Rising coronavirus cases in Asia cause concern as vaccine doubts cloud campaigns


India, South Korea and Thailand faced an increase in coronavirus infections on Thursday, undermining cautious hopes that Asia could emerge from the worst of the pandemic as security concerns threatened to delay vaccination campaigns.

India reported a record 126,789 new cases, on the third day of this week the numbers soared to more than 100,000, taking authorities by surprise who blamed overcrowding and a reluctance to wear masks during the reopening of stores and offices.

More infectious variants of the virus may have played a role in India’s outbreak, some epidemiologists say, with hundreds of cases found of variants first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil .

The alarming figures have led New Zealand to temporarily ban anyone arriving from India, even for the first time, preventing New Zealand citizens from returning home, for around two weeks.

“We are temporarily suspending entry to New Zealand for travelers from India,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference in Auckland.

New Zealand, which has virtually eliminated the virus within its borders, on Thursday recorded 23 new cases at its border, including 17 in India.

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Two other countries that were successful in keeping the coronavirus largely under control in the pandemic’s first year were also grappling with new waves, albeit smaller than India’s.

South Korea reported 700 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily figure since early January, and the prime minister warned that new social distancing rules would likely be needed.

Thailand, which was planning a cautious reopening of its tourism industry, reported an increase in new daily infections on Thursday to 405, bringing its total number of infections to 30,310, with 95 deaths.

Adding to Thai concerns, it has detected 24 cases of a highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain, its first reported nationwide transmission of the variant.

Cases are also increasing in parts of Europe, but South America is the region of the world of greatest concern for infections, with cases on the rise in almost all countries, the organization’s director said on Wednesday. Pan American Health (PAHO).

A health worker takes a swab sample from a woman for antigen testing on Thursday in New Delhi. | TBEN-JIJI

Suspend the blows

The rise in cases in Asia comes as concerns grow about the safety of one of the most popular vaccines against the virus.

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The European Medicines Agency said on Wednesday it had found rare cases of blood clots in some adults receiving AstraZeneca PLC’s COVID-19 vaccine, although it said the benefits of the vaccine still outweighed the risks.

South Korea and the Philippines have suspended use of 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 vaccination campaigns in Asia, some of which are already plagued by supply problems. Campaigns in most parts of Asia lag behind countries like Britain and the United States.

Australia’s vaccination schedule for nearly 26 million people is more than 80% behind its original schedule.

Local authorities had pledged to administer at least 4 million first doses by the end of March, but could only deliver 670,000. The government blamed the supply problems in Europe.

As cases in India escalate, vaccination centers in several parts of the country, including the worst-affected state of Maharashtra, are running out of supplies.

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China, where the new coronavirus emerged at the end of 2019, is continuing its vaccination campaign, administering about 3.68 million doses on Wednesday, bringing the total number of doses administered to 149.07 million, authorities said.

Japan’s vaccinations lag far behind those of most major economies, with just one vaccine approved and around 1 million people having received a first dose since February, even as it grapples with new cases.

Infections in Tokyo rose by 545 cases on Thursday, adding to concerns over the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which were delayed from last year and are now expected to begin at the end of July. New cases reached a record high of 905 in Osaka Prefecture on the same day.

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