Coronavirus is surging again in countries across the Asia-Pacific region, forcing states of emergency and a fresh spate of lockdowns to prevent it taking hold.
Thailand has extended its state of emergency by another month, until 21 February, and tightened travel restriction in parts of the country. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the Covid-19 coordinating centre, said on Thursday there were 305 new cases and one death. That brought total confirmed cases to 9,636, with 67 deaths.
The government has ordered a partial lockdown around Thailand. Schools, bars, gambling parlours and other public gathering places have been closed. Malls, departments stores and restaurants remain open but with limited hours. Since case numbers began growing again in mid-December – after months of few or no local reported cases – most of the new infections have been migrant workers from neighbouring Myanmar who were employed in seafood markets and factories in a province next to Bangkok. Many are housed in dormitories that have been closed off to the public.
Indonesia is due to start a mass inoculation programme using a Chinese vaccine in mid-January. It plans to launch vaccinations on 13 January after obtaining 3m doses from China’s Sinovac. The highest Muslim clerical council aims to issue a ruling on whether a Covid-19 vaccine is halal, or permissible under Islam, before the vaccinations begin. With nearly 800,000 cases and more than 23,000 deaths, Indonesia is struggling with the worst Covid-19 outbreak in south-east Asia and authorities are relying on a vaccine to help alleviate dual health and economic crises ravaging the country.
Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo as the capital region reported a 24-hour record of almost 2,500 infections, while China imposed emergency measures to tackle an outbreak in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.
Japan’s outbreak has not been as severe as those in Europe and the US, but the government announced a month-long state of emergency in the capital region on Thursday with new rules targeting restaurants and bars.
Businesses are being asked to stop serving alcohol by 7pm and to close an hour after that, and people have been requested to avoid going out after 8pm.
The number of new cases reported in China’s Hebei province – which surrounds most of Beijing – fell slightly from a day earlier, which had been the highest tally since July with 63 cases. The total number of cases across mainland China fell to 53 on Thursday with Hebei accounting for 33 of the 37 new locally transmitted cases reported.
Authorities in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei, have closed schools, cut travel links and begun mass testing.
Elsewhere in the region, residents of Australia’s city of Brisbane have been put into a snap three-day lockdown in an attempt to prevent the spread of the highly infectious UK variant of coronavirus.
Taiwan has managed to maintain its early successful response and daily life is largely normal: of its total 822 cases, the vast majority have been found in returning travellers in hotel quarantine.
Mandatory mask wearing has been expanded to most public places ahead of the flu season, and in the new year border restrictions were tightened again in response to the emergence of the UK strain.
Globally, there are nearly 1.9 million people known to have died out of just under 88 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Europe needs to ramp up efforts to deal with the new variant that is spreading more quickly.
“This is an alarming situation,” said the WHO Europe chief, Hans Kluge, who called on everyone to follow rules on social distancing, mask wearing and staying at home.
Experts see mass vaccinations as the best route back to normality, but the first rollouts have coincided with alarming spikes in deaths and cases across many parts of the world.
The world’s poorest countries can expect to start receiving their first vaccine doses between the end of January and mid-February, the WHO has said.
Other key global developments include:
Quebec, Canada’s hardest-hit province, toughened its restrictions with a night-time curfew, with historians saying it was the first such order in the country for more than a century.
The UK said it would extend a ban on travellers entering England to southern African countries in a measure to prevent the spread of a new Covid-19 variant identified in South Africa. The restriction would go into effect on Saturday and remain in place for two weeks, the government said.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said supply agreements with Pfizer meant all Israelis over the age of 16 would be able to be vaccinated by the end of March, perhaps earlier.
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