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COVID-19

South Asia crosses 30 million COVID-19 cases as India battles second wave

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(Last Updated On: May 28, 2021)

Coronavirus infections in the South Asia region surpassed 30 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally of official data, led by India which is struggling with a second COVID-19 wave and a vaccine shortage across the region.

India, the second most-populous country in the world, this month recorded its highest COVID-19 death toll since the pandemic began last year, accounting for just over a third of the overall total.

The South Asia region – India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka – accounts for 18% of global cases and almost 10% of deaths. But there is growing suspicion that official tallies of infections and deaths are not reflecting the true extent of the problem.

This month, India opened its coronavirus vaccination campaign to everyone aged 18 or older. However, it has not been able to meet vaccine demand despite being one of the biggest vaccine producers in the world.

India has been inoculating its people with the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine produced locally at the Serum Institute of India (SII), Covaxin made by local firm Bharat Biotech and has begun rolling out Russia’s Sputnik V.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced mounting criticism for the failure to secure vaccines as only about 3% of India’s 1.3 billion population has been fully vaccinated, the lowest rate among the 10 countries with the most cases.

To meet domestic demand, India temporarily halted vaccine exports in March after donating or selling more than 66 million doses. The halt has left countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and many in Africa scrambling for alternate supplies.

However, India is still facing a vaccine shortage and several of its state governments, and even cities such as Mumbai, have launched global tenders or sought expressions of interest from firms such as Pfizer (PFE.N), Moderna (MRNA.O) and Johnson and Johnson (JNJ.N) for urgent supplies.

India’s official tally of daily coronavirus infections has been falling in the past few days, offering hope that its second wave is ebbing.

But there are serious concerns that many new infections are not being reported, largely due to a dearth of testing in the countryside.

As of Friday, India has reported nearly 27.6 million cases and 318,895 deaths. (Graphic on global cases and deaths)

Since India is unlikely to resume major exports of COVID-19 vaccines until October, other South Asia countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh are making diplomatic efforts to secure COVID-19 vaccines to prop up their faltering inoculation drives as their stocks run out.

India’s western neighbour Pakistan, with purchases and donations from China and allocations from the World Health Organisation and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, has now secured more than 18 million doses. On Wednesday, Pakistan opened its vaccination campaign to everyone aged 19 or older.

At least 219.17 million vaccine doses have been administered in southern Asia by Friday, according to figures from Our World in Data.

COVID-19

Officials warn of possible 4th wave of COVID-19 in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: October 26, 2021)

Afghanistan’s health officials on Tuesday warned of a possible 4th wave of COVID-19 in the county, adding that treatment possibilities have been minimized recently.

The Afghan-Japan hospital in Afghanistan, which was allocated for Coronavirus patients, has received 35 patients from Ghazni and Daikundi provinces recently, said officials.

“As we see the situation it [Coronavirus cases] increases day by day. We  registered samples, and now it has increased by 20%. Most patients are testing positive for Coronavirus,” said Zalmay Rashteen, head of the hospital.

Doctors at the Afghan-Japan hospital say that they face a serious shortage of money to stock and equip hospitals.

The doctors added they have not received their salaries for three months.

Doctors say that last year, during the 3rd wave of COVID-19, the virus spread and had many casualties.

They emphasize that a  4th wave would be difficult to contain, said Sahar, a doctor at the hospital.

The World Health Organization (WHO) meanwhile said that they had recorded 155,891 cases of COVID-19 in Afghanistan since the start of the pandemic.

The organization added that 7,249 out of 155,891 have died of the virus in Afghanistan.

“There is no medical equipment such as drugs and other (necessities) to fight the 4th wave of COVID-19 in Afghanistan,” said Qayamuddin, a doctor at the hospital.

This comes after the WHO said that 1.6 million doses of the vaccine in Afghanistan will expire if it is not used.

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China urges faster COVID-19 testing amid latest outbreak

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(Last Updated On: October 26, 2021)

China is demanding faster and more accessible COVID-19 testing services in its latest effort to reinforce a zero-tolerance policy against the virus, even when cities have already scrambled to test millions in just a few days amid outbreaks.

Frequent testing, and sometimes mass testing, is standard practice in China’s containment of domestically transmitted outbreaks in the past year, but health authorities say testing services remain unsatisfactory in parts of China amid flare-ups, Reuters reported.

“Small clusters and sporadic infections have occurred in some areas, exposing problems such as the unreasonable locations of nucleic acid testing agencies, inconvenient services and delays in the returning of results,” state media reported on Tuesday, citing the National Health Commission (NHC).

China is facing a new wave of infections involving nearly 200 locally transmitted symptomatic cases in 12 provincial areas since October 17. Many of the infected were from remote parts of northwest China without as much health resources as major cities.

NHC said testing agencies should provide 24-hour services to the public and strive to have results within six hours for those who volunteer to be tested, according to state media reports.

NHC said in September that cities with over 5 million people should have the capacity to test everyone within three days.

Since the new coronavirus was found in late 2019, mainland China has reported 96,840 confirmed cases with symptoms, including both local and imported infections, with fatalities totalling 4,636.

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China says 76% of population fully vaccinated against COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: October 24, 2021)

China has given complete doses of COVID-19 vaccines to about 75.6% of its population as of Oct. 23, National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng said on Sunday.

Some 1.068 billion people have now been inoculated with the required dosages, out of a population of 1.412 billion, Mi told a news briefing.

The country administered 2.245 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Saturday, official data showed.

China is giving booster shots to adults whose last dose was at least six months earlier, with priority groups including essential workers, older people and those with weaker immune systems, Reuters reported.

Data showed antibodies elicited by vaccines, including the most-used shots from Sinovac and Sinopharm, declined within months.

Wang Huaqing, chief expert for the immunization program at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said China would not keep giving people booster shots after booster shots.

“We hope that an ideal vaccine works well with the full doses of immunization,” Wang told the briefing.

“Even if it needs to be strengthened later, the number of boosters is limited,” Wang said. “We hope in the future there will be better vaccines and better vaccination procedures to achieve solid protection among the public.”

China has largely contained the virus in most areas, and the sporadic local outbreaks are tiny compared with those seen in other countries.

However, Mi cautioned on Sunday there is increasing risk that China’s latest outbreak, involving over 100 infections in a week across 11 provincial areas, will spread further.

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