Singapore (Reuters) – India, South Korea and Thailand faced rising coronavirus infections on Thursday, undermining cautious hopes that Asia could emerge from the worst pandemic as safety concerns threaten to delay vaccination driving.
India reported a record 1
More infectious variants of the virus may have played a role in the wave in India, some epidemiologists say, with hundreds of cases first discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
The alarming figures led to New Zealand, which imposed a temporary ban on anyone arriving from India, even blocking New Zealanders for the first time, from returning home for about two weeks.
“We are temporarily suspending entry to New Zealand for passengers from India,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference in Auckland.
New Zealand, which has virtually eliminated the virus within its borders, registered 23 new cases at its border on Thursday, 17 from India.
Two other countries that largely managed to keep the coronavirus under control in the first year of the pandemic were also battling new waves, albeit smaller than India’s.
South Korea announced 700 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily figure since early January, and the prime minister warned that new rules for social distancing are likely to be needed.
Thailand, which plans to cautiously reopen its tourism industry, reported an increase in new daily infections to 405 on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 30,310 with 95 deaths.
In addition to Thai concerns, he found 24 cases of a highly contagious variant of the virus, first discovered in the UK, the first internal transmission of the variant.
Cases are also on the rise in some parts of Europe, but South America is the world’s most worrying region for infections, with cases increasing in almost every country, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.
The growing cases in Asia come with growing concerns about the safety of one of the most well-known vaccines against the virus.
The European Medicines Agency said on Wednesday that it had found rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients of AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine, although it said the benefits of the vaccine still outweighed 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 may slow immunization drives in Asia, some of which are already experiencing supply problems. Campaigns in most parts of Asia lag behind those in places like Britain and the United States.
Australia’s vaccination program for nearly 26 million people is more than 80% behind schedule.
Authorities there have pledged to administer at least 4 million first doses by the end of March, but could deliver only 670,000. The government has blamed problems with supplies from Europe.
As cases in India increase, vaccine centers in several parts of the country, including the worst-hit country of Maharashtra, are running out of supplies.
China, where the new coronavirus appeared in late 2019, is making progress with its vaccination campaign, administering about 3.68 million doses on Wednesday, with a total of 149.07 million doses, authorities said.
Japanese vaccinations lag far behind those in most major economies, with only one approved vaccine received and about 1 million people receiving the first dose since February, despite struggling with new cases.
Infections in Tokyo rose by 545 cases on Thursday, raising concerns about the Olympics and Paralympics, which have been delayed since last year and now, which are due to begin in late July.
The government has tried to quell social media anger by saying it does not want to prioritize vaccines for its Olympic athletes by rejecting media reports that it is considering doing so.
Japan does not insist that arriving athletes be vaccinated, but there will be frequent tests while in Japan. There will be no foreign viewers and no local decision has been made yet.
Reporting by Reuters employees; Writing by Robert Birsel; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore