Singapore (Reuters) – India, South Korea and Thailand faced growing coronavirus infections on Thursday, undermining cautious hopes that Asia could emerge from the worst pandemic as security concerns threatened to delay vaccination actions.
India reported a record 126,789 new cases, on the third day of this week the amount rose to more than 100,000, surprising authorities who accused it of crowds and reluctance to wear masks as shops and offices open.
Some infectious variants of the virus could have played a role in the sharp rise in India, some epidemiologists say, with hundreds of cases of variants found being first discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
Alarming numbers have led New Zealand to put a temporary ban on everyone arriving from India, even blocking New Zealanders from returning home for the first time, for about two weeks.
“We are temporarily suspending entry to New Zealand for passengers from India,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference in Auckland.
New Zealand, which has virtually eliminated the virus within its borders, recorded 17 new cases at its border from India on Thursday.
Two other countries that managed to largely keep the coronavirus under control during the first year of the pandemic also faced new waves, albeit smaller than India’s.
South Korea reported 700 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure since early January, and the prime minister warned that new rules on social exclusion are likely to be needed.
Thailand, which plans to cautiously reopen its tourism industry, reported an increase in the number of new daily infections to 405 on Thursday, taking the total number of infections to 30,310, with 95 deaths.
In addition to Thai concerns, she discovered 24 cases of a highly contagious variant of the virus that was first detected in Britain, which is the first report on the transmission of the variant to the domestic market.
Cases are also growing in parts of Europe, but South America is a worrying region in the world due to infections, and there are cases in almost all countries, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.
SUSPENSION OF GUITARS
An increasing number of cases in Asia are coming as concerns about the safety of one of the most prominent vaccines against the virus grow.
The European Medicines Agency announced on Wednesday that it has found rare cases of blood clots in some adult recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca Plc, although it said the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks.
Both South Korea and the Philippines have stopped using the vaccine for people under the age of 60 due to possible links to blood clots, while Australia and Taiwan have said they will continue to use it.
Concerns about the vaccine could delay immunization actions in Asia, some of which are already supply problems. Campaigns in most parts of Asia lag behind campaigns in places like Britain and the United States.
The Australian vaccination program of its 26 million people is more than 80% behind its original schedule.
Authorities there have pledged to administer at least 4 million first doses by the end of March, but were only able to deliver 670,000. The government blamed supply issues from Europe for this.
Although cases in India are increasing, vaccine centers in several parts of the country, including the hardest-hit state of Maharashtra, remain without supplies.
China, where the new coronavirus appeared at the end of 2019, continues with the vaccination campaign, administering about 3.68 million doses on Wednesday, taking the total number of doses to 149.07 million, the authorities said.
Japanese vaccinations lag far behind those in most major economies, as only one vaccine has been approved, and about a million people have received the first dose since February, although they are struggling with new cases.
Infections in Tokyo rose by 545 cases on Thursday, adding to concerns about the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which have been postponed since last year and should now begin in late July.
The government has tried to quell anger on social media by saying it does not want to favor vaccines for its Olympic athletes, dismissing a media report that it is considering doing so.
Japan does not insist that incoming athletes be vaccinated, but tests will often be performed while in Japan. There will be no foreign spectators, and a decision on domestic ones has yet to be made.
Reuters staff reporting; Written by Robert Birsel; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore