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COVID-19

WHO urges Asia-Pacific to ready for Omicron-driven surge in infections

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(Last Updated On: December 3, 2021)

Asia-Pacific countries should boost their healthcare capacity and fully vaccinate their people to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant, Reuters quoting officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

First detected in southern Africa last month and dubbed a “variant of concern” by the WHO, scientists are still gathering data to establish how contagious Omicron is, and the severity of the illness it causes.

It has been reported in at least two dozen countries, and started gaining a foothold in Asia this week, with cases reported from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and India. Many governments have responded by tightening travel rules, read the report.

“Border controls can buy time but every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases,” Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the western Pacific, told a virtual media briefing.

“People should not only rely on border measures. What is most important is to prepare for these variants with potential high transmissibility. So far the information available suggests we don’t have to change our approach,” Kasai said.

Kasai said countries must utilise lessons learned from dealing with the Delta variant and urged them to fully vaccinate vulnerable groups and implement preventive measures such as mask wearing and social distancing rules.

According to Reuters despite restrictions on international visitors, Australia became the latest country on Friday to report community transmission of Omicron, a day after it was found locally in five U.S. states.

COVID-19

North Korea declares victory over COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2022)

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un declared victory in the battle against COVID-19 on Thursday, with the leader’s sister revealing he had suffered from fever and vowing “deadly retaliation” against South Korea which it blames for causing the outbreak, Reuters reported.

Kim ordered a lifting of maximum anti-epidemic measures imposed in May, adding that North Korea must maintain a “steel-strong anti-epidemic barrier and intensifying the anti-epidemic work until the end of the global health crisis,” according to a report by state news agency KCNA.

North Korea has never confirmed how many people caught COVID-19, apparently lacking testing supplies. It had instead reported daily numbers of fever patients, which totalled some 4.77 million, but has registered no new such cases since July 29.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, said the young leader himself had suffered from fever symptoms, according to KCNA, indicating for the first time that he might have been infected with the virus.

“Even though he was seriously ill with a high fever, he could not lie down for a moment thinking about the people he had to take care of until the end in the face of the anti-epidemic war,” she said in remarks at a meeting on Wednesday to review the country’s anti-epidemic responses.

She did not elaborate on Kim’s health, but blamed leaflets from South Korea found near the border for causing the outbreak, Reuters reported.

The World Health Organization has cast doubts on North Korea’s claims, saying in June the situation could be getting worse. 

Pyongyang’s declaration of victory over COVID comes despite no known vaccine programme. Instead, the country says it relied on lockdowns, homegrown medicine treatments, and what Kim called the “advantageous Korean-style socialist system.”

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COVID-19

China closes Potala Palace after COVID-19 reported in Tibet

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2022)

Chinese authorities have closed Tibet’s famed Potala Palace after a minor outbreak of COVID-19 was reported in the Himalayan region.

The action underscores China’s continued adherence to its “zero-COVID” policy, mandating lockdowns, routine testing, quarantines and travel restrictions, even while most other countries have reopened, AP reported.

A notice on the palace’s Weixin social media site said the palace that was the traditional home of Tibet’s Buddhist leaders would be closed from Tuesday, with a reopening date to be announced later.

Tibet’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and the Potala is a key draw.

China announced 828 new cases of domestic transmission on Tuesday, 22 of them in Tibet. The majority of those cases showed no symptoms.

Meanwhile, more than 80,000 travelers remain stranded on the southern resort island of Hainan under requirements that they consistently test negative for the virus in coming days before being allowed to leave, AP reported.

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COVID-19

China’s COVID-19 lockdown strands 25,000 tourists in Sanya resort town

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(Last Updated On: August 8, 2022)

China’s popular tourist island of Hainan locked down more areas on Monday as it battles its worst COVID-19 outbreak after recording very few cases over the past two years, compared with many other regions in the country.

About 25,000 tourists were stranded in Sanya, the hardest-hit city in Hainan’s outbreak and the island’s key tourist center, as of Sunday, The National reported.

The island in the South China Sea, which recorded just two local symptomatic COVID cases last year, has reported more than 1,400 infections this month. 

Although that is small by global standards, it is the province’s biggest outbreak since the virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, The National reported.

The provincial capital city of Haikou, with about 2.9 million residents, and two smaller towns, Ledong and Chengmai, locked down its residents on Monday, according to state media reports.

The lockdowns in several cities on the tropical island dashed hopes for a quick rebound of the country’s ailing aviation sector, which had counted on a summer travel boom to help to trim record losses.

As of Sunday, mainland China had confirmed 231,266 cases with symptoms, including both local patients and symptomatic international travelers.

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