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Wednesday, December 02, 2020, 22:49
Philippines eyes China, Russia for early vaccine access
By Agencies
Wednesday, December 02, 2020, 22:49 By Agencies

People wearing masks shop for fresh food at a market in Manila on Aug 6, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

BAGHDAD / BANGKOK / COLOMBO - The Philippines expects to start administering coronavirus vaccines as early as the first quarter of next year, pinning its hopes on China and Russia as its own procurement policies hamper efforts for early access.

The best-case scenario is to start inoculations next quarter using shots from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Russia’s Sputnik V, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said at a virtual briefing in Manila on Wednesday. Sinovac has pledged to ship vaccines to the Philippines at least 60 days after a deal is signed, he said.

The Philippines, which has the second-worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, is behind neighbors like Indonesia and Thailand on vaccine procurement. Policies like a ban on advance orders and a law requiring Phase IV trials before procurement are constraining efforts to secure shots, Galvez said.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the nation’s Food and Drug Administration to allow emergency use of vaccines that have data from “adequate and well-known controlled trials.” The order, released on Wednesday, will cut approval process to three weeks from six months, his spokesman earlier said. Plans to remove more roadblocks to vaccine procurement are underway, Galvez said.

“The relationship of the president with the leaders of Russia and China can be maximized,” businessman and Duterte adviser Joey Concepcion said at the same briefing.

Some 2.6 million doses from AstraZeneca Plc. ordered by private companies are expected to arrive in the Philippines as early as May, while it’s in talks with several others. Daily infections have decreased for a third month in November, bringing total cases to over 434,000 as of Wednesday.

Iran

Iran's Health Ministry reported 13,621 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the total nationwide number to 989,572.

The pandemic has so far claimed 48,990 lives in Iran, up by 362 in the past 24 hours, said Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education during her daily briefing.

A total of 688,054 people have recovered from the disease and been discharged from hospitals, while 5,828 remain in intensive care units, Lari added.

Bangladesh 

Bangladesh reported 2,198 new COVID-19 cases and 38 new deaths on Wednesday, making the tally at 469,423 and death toll at 6,713, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.

The official data showed that 15,884 samples were tested in the last 24 hours across Bangladesh.

The total number of recovered patients in the country stood at 385,786 including 2,562 new recoveries on Wednesday, said the DGHS.

Myanmar

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has increased to 93,600 as of Wednesday, according to a release from the country's Ministry of Health and Sports.

   A total of 1,411 more COVID-19 confirmed cases were reported in the country.

Vietnam

Vietnam reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing its total confirmed cases to 1,358 with 35 deaths from the disease so far, according to the Ministry of Health.

The new cases, including an Indian and six Vietnamese citizens, recently entered the country from abroad and were quarantined upon arrival, said the ministry, adding that one Vietnamese patient is only 10 months old.

Afghanistan 

A total of 263 new COVID-19 positive cases have been registered in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of patients infected with the disease to 46,980 in the country, said a statement of Public Health Ministry released here Wednesday.

According to the statement, 22 patients have died due to the disease in nine provinces over the period, totaling the number of COVID-19 related deaths to 1,822 since the outbreak of the disease in February.

Malaysia

Malaysia reported 851 new COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said on Wednesday, bringing the national total to 68,020.

Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press briefing that four of the new cases are imported and 847 are local transmissions.

Two more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 365.

Indonesia

The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 5,533 within one day to 549,508, with the death toll adding by 118 to 17,199, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, 4,001 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 458,880.

Japan

Japan’s parliament passed a bill to provide coronavirus vaccinations free of charge with the central government covering the cost, offering a key plan to stem the virus as the country struggles with its worst-yet wave of infections.

Wednesday’s passage in the upper house of parliament following approval in the more powerful lower house will bring the law into effect. It also makes local governments responsible for administering the immunizations, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The move comes as a new wave of virus infections has prompted the worst-hit areas to call on bars and restaurants to close early, and has forced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to partially suspend a travel incentive program intended to shore up suffering regional economies. While the death toll in Japan is by far the lowest in any Group of Seven advanced nation, the country suffered its worst economic downturn on record in the April-June quarter.

Suga has vowed to secure enough doses of vaccine for the “people of the country” by the first half of next year and it remains unclear to what extent foreign residents will be eligible for free vaccinations. Not all Japanese nationals may be enthusiastic about immunization. An Ipsos survey conducted in October showed that 69 percent of Japanese respondents were willing to get a vaccine if available, compared with the global average of 73 percent.

Differences between Japan’s most recent coronavirus surge and a wave subdued in the summer are giving lawmakers pause, and forcing experts to adjust their strategies as the country enters winter with a population that’s been counted as the most vulnerable in the world.

At first glance, the wave of cases since the start of November appears similar to the summer jump, which was brought under control with only minor tweaks in policy. But authorities this time are calling to prepare for a “worst-case scenario” as serious cases rise well past the summer peak to a record.

“We have a sense of urgency over the fact that the number of serious cases has risen to almost 500,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said Tuesday. The increase is sending authorities scrambling to ensure there are enough beds and medical practitioners to staff them.

In many of those regions, beds for the most serious cases are already running low. With Tokyo nearing 50 percent capacity, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will ask hospitals to add another 50 beds for serious cases, NHK reported on Tuesday. That would bring the total to 200. Bed usage dipped on Tuesday, with the city reporting five deaths.

Japan must prepare for more deaths ahead. More than half of the country’s over 2,000 coronavirus deaths have come from those 80 or older -- an age group with a 14 percent fatality rate, according to health ministry data. Japan, with the world’s grayest population, has more than 11.6 million people in that bracket.

Visitors to next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo won’t need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before arriving, Nikkei reported. Travelers who submit proof of a negative test and use an enhanced version of Cocoa, a virus tracking app from the Japanese government, also won’t be subject to a two-week quarantine, according to the report.

South Korea

From avoiding family members to skipping extra study at “cram schools”, the coronavirus has forced nearly half a million South Korean test-takers and proctors to rethink their strategies ahead of a hyper-competitive university entrance exam this week.

The gruelling, almost eight-hour test on Thursday is seen as a life-defining event for high school seniors. A degree from a prestigious university is seen as a minimum requirement for securing one of the coveted but limited corporate jobs in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

This year teachers, proctors and students drastically changed their study and teaching practices to try to ensure those taking the test don’t ruin their chances by getting sick.

“We take caution not just in classes but also during lunch, sitting facing the walls, eating alone and not talking at all,” said one teacher who will also serve as a proctor, speaking on condition of anonymity as she was not authorised to speak to the media.

After delaying the exam by two weeks, authorities have prepared 31,291 test venues nationwide for this year’s exam, nearly double the number from last year to allow more social distancing.

Some venues are specialized to accommodate at least 37 students with confirmed infections, and another 430 in quarantine, deputy education minister Park Baeg-beom told a briefing on Wednesday.

All students must wear masks and will be separated by plastic screens, Park said.

For students who are suspected cases of COVID-19, proctors must wear protective equipment and collect exam papers in plastic bags and wipe them before handing over to the staff outside.

South Korea reported 511 new cases as of midnight Tuesday, bringing the country’s total to 35,163 with 526 deaths.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairperson Kimarli Fernando has suggested the re-opening of the country's airports for international visitors from Jan 1, 2021 under health guidelines, local media reported on Tuesday.

Fernando told the local Daily FT that a comprehensive set of guidelines for approval by health authorities has been submitted.

These guidelines include a minimum stay of 14 days for international visitors, with a confirmed itinerary which will be a mandatory section as part of the online visa process.

"During the first 14-day quarantine period visitors will be limited to Level 1 hotels and visas will only be granted for visitors with pre-booked and pre-paid booking in Level 1 hotels that are certified," Fernando said.

In the Level 1 accommodation, tourists are permitted to stay within the premises and move around only to isolated areas exclusively for the particular guest, family or group.

Tourists staying longer than 14 days are permitted to stay in Level 2 accommodation which will be KPMG Certified Safe and Secure accommodation and will be permitted to visit selected tourist sites accompanied by a registered tourist guide, the local daily reported.

The approved tourist sites will be available on the SLTDA website. Tourists staying longer than 28 days are free to book any type of accommodation registered with the SLTDA, Fernando said.

Long-stay travellers, dual passport holders or Sri Lankan passport holders travelling with international tourists in a group, resident permit holders, film tourism and sports tourism visa types will be considered according to the guidelines.

Fernando also said the SLTDA has proposed to issue visas for six months instead of the current one month and is awaiting cabinet approval while noting that the issuance of visas on-arrival are suspended until further notice.

Sri Lanka's international airports have been closed since March, following the detection of the first local COVID-19 patient and have been open only for repatriations.

The island country has since then detected over 23,000 cases and is presently facing its second wave with the Western Province which includes capital Colombo being the worst affected.  

Vanuatu

The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is free from COVID-19 again after the country's first such case tested negative.

According to the island nation's English newspaper the Daily Post on Wednesday, Vanuatu's Prime Minister Bob Loughman said the nation has contained its first COVID-19 case after test results from the first COVID-19 patient sent to Australia for further examination came back negative.

The man is expected to return home on Wednesday.

Iraq

The Iraqi Health Ministry reported on Tuesday 2,218 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total nationwide infections to 554,767.

It also reported 48 new deaths and 1,896 more recovered cases in the country, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 12,306 and the total recoveries to 484,570.

A total of 3,512,920 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February, with 29,601 done during the day, according to the statement.

ALSO READ: Japan's COVID-19 infections top 150,000

Thailand

Thailand reported six new coronavirus cases among people who illegally entered the country from neighboring Myanmar, prompting authorities to warn of criminal charges against anyone sneaking into the Southeast Asian nation and skipping the mandatory quarantine.

The new infections reported late Wednesday brought local cases to 10 in the past week alone, and Thailand’s total to 4,032, official data showed. The new cases were all found in Thai women who had ties to the same entertainment venue in Myanmar as the four previously confirmed patients, the health ministry said in a statement.

Turkey

Turkey confirmed 30,110 new coronavirus cases, including 6,101 symptomatic patients, raising the total number of infections and symptomatic COVID-19 patients in the country to 668,957 and 506,966, respectively, Turkey's Health Ministry said.

The death toll from coronavirus in Turkey rose by 190 to 13,936, while the total recoveries climbed to 409,320 after 4,593 more patients recovered in the last 24 hours.

Turkey also saw on Tuesday the first nighttime curfew imposed on weekdays to curb the hike in the number of COVID-19 cases. Local residents emptied boulevards, streets, and squares across the country to follow the lockdown.

Palestine

In Palestine, the health ministry recorded 2,536 new COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths, bringing the total number of infections to 101,386 and the death toll to 838.

The Islamic Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, announced on Tuesday in a brief press statement that its chief in the coastal enclave, Yahya Sinwar, had tested positive for coronavirus.

Qatar

The Qatari health ministry announced 168 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 139,001.

Meanwhile, 216 more people recovered from the virus in Qatar, bringing the overall recoveries to 136,306, while the total fatalities increased by one to 238.

READ MORE: Virus: Turkey's curfew fails to contain surging second wave

Oman

In Oman, the total COVID-19 infections reached 123,908 with 209 new cases added, while the tally of deaths rose by seven to 1,430 and that of recoveries increased by 225 to 115,441.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia announced 263 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total tally to 357,623. The recoveries in the kingdom surged to 347,176 with 374 more recovered cases, while the death toll climbed to 5,907 after the registration of 11 more fatalities.

Jordan

Jordan reported 4,187 new coronavirus infections and 51 deaths, bringing its caseload to 223,617 and its death toll to 2,802. Meanwhile, its tally of recoveries rose by 7,933 to 162,959.

Jordan's Minister of Health Nathir Obeidat said on Tuesday that medical cadres in Jordan would get additional training to face the coronavirus crisis.

The United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported 1,289 new coronavirus infections and four more deaths, bringing its total cases to 170,149 and its death toll to 576. The tally of recoveries in the UAE rose by 768 to 155,667.

Lebanon

Lebanon's total number of COVID-19 infections went up by 1,511 to 129,455, while the death toll increased by 15 to 1,033.

New Zealand

New Zealand reported one new case of COVID-19 in managed isolation on Wednesday. There are no new community cases.

This person is a member of the foreign cricket squad and was one of the three cases reported as under investigation on Tuesday. They have now been confirmed to have an active COVID-19 infection. The two other cases remain under investigation, according to the Ministry of Health.

The team is not allowed to train until the Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health determines they are satisfied that any training activities are unlikely to transmit COVID-19, said a ministry statement.

One previously reported case has now recovered, so the total number of active cases in New Zealand remains at 72. The country's total number of confirmed cases is 1,704, it said.

Australia

In the lead up to Christmas, authorities in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) have further scaled back COVID-19 restrictions, introducing a two-square-metre per person rule to help boost business revenues.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the changes on Monday, as NSW which includes state capital Sydney, recorded its 25th straight day without a case of COVID-19.

As well as relaxing the one person per four-square-metres rule, changes include patrons being able to stand up while having a drink in an outdoor setting and being allowed to dance at weddings and other events.

Outdoor stadiums were told they could operate at 100 percent capacity which Berejiklian described as a "big move," while indoor stadiums and theatres were allowed up to 75 percent capacity.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan's COVID-19 cases reached 73,513 on Wednesday as 335 new cases have been registered across the country in the past 24 hours.

The new cases were confirmed out of 3,655 COVID-19 medical tests in the country over the past 24 hours, said the Republican Headquarters for Combating COVID-19.

The headquarters also reported 478 more recoveries and two more deaths, bringing the total recoveries to 65,189 and the death toll to 1,277.

Currently, 2,651 patients are receiving treatment in hospitals throughout the country and 3,600 patients at home.

Since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Kyrgyzstan on March 18, the authorities have taken precautionary measures against the pandemic, including closing the country's borders, shutting down schools and entertainment centers, banning public gatherings, and imposing a curfew for one month and a half.

Since May 11, the Central Asian country has been easing restrictions by resuming economic activities.

Thus, cinemas, food courts, computer clubs and other entertainment venues resumed their activities in the Kyrgyz capital city from Dec. 1, according to a report of the press service of the Bishkek Mayor's Office.  

Cambodia

Three Cambodian returnees tested positive for the COVID-19 after having been in quarantine facilities for two weeks since their arrivals in the country, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Wednesday.

The trio, upon their arrivals, tested negative for the virus and had been placed under a 14-day mandatory quarantine at quarantine centers in Phnom Penh, it added.

"On the 13th day of quarantine, their samples were taken for the second test and the results showed (on Tuesday) that they turned out to be positive for the COVID-19," the statement said. "Currently, the patients are undergoing treatment at the Chak Angre Health Center in southern Phnom Penh."

According to the statement, no locally transmitted cases were detected on Tuesday after the samples of 2,917 people were diagnosed.

The Southeast Asian nation has so far recorded a total of 329 confirmed COVID-19 cases, it said, adding that none have died and 304 have recovered. 

India

India's COVID-19 tally reached 9,499,413 on Wednesday as 36,604 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, said the latest data from the federal health ministry.

According to the data, the death toll mounted to 138,122 as 501 COVID-19 patients died since Tuesday morning.

There are still 428,644 active cases in the country, while 8,932,647 people have been discharged so far from hospitals after medical treatment, added the ministry's latest data.

Over the past few days, the national capital Delhi has been witnessing a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases. In the past 24 hours, as many as 4,006 new cases and 86 deaths were recorded, according to Delhi's health department.

Till date, Delhi's death toll has reached 9,260. The state government has decided not to reopen schools till a vaccine is available to ensure the safety of the students.

Meanwhile, the federal government has ramped up COVID-19 testing facilities across the country. Till Tuesday a total of 142,445,949 tests were conducted, out of which 1,096,651 tests were conducted on Tuesday alone, said the figures released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Wednesday.

The country's Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has decided to continue the suspension of international flights till the year-end due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Mongolia 

Mongolia on Wednesday confirmed 11 more COVID-19 cases, taking the total infections in the country to 812, according to the country's National Center for Communicable Diseases.

The latest cases were locally transmitted and the patients had contact with previously confirmed cases in Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, and the provinces of Selenge and Orkhon, the center said in a statement.

A total of 380 domestically transmitted cases have been reported across the country so far, notably in Ulan Bator and the provinces of Selenge, Darkhan-Uul, Govisumber, Orkhon, Dornogovi and Arkhangai.

The first locally transmitted case was a woman whose 29-year-old husband, a transport driver, returned from Russia and tested positive for the virus four days after he was released from a 21-day mandatory isolation on Nov. 6.

Mongolia imposed a nationwide lockdown until Dec. 1 to halt the virus's spread and identify all people who had contact with locally transmitted COVID-19 patients.

On Sunday, the Mongolian government decided to extend the lockdown in Ulan Bator and the provinces of Selenge and Arkhangai by 10 days until Dec 11.

The country has recorded 358 recoveries, with no deaths so far. 

Maldives 

Some 84 percent of resorts in the Maldives have been granted permission to reopen by the Ministry of Tourism since July, local media reported here Wednesday.

Tourism Ministry statistics showed that 133 out of 159 resorts have been permitted to reopen since the country resumed tourist arrivals on July 15. Accordingly, Maldives now has a bed capacity of 30,878.

Over 70,000 tourists arrivals have been recorded since July 15.

Maldives closed its borders to tourists in March amid a COVID-19 outbreak. 


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