Qatar, 644 new COVID-19 infections were announced, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 207,592.
Meanwhile, 1,548 more people recovered from the virus in Qatar, bringing the overall recoveries to 194,099, while the fatalities increased by eight to 480.
Republic of Korea
The chairman of a major ROK dairy company stepped down on Tuesday after police launched an investigation into the company's assertion that its yogurt drink was effective in fighting the novel coronavirus.
Namyang Dairy Product Co Ltd Chairman Hong Won-sik's resignation came three weeks after the initial claim and its retraction. The sacking of the chief executive did little to calm a consumer backlash.
The country reported 541 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Monday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 124,269.
The daily caseload was up from 488 in the prior day. The daily number of infections hovered in triple figures since Nov. 8 last year due to cluster infections in Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi province as well as imported cases.
Of the new cases, 182 were Seoul residents and 117 were people residing in Gyeonggi province.
Twenty-seven cases were imported from overseas, lifting the combined figure to 8,427.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Thailand increased by 1,763 to 72,788, data from the country's Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) showed on Tuesday.
Another 27 deaths were reported, raising the national death toll to 303, with more than 200 reported since April 1.
Of the new infections, 1,750 were local transmissions, including 562 in the capital Bangkok, the epicenter of the recent outbreak which quickly spread to the rest of the country, and 13 were imported, according to the CCSA.
The Maldives has broken its own daily COVID-19 infection count for the second day in a row with 585 new cases, local media reported on Tuesday.
Data from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed that 585 new cases were detected on Monday, and 397 of them were recorded in the capital region of Greater Male where hospital beds have reached 60 percent capacity.
The Maldives currently has 6,033 active cases of COVID-19, out of which 173 patients have been hospitalized for treatment. Infections have surged in the last few weeks, spreading beyond the densely populated capital to neighboring atolls.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday reported 5,683 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the lowest daily tally since March 19, bringing the country's total tally to 1,067,892.
The death toll climbed to 17,622 after 97 more patients died from the coronavirus epidemic, the DOH said.
The Philippines expects its vaccine orders from India to be delayed or even reduced due to the virus surge in the South Asian nation. Vaccine shipments from India may arrive in September, according to Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, who earlier said the shots may be shipped starting this quarter.
The Southeast Asian nation earlier this year signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India for 30 million doses of Novavax shots -- its biggest supply agreement to date.
Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque administered the Sinopharm vaccine to President Duterte, Senator Go, a long-time aide of the president, said on Facebook.
Turkey's total number of COVID-19 cases surpassed 4.9 million on Monday.
Turkey confirmed 24,733 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,501 symptomatic patients, raising the total number in the country to 4,900,121.
Its death toll from the COVID-19 rose by 347 to 41,191, while the total recoveries climbed to 4,515,819 after 35,438 more recovered in the last 24 hours.
Turkey started mass COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 14 after the authorities approved the emergency use of the CoronaVac vaccine. More than 14,040,000 people have been vaccinated so far.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients who have applied to be hospitalized in the last two weeks across the country has decreased by half.
Vietnam is keeping people in quarantine centers longer than the 14-day period in its latest step to prevent the spread of coronavirus amid the emergence of cases being traced to overseas travelers.
Provinces were instructed by the health ministry to “temporarily keep” in quarantine until further notice people who have completed the 14-day isolation, according to a post on the government website. Three patients in Vinh Phuc were found to be carrying a virus variant first detected in India, the health ministry said.
Authorities are scrutinizing cases including that of an Indian national who checked into a hospital in Hanoi on May 3 and tested positive for COVID-19 earlier on Tuesday. This was after he had completed the required 14-day quarantine when he arrived in Vietnam on April 17. He isolated in a hotel in the coastal city of Haiphong and tested negative twice after ending quarantine.
HONG KONG NEWS