New Zealand to enter lockdown; Japan set to expand emergency


New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the nation into a three-day lockdown after reporting the first community case of Covid since February. The country will be placed in lockdown at midnight tonight after discovery of a single case in Auckland, Ardern said at a news conference in Wellington. Auckland and the nearby Coromandel region will be in lockdown for seven days.

“Going hard and early has worked for us before,” she told reporters. She said officials assume the case is the Delta variant, adding that strain “has been called a game changer, and it is.”

Meanwhile, Japan plans to expand its current virus emergency now in place for Tokyo and other areas to seven more prefectures as well as extend it to September 12, trying to stem a Delta variant-fueled surge that has sent infections to record levels.

Covid-19 czar and Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told an advisory panel Tuesday the government planned to add seven prefectures to the emergency, bringing the total to 13 areas.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was expected to make the decision official later Tuesday, local media including Kyodo News reported.

Key developments:

India’s record vaccination

India administered a record 8.8 million vaccine shots in a day, the country’s record for doses administered in a single day, according to a government statement Tuesday. India has given 554.7 million vaccine doses so far, but only 8.9 percent of the country’s population is fully inoculated against the virus, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. India added 25,166 cases while deaths rose by 437 to 432,079, according to data released Tuesday.

Booster shots in the US

The US government is poised to offer coronavirus booster shots as soon as next month, with the country facing a renewed wave of infections fueled by the delta variant.

Biden administration officials are finalizing a plan expected to recommend booster shots eight months after people received their second dose, according to two people familiar with the deliberations who asked not to be identified. The plan is not yet finalized but an announcement could come as soon as this week, they said.

Singapore pilot programs

Singapore plans to set up pilot programs next month to allow vaccinated business travelers from some countries to enter on carefully controlled itineraries as it takes steps to reopen its borders.

Singapore is in talks with Germany, Australia, Canada and South Korea to be the first batch of countries for such arrangements, though it is also looking at the possibility of leisure travel, trade minister Gan Kim Yong told Bloomberg News in an interview Tuesday. He said factors like infections, vaccination rates and the ability to control outbreaks will be considered in these discussions.

Hong Kong’s new quarantine requirements

Hong Kong will end a short-lived rule that allowed travelers from most parts of the world to spend just one week quarantined in a hotel, provided they had an antibody test proving they were vaccinated against Covid-19.

Hong Kong will no longer recognize antibody test results as a basis to cut quarantine period for arrivals, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing Tuesday. That effectively will leave New Zealand as the only country outside of China that qualifies for a seven-day quarantine for vaccinated travelers.

Business groups in the city reacted with dismay after travel curbs were tightened Monday for residents returning from more than a dozen countries—including the US, France and Spain.

Delta spreads across Australia

Australia’s Delta outbreak continues to spread despite more than half the nation’s 26 million people being placed into lockdown. New South Wales state recorded 452 new cases on Tuesday, down from the record of 478 set the previous day, with the vast bulk of those infections detected in Sydney. Melbourne and national capital Canberra are also enforcing stay-at-home orders, and on Tuesday recorded 24 and 17 new cases respectively.

Authorities are increasingly concerned that the outbreak’s spreading into the continent’s interior is threatening vulnerable Indigenous populations. On Monday, the tropical city of Darwin was placed into a snap lockdown, while on Tuesday it was confirmed the virus had reached the Outback town of Broken Hill.

China cases dwindle

Covid cases in China are dwindling amid an intense slew of curbs authorities have put in place to slow Delta’s spread. Only six symptomatic infections were reported on Tuesday, down from 90 a week ago. In an interview with state-owned news agency Xinhua, Health Minister Ma Xiaowei vowed to keep the virus’s spread under control by the end of August to ensure life returns to normal as soon as possible. Ma also reiterated containment effort as China’s priority and a “strong guarantee” for economic development and a sound investment environment. Ma told Xinhua the country’s health authorities will double down on measures to detect the virus’s breach from abroad early. He also vowed to strengthen curbs in hospitals treating Covid patients to avoid infections spreading into the community.

Meanwhile, Beijing Communist Party chief Cai Qi told the city’s officials to take detailed and customized measures to prevent spread of coronavirus at 2022 Winter Olympics venues, Beijing Daily reported.

Indonesia’s new cases lowest since June

The country reported 17,384 confirmed infections on Monday, the least since June 23. One in five people tested were found to have the virus, a sign of insufficient testing. Indonesia continues to top the world’s tally of daily deaths, with 1,245 fatalities reported on Monday.

More cities on Java and Bali islands will be allowed to reopen shopping malls for people who are vaccinated with capacity limits, as the government extends virus curbs until August 23.

Indonesia will also allow some export-oriented companies to operate with 100 percent workforce on site using two shifts and strict health protocol, in a bid to find a way to reopen the economy without worsening its coronavirus outbreak. That program will involve 390,000 workers.

The government is preparing roadmaps to reopen other sectors, including education and tourism, as it gears up to live with the virus for a few more years. It will focus on accelerating vaccination, stepping up testing and tracing, while enforcing mask mandates. Indonesia aims to administer 100 million total vaccine doses as of the end of the month, from 83 million so far. Indonesia will also lower the maximum price for real-time polymerase chain reaction testing.

Thailand virus fight needs more money

Thailand’s central bank governor called for an additional 1 trillion baht ($30 billion) in government spending to counter coronavirus, saying the blow to the economy from the pandemic is greater than from the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Meanwhile, Thailand will extend the closure of non-essential businesses and movement controls in its virus hotspots, including the capital Bangkok, until the Covid outbreak shows clear signs of easing. On Tuesday, the country reported a daily record 239 Covid deaths and 20,128 new cases.

CoronaVac’s side effect

People vaccinated with CoronaVac face a small increased chance of developing a temporary facial paralysis known as Bell’s palsy, according to scientists, but the benefits of getting the shot still outweigh the risks.

Nearly 5 in 100,000 more people may experience Bell’s palsy after the CoronaVac jab produced by Sinovac Biotech Ltd. than you would expect to see in the population, according to a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. The study, conducted in Hong Kong, compared Bell’s palsy rates reported within 42 days of either receiving the CoronaVac or the locally produced Pfizer Inc. vaccine. The study found two more people per 100,000 were likely to suffer from the side effect than normal after the Pfizer shot, though cautioned more research was needed.

The authors of the study led by Ian Chi Kei Wong, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, recommended its continued use in protecting people against Covid-19 noting that “Bell’s palsy remains a rare, mostly temporary, adverse event.” Bloomberg News

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