An aerial view of speedboats berthed along the beach at Chalong Pier, the center for day trips to surrounding islands around Phuket on April 21, 2021 in Phuket, Thailand. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
SYDNEY / TOKYO / DUBAI - Thailand is sticking to its reopening plan for its resort island of Phuket even as the country struggles to contain its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began amid slow vaccinations.
The national tourism panel met Friday and affirmed the timetable for Phuket to be back in business on July 1, when the mandatory two-week quarantine will be dropped for vaccinated visitors, according to government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul. The committee also endorsed Oct 1 openings for nine other popular destinations, including Bangkok and Chiang Mai, with restrictions eased in the rest of Thailand in January, she said.
The success of these plans hinge on the ability of each province to meet the vaccination coverage of 70 percent of its residents and hospitality workers, Traisuree said. The government will soon accelerate inoculation programs “to build confidence in both the public and foreign tourists,” she said.
Thailand has administered about 1.7 million doses, enough to cover just 1.2 percent of its population. But in Phuket -- designated a priority region -- about 22 percent of its residents are fully vaccinated, according to Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association. The island region will need an additional 700,000 doses to reach its 70 percent target, Bhummikitti said.
Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, reported a new high in infections with 869 COVID -19 cases out of the 2,044 infections added nationally on Friday. Total infections in the country increased to 78,855 while 27 new deaths took total fatalities to 343.
The capital remains the country’s epicenter of the latest surge in cases. More beds for serious cases are needed until the middle of May as infections will likely increase, said Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, at a briefing.
Travelers entering the Philippines will be required to undergo 14 days of quarantine, up from a week previously, as authorities try to contain more infectious coronavirus variants, the presidential spokesman said on Friday.
The new controls will apply regardless of whether a visitor has been vaccinated and the first 10 days of quarantine will be in a government-accredited facility and the remainder at home, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a briefing.
Visitors will get a COVID-19 test on the seventh day after arrival, but will still be required to complete a 10-day stay in a facility even if they test negative, Roque said.
The Southeast Asian country is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia with more than a million infections, including those caused by variants first detected in Britain and South Africa, and more than 18,000 deaths.
In a bid to prevent the entry of a variant first identified in India, the Philippines has temporarily barred travellers coming from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh from entering the country.
The new controls come after five passengers arriving in the last month with a travel history to India tested positive for COVID-19. Samples had been taken in order to do genome sequencing, the health ministry has said.
The Philippines also allowed a container ship with a travel history to India to dock on Thursday to provide medical assistance to 12 of the 21 Filipino crew members who tested positive for COVID-19.
Out of the 12, two were in critical condition and had to be evacuated to a medical facility for treatment, while the others were receiving care on the ship, the transport ministry said on Friday.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported on Friday 7,733 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 1,087,885.
The death toll climbed to 18,099 after 108 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said.
Vietnam's health ministry on Friday reported its first death in a patient who received AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine shot, as the country is battling a new outbreak.
A 35-year-old female health worker in the southern province of An Giang died on Friday, one day after she received her first coronavirus vaccine shot, the Ministry of Health said in a statement, adding that she died from allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
"This is a very rare case in the vaccination against COVID-19," the ministry said in the statement.
The Southeast Asian country has inoculated around 750,000 people against the coronavirus since it started its vaccination campaign early March, according to the ministry. All of the shots used are from AstraZeneca.
Ho Chi Minh City officials ordered the temporary closing of classes excluding those for 9th and 12 graders beginning May 10 over CVOID-19 concerns, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, citing the city government’s order. The city’s school closures follow similar moves in Hanoi and 13 provinces, according to the paper.
Japan's government extended on Friday a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas by about three weeks until the end of May to curb a surge in novel coronavirus cases just months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The government had hoped a "short and powerful" state of emergency would contain a fourth wave of infection, but new cases in the capital Tokyo and second-city Osaka are still at high levels, said economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of pandemic measures.
Japan's government may approve the use of coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Moderna Inc as early as May 20, the Nikkei reported on Friday.
Health ministry officials plan to hold a meeting around that date to discuss approval, the financial daily reported. The only vaccine for the novel coronavirus to have received Japanese approval so far is that developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE.
Approvals for other vaccines are widely expected to come later this month, though no specific dates have been announced.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to have enough vaccine doses for the country's 126 million people by June, before the July 23 start of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Australian citizens stranded in COVID-ravaged India will be able to return home from May 15, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, as Sydney remains on high alert for a potential outbreak.
Morrison said on Friday that citizens should be able to start returning home from May 15 after repatriation flights resume. Australian authorities last week banned all travellers from India, including its own citizens, from entering the country due to the surge in COVID-19 cases there, and warned offenders could be prosecuted and penalised.
Morrison stood by his decision to impose a biosecurity order barring flights to and from India, a ban that was backed by potential prosecution and financial penalties.
The policy drew heavy criticism from lawmakers, expatriates and the Indian diaspora, but Morrison said it had worked to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections in people quarantined in Australia.
"National Security Committee of Cabinet has confirmed that it will have done its job by then, and as a result we see no need to extend it beyond that date," Morrison told reporters.
Azerbaijan's acting health minister Teymur Musayev on Thursday hailed the CoronaVac vaccine made by China's biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech as fully safe.
Speaking at a press briefing of the operational headquarters for COVID-19 prevention and control, Musayev said that 1.6 million people in the country have got their first dose of the Chinese-made vaccine so far, while 600,000 people have received both.
Cambodia reported a daily record of 558 COVID-19 cases, raising the national case tally to 18,179, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Friday.
The new infections included 557 local cases and one imported case, the statement said.
The kingdom also saw another 41 patients recovered, taking the total number of recoveries to 6,884, the statement said, adding that the death toll remained at 114 as no new fatalities were reported.
India on Friday reported a record daily rise in coronavirus cases of 414,188, while deaths from COVID-19 swelled by 3,915, according to health ministry data.
India's total coronavirus infections now stand at 21.49 million, while its total fatalities have reached 234,083. The South Asian nation has added 1.57 million cases and nearly 500 deaths this week alone.
As India's deadly second wave of COVID-19 continues unabated, infections spreaded from overcrowded cities to remote rural villages that are home to nearly 70 percent of the 1.3 billion population.
A mathematical model prepared by advisers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggests India’s coronavirus outbreak could peak in the coming days, but the group’s projections have been changing and were wrong last month.
The team’s most recent forecast puts them more in line with at least some other scientists, who have suggested a mid-May peak for India.
Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday demanded the government rapidly vaccinate the entire country and scientifically track the coronavirus in an effort to curb a deadly second wave which saw 1.5 million new cases in a week.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health said Thursday that Iraq is still in danger despite the recent decrease in daily COVID-19 infections.
"The past few days witnessed a relative decrease in COVID-19 infections, but this does not mean that the pandemic has been contained," the ministry's spokesman Sayf al-Badr told the official Iraqi News Agency (INA).
"The threat of the pandemic still exists, and the neighboring countries and the world are still suffering as well," al-Badr said, adding that the emergence of the new double mutant variant firstly identified in India poses a new challenge.
The Lao government is considering to assist poor families or vulnerable individuals who have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Lao authorities have begun collecting data on poor families who have been affected by the pandemic across the country, according to a notice issued by the Lao Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare on Thursday.
The Lao government urged everyone in Laos to actively get COVID-19 vaccination in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
According to a report by the Center of Information and Education for Health under the Lao Ministry of Health on Friday, 309,924 people had received their first vaccination, while 78,931 people have had their second doses.
Lebanon registered on Thursday 1,017 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 531,234.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths from the virus went up by 25 to 7,415, the Lebanese Health Ministry reported.
Lebanese caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said that his ministry will launch in June a new mass vaccination campaign in the centers located all over the country.
"We are expecting to receive a big number of vaccines by June which will help us achieve a higher rate of immunity," he said.
The minister added that the new campaign will mainly include people who were not able to register on the vaccine registration platform.
Medical officers conduct a mass COVID-19 testing at a parking lot on Bondi Beach in Sydney on May 6, 2021. (SAEED KHAN / AFP)
Malaysia reported 4,498 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the biggest number since Feb. 4.
The spike came days after the country suspended a domestic travel bubble and tightened movement curbs in capital Kuala Lumpur and in Selangor, its richest state, to contain a surge in infections. Selangor contributed the most to Friday’s tally with 1,424 infections, followed by Kuala Lumpur at 436 cases.
The COVID-19 cases in Mongolia increased by 737 in the last 24 hours to 43,201, with the death toll adding by 11 to 164, the country's National Center for Communicable Diseases (NCCD) said Friday.
The latest confirmed cases were locally transmitted and most of them were detected in the country's capital Ulan Bator, which is home to over half of the country's population of 3.3 million, the NCCD said in a statement.
New Zealand reported one new case of COVID-19 in managed isolation with no community cases recorded on Friday.
The newly imported case came from United Arab Emirates, and was in a managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland, according to the Ministry of Health.
Qatar on Thursday announced 593 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 209,470.
Qatari Health Ministry also confirmed that 1,321 more people recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 198,227, while the total fatalities increased by four to 493.
A total of 1,932,620 people in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far, while the total number of vaccine doses administered reached 1,732,471.
All public and private sector workers wishing to attend a workplace in Saudi Arabia will be required to have taken a COVID-19 vaccination, the human resources ministry said on Friday, without specifying when this would be implemented.
"Receiving a coronavirus vaccine will be a mandatory condition for male and female workers to attend workplaces in all sectors (public, private, non-profit)," the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development said on Twitter. It urged workplaces to start preparations to ensure all employees receive a vaccination.
Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 18 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 61,286.
Of the new cases, 16 are imported cases and two are community cases.
One local case is an 88 year-old male Singaporean who is a cleaner at Changi Airport Terminal 3. The other is a 22 year-old male Singapore permanent resident who is a full-time National Serviceman with the Singapore Armed Forces. He is a household contact of a previously confirmed case.
South Korea reported 525 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Thursday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 126,044.
The daily caseload was down from 574 in the previous day, but stayed above 500 for two days.
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, 177 were Seoul residents and 136 were people residing in Gyeonggi province.
Sixteen cases were imported from overseas, lifting the combined figure to 8,480.
Turkey on Thursday confirmed 22,388 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,401 symptomatic patients, raising the total number of cases in the country to 4,977,982.
The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 304 to 42,187, while the total recoveries climbed to 4,626,799 after 37,298 more people recovered in the last 24 hours, according to the Turkish Health Ministry.
A total of 253,382 tests were conducted over the past day, with the overall number of tests in Turkey reaching 48,712,606.
HONG KONG NEWS