India’s prime minister received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as the country hit another peak Thursday with 126,789 new cases reported in the past 24 hours.
“Vaccination is among the few ways we have to defeat the virus. If you are eligible for the vaccine, get your shot soon,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. He received his first vaccine shot on March 1.
India started its vaccination drive in January. So far, more than 90 million health workers and Indians older than 45 have received at least one shot. Only 11 million of them have received both doses as India tries to build immunity to protect its nearly 1.4 billion people.
The new cases reported by the Health Ministry overtook Wednesday’s 115,736 infections with dozens of cities and towns imposing night curfews to try to contain infections.
Fatalities rose by 685 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November, raising the nation’s toll to 166,862 dead.
The western state of Maharashtra, the worst hit in the country, accounted for nearly 47% of new infections.
The federal government has refused to impose a second nationwide lockdown, after the first last year had a steep economic impact, but it has asked states to decide on imposing local restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 80,000 cases per day and has reported 12.9 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the third-highest total after the United States and Brazil.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Cambodia is closing the Angkor temple complex to visitors because of a growing COVID-19 outbreak. Cambodia has confirmed 3,028 cases since the pandemic began, but hundreds have been infected in the outbreak that began in February. On Thursday, the Health Ministry said 113 cases were reported from local transmission, with two deaths. The ministry traced the outbreak to a foreign resident who broke hotel quarantine to visit a nightclub. The government closed schools and entertainment venues in response, but as the outbreak grows, a defunct hotel has been converted into a coronavirus hospital and criminal punishments are being imposed for violating health rules. The temples at Angkor, built between the 9th and 15th centuries, are Cambodia’s biggest tourist attraction, though the pandemic has reduced the number of visitors dramatically. The Apsara Authority that oversees the site says the ban on visitors will last until April 20.
— South Korea reported another 700 new cases as the coronavirus spreads at a rate near what was seen during the worst of its outbreak in winter. The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday brought the national caseload to 107,598, including 1,758 deaths. Around 500 of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has been the center of the country’s outbreak. Health authorities are expected to announce stronger social distancing steps on Friday. They say they will decide over the weekend whether to resume administrating AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccines to people 60 and younger. The injections were paused while regulators in Europe reviewed a possible link with rare blood clots. The European Medicine Agency emphasized the benefits of receiving AstraZeneca’s vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people. South Korea’s immunization campaign has mainly relied on AstraZeneca shots produced by local firm SK Bioscience.
— Another 11 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in China’s only active outbreak. Cases in the Yunnan province city of Ruili have topped 100, including those not showing symptoms, but a vaccination campaign and stay-home orders appear to have curbed large-scale transmission. Ruili also reported one new case of a person testing positive for COVID-19 without displaying symptoms, the National Health Commission reported Thursday. The city’s Communist Party secretary, its top official, has been dismissed from his post and handed administrative punishment for his “serious dereliction of duty in epidemic prevention and control,” according to the party’s provincial disciplinary watchdog. China has reported 90,365 cases of COVID-19 since the coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, with 4,636 deaths. Thursday also marks the anniversary of the end of a 76-day lockdown in Wuhan that saw more than 11 million people confined to their homes in a Herculean effort to contain the virus’ spread after initial missteps that China has yet to acknowledge.
— Philippine health officials are temporarily suspending the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people below age 60 following reports of rare blood clots in some people who received the shot in other countries. The Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration said experts are reviewing information about AstraZeneca’s side effects to prepare a recommendation on the vaccine’s use. AstraZeneca and a vaccine developed by China-based Sinovac Biotech are the only COVID-19 vaccines received so far by the Philippines and are being used in an immunization campaign that has been saddled with delays. “I want to emphasize that this temporary suspension does not mean that the vaccine is unsafe or ineffective — it just means that we are taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of every Filipino,” FDA Director General Eric Domingo said. “We continue to underscore that the benefits of vaccination continue to outweigh the risks and we urge everyone to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.”
— New Zealand is temporarily halting travel from India as more arrivals from that country test positive for the coronavirus. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the suspension takes effect on Sunday and will remain in place until April 28. She said it’s the first time New Zealand has suspended travel for its own citizens attempting to return home, and she emphasized the measure was temporary. The announcement comes after a security guard at a New Zealand quarantine hotel tested positive for the virus. There is no evidence the outbreak has spread any further. New Zealand has managed to stamp out the spread of the virus, so whenever somebody who is not in quarantine tests positive it represents a significant concern. The nation of 5 million people has reported 2,500 cases and 26 deaths since the pandemic began.