Coronavirus: Vietnam’s Hanoi city barricaded; Malaysia to reopen Langkawi to domestic tourists

03-Sep-2021 Intellasia | Reuters, Bloomberg, New Zealand Herald, AFP, Tribune News Service, DPA | 2:30 PM Print This Post

Bamboo poles, beer crates, ladders and broken chairs: everyday objects form makeshift barricades on Hanoi’s streets as authorities try to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Vietnam’s capital has been in lockdown for more than a month but with daily case numbers refusing to budge, restrictions on movement have become even tighter.

The city is now divided into tiny segments, with movement between each extremely difficult. “It is like living in a jail,” 72-year-old Hanoi resident Ho Thi Anh said.

All alleys leading to Ho’s home have been blocked, with no one allowed in or out after virus cases were discovered in the area.

Once every three days, her family brings her food dropping it at the foot of the steel barriers that encircle her neighbourhood. In some parts of the city the barricades are cobbled together by volunteers.

Although Hanoi’s case numbers remain relatively steady with the city recording between 50 and 100 cases each day there is huge anxiety over the escalating crisis down south in Ho Chi Minh City.

The commercial hub is reporting thousands of new infections and hundreds of deaths a day, and Hanoi residents fear the same fate for their city. Across the country more than 11,000 people have died.

“No strangers can access our community,” said Nguyen Ha Van, a 45-year-old volunteer guarding a barricade consisting of one steel barrier, a wooden table and a long wooden stick.

“It’s good we set up barriers like this … it means our area is free of the virus,” Ha said.

Vu Manh Dung, a delivery driver, admitted everyone knew ways around the barricades but said he “strongly supports” the system. “Of course there are ways in … but we have to abide by the regulations.”

Malaysia’s Langkawi to reopen to local tourists

Malaysia plans to reopen the tourist haven of Langkawi islands as it renews efforts to rebuild parts of the economy worst hit by the pandemic.

Langkawi, in the state of Kedah, will open to locals under a travel bubble plan from September 16, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in a statement Thursday. Other destinations will be allowed to operate when the locality’s vaccination rate hits 80 per cent, he said.

Malaysia is preparing for life with Covid-19 even as daily cases remain elevated, mirroring Thailand’s tourism-reopening plan based on a pilot project in the popular resort island of Phuket.

Covid-19 will be treated as endemic and it is time for Malaysians to learn to live with the virus, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said at a briefing on Wednesday.

More than 84 per cent of the adult population has received at least one dose, and 64 per cent has been fully inoculated, according to the health ministry. Based on projected data, the average vaccination rate among adults in each state is expected to reach 80 per cent by month-end, Ismail Sabri said.

“A 100 per cent vaccination rate will be reached by end of October,” he said. “Eventually we have to live with Covid-19 as is the case around the world.”

Thailand cites positive results from Sinovac-AstraZeneca vaccine formula

Thailand’s health ministry said on Thursday that its Covid-19 vaccine regimen of China’s Sinovac followed by British-developed AstraZeneca was safe and successfully boosted immunity among its first 1.5 million recipients.

Thailand in July became the first country in the world to mix a Chinese vaccine and a Western-developed vaccine as cases and deaths in the country surged and the government struggled with vaccine supplies.

“The cross formula has been injected to over 1.5 million people and it is safe. Please don’t say things that would create concern,” senior health official Supakit Sirilak told a news conference.

He said Thailand, which has been manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine, would no longer be giving two doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac.

Just 13 per cent of Thailand’s population of over 66 million has been fully vaccinated.

The majority of its 1.2 million infections and 12,103 coronavirus deaths came after April this year, brought on by the highly transmissible Alpha and Delta variants.

The health ministry said the Sinovac-AstraZeneca combination boosted immunity to the same levels as two AstraZeneca shots and meant vaccinations could be completed faster due to the shorter dose gap.

The formula will be used for most of Thailand’s vaccinations, Public Health Permanent Secretary Kiatiphum Wongrajit said.

Booster doses will be given to 3 million people who received two Sinovac shots, using a different type of vaccine, likely from this month, health minister Anutin Charnvirakul has said.

Sinovac’s inactivated virus vaccine has caused concern in some countries about its resistance to the Delta variant.

Earlier this week during a censure debate on the coronavirus crisis, Anutin told lawmakers not to criticise Sinovac, to protect the Thai public and avoid harming ties with China.

“Tarnishing of the Sinovac vaccine by many (house) members may create panic, confusion and concern for the public,” he said.

Singapore records eighth straight day of triple-digit infections

Singapore recorded more than 100 cases of Covid-19 for the eighth straight day on Wednesday as the regional travel hub, with about 5.7 million residents, works towards becoming among the first countries in the region to reopen, albeit slowly.

Starting next week, Singapore will allow quarantine-free entry to vaccinated visitors from just two countries: Germany and Brunei.

“We will move step by step not in one big bang like some countries, but cautiously and progressively, feeling our way forward,” Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday, reiterating that it was not possible to bring cases down to zero even with long lockdowns.

New daily cases have stayed over 100 in the last week, close to recent peaks that had prompted tightened curbs. But the number of those seriously ill is low; on September 1, 19 patients required oxygen and five were in intensive care, according to government data.

In Singapore, most of those 12 and older have been vaccinated, and the government is looking at inoculating children early next year. After a slow start, rates among those 70 and older have been pushed up to 84 per cent.

Vaccination is the pillar of the city state’s reopening plans, and, with an economy that shrank by a record 5.4 per cent last year, it cannot afford to stay closed for too long.

In 2019, Singapore welcomed a record 19.1 million travellers – more than three times its total population, with China, Indonesia and India contributing 40 per cent.

The country’s economy is forecast to grow 6-7 per cent this year after 2020’s record recession.

Australian doctors warn hospitals not ready for living with Covid-19

Australian doctors on Thursday warned the country’s hospitals are not ready to cope with the government’s reopening plans, even with higher vaccination rates, as some states prepare to move from a virus suppression strategy to living with Covid-19.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said the health system was in danger of being locked into a “permanent cycle of crisis” and has called for new modelling to check if staffing levels in hospitals can withstand an expected surge in cases when lockdown rules ease.

“If you have opened up and you haven’t looked at the safety nets or the life rafts that we’ve got, we might end up actually trying to push more people on the life rafts and capsizing them,” AMA Vice-President Chris Moy told broadcaster ABC.

Australia in July unveiled a four-stage plan back to greater freedoms when the country reaches 70-80 per cent vaccination levels and urged states to focus on limiting the number of deaths and hospitalisations instead of the current elimination strategy.

But virus-free Queensland and Western Australia have said they may not stick to the reopening plans as the agreement was finalised when cases in New South Wales were much lower. New infections in the latter state are hovering around record numbers, with it recording more than 1,000 cases a day for the past five days.

Soaring cases forced Victoria on Wednesday to join New South Wales in abandoning elimination as both states now see vaccinations as a pathway to freedom after failing to quell an outbreak of the Delta variant even after a weeks-long lockdown.

New cases in Victoria jumped to 176 on Thursday from 120 a day earlier.

Australia has largely lived with a Covid-19 suppression strategy for much of the pandemic, recording just 1,012 deaths in total and just over 55,000 cases. But a slow vaccination roll-out has left it vulnerable to more infections and hospitalisations.

So far, only about 36 per cent of people above 16 have been fully vaccinated, well below most comparable countries.

India reports biggest single-day rise in cases for two months

India reported the biggest single-day rise in Covid-19 cases in two months on Thursday, as the government worries about the virus spreading from the most-affected Kerala state, schools reopening, and the start of the festival season.

Densely populated Kerala, on India’s southern tip, accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the 47,092 new infections and one-third of deaths, a week after it celebrated its biggest festival during which family and social gatherings were common.

“With cases rising in Kerala, adequate steps should be taken to contain the interstate spread of Covid-19,” Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said in a statement after speaking with his state counterparts in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which border Kerala.

He asked them to increase vaccination in the districts close to Kerala. India has so far administered 662 million doses, with at least one dose in 54 per cent of its 944 million adults and the required two doses in 16 per cent.

Vaccinations have soared in recent days as supplies have improved. And as more than two-thirds of Indians already have antibodies, mainly through natural infection, experts think another national surge in cases will be less deadly than the last one in April and May when tens of thousands of people died and hospitals ran out of beds and oxygen.

Also offering hope is a recent non-peer-reviewed study done in Kerala that showed that one dose of the AstraZeneca shot, the mainstay of India’s immunisation drive, generates 30 times more antibodies in previously infected people than fully inoculated ones who never contracted the virus.

“A decently managed vaccination programme, along with the hybrid immunity we’re seeing now, makes a massive third wave unlikely,” said clinical immunologist and rheumatologist Padmanabha Shenoy, who led the study and was referring to the immunity from natural infection and one vaccine dose.

The federal government, nevertheless, has warned that like in Kerala, the rest of India could also see a rise in infections around the festival season starting this month and ending in early November.

Some parents are also worried about the reopening of physical classes voluntary and mainly for middle school and above in the capital Delhi and states like Gujarat.

India has so far reported about 32.9 million infections, the most in the world after the United States. Deaths went up by 509 on Thursday to a total of 439,529, which experts say is a massive undercount.

New Zealand plays down ‘living with virus’ fears

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has played down fears that New Zealand could follow Australia’s New South Wales and Victoria in being unable to eliminate Covid-19, as the number of cases in the community looks set to exceed 700.

New Zealand epidemiologist Tony Blakely, who is based in Melbourne, told national talk-radio network Newstalk ZB that he sees some worrying similarities between how the virus has been spreading in Sydney, in Melbourne, and now in Auckland.

Australia’s two most populated states have all but given up on completely eliminating the virus as they struggle to contain surging cases of the Delta variant.

Blakely said he hoped New Zealand would do better and not “be living with the virus like us”.

“I think you should be fighting it hard for another week,” he said, adding that he supported New Zealand continuing its elimination approach.

But Ardern has played down comparisons with New South Wales and Victoria.

She told the same talk-radio network that the outbreak on Australia’s east coast had been going for longer without authorities being able to stamp out cases, so she said they are keeping restrictions while they ramp up vaccinations.

New Zealand’s government reported 75 cases on Wednesday, pushing the total number in the community to 687, an increase on the 49 reported the previous day.

Speaking on national broadcaster TVNZ, Australasian College for Emergency Medicine president Dr John Bonning said there was still intensive care capacity at the moment, but he was waiting for a potential further wave.

He said New South Wales was in a “very bad place” and if New Zealand had not locked down when it did, the country’s hospitals may not have been able to cope.

Tainted Moderna vaccines in Japan contained steel particles, drug maker says

Moderna said on Wednesday that tainted batches of its Covid-19 vaccine sent to Japan were contaminated with stainless steel particles, but the company did not expect it posed “an undue risk to patient safety.”

The US biotech firm is facing major setbacks in Japan, with hundreds of thousands of doses suspended following reports of foreign substances detected in vials.

Authorities are also investigating the deaths of two men who received doses from a tainted batch, but the cause of their deaths is so far unknown.

In a joint statement with its Japanese partner Takeda, Moderna said the contamination in one of three suspended lots had been traced back to production line flaws at a factory run by its Spanish contractor, ROVI Pharma Industrial Services.

“The rare presence of stainless steel particles in the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine does not pose an undue risk to patient safety and it does not adversely affect the benefit/risk profile of the product,” the statement said.

Metallic particles of this size injected into a muscle may cause a site reaction, but are unlikely to go beyond that, it added.

“Stainless steel is routinely used in heart valves, joint replacements and metal sutures and staples. As such, it is not expected that injection of the particles identified in these lots in Japan would result in increased medical risk.”

Moderna added that for the time being, there was no evidence that the two deaths were related to administration of the vaccine and “the relationship is currently considered to be coincidental.” An investigation is ongoing.

Last week, Japan suspended 1.63 million Moderna doses across the country.

Around 46 per cent of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated, as the country battles a record surge of coronavirus cases driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

Some 16,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Japan, and large parts of the country are under strict virus restrictions.

Bangladesh study highlights face masks’ importance

A new study from Bangladesh that featured more than 340,000 subjects across 600 villages shows the important role masks play in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

The study published on Wednesday by the non-profit organisation Innovations for Poverty Action is the largest trial that tests the effectiveness of medical masks since the pandemic began last year.

Many studies have been done in the past to determine the effectiveness of facial coverings, but they have mainly focused on small groups of people in medical settings. The results out of Bangladesh showcase their importance because they demonstrate a larger-scale scenario that cannot be mimicked in smaller settings.

“This is really solid data that combines the control of a lab study with real-life actions of people in the world to see if we can get people to wear masks, and if the masks work,” said Laura Kwong, an assistant professor of environment health sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and the study’s co-author.

Researchers like co-author Mushfiq Mobarak, an economics professor at Yale University, hope that the results from the study demonstrate the reasoning behind mask mandates.

“The policy question we were trying to answer was: if you can distribute masks and get people to wear them, do they work?” Mobarak said.

The study followed 342,126 randomly selected Bangladeshis for a five-month period beginning last November. The programme also called for certain villages to promote the use of wearing masks by distributing them to households at no cost, according to NBC News.

In total, 178,000 people were among the population group urged to wear a mask. This messaging led to a 30 per cent increase in mask wearing for a period of 10 weeks or more. Additionally, mask-wearing caused a nearly 12 per cent reduction in patients experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, and a 9.3 per cent reduction in symptomatic seroprevalence, the measurement of the virus in a blood test.

“A 30 per cent increase in mask-wearing led to a 10 per cent drop in Covid, so imagine if there was a 100 per cent increase if everybody wore a mask and we saw a 100 per cent change,” Mobarak said.

Similar studies led by Kwong and her team are set to take place in villages in other parts of Asia and expand to Sub-Saharan Africa as well. As part of their new studies, the group is also seeking to research the effect of masks and asymptomatic transmission.


Category: Regional

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