Asia Today: Virus resurges as India slowly vaccinates more

NEW DELHI (AP) — India has registered its worst single-day increase in coronavirus cases since late December as the western state of Maharashtra battles a resurgence.

India’s health ministry on Friday reported 23,285 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. It’s the highest daily rise since Dec. 24, according to government data.

India has so far reported more than 11.3 million cases of coronavirus infection, the world’s second-highest total after the United States. The cases had been falling steadily since a peak in late September, but experts say increased public gatherings and laxity toward public health guidance is leading to the latest surge.

The increase in new cases is being reported in six states, including Maharashtra, where authorities have announced a lockdown in densely populated Nagpur city. A weeklong complete lockdown will be implemented next week, officials said. The vaccine drive will, however, continue in the city.

Government health official Vinod Kumar Paul in a news conference Thursday said the latest surge, particularly in Maharashtra, was worrisome. He advised people not to lower their guard as “the pandemic is not yet over.”

India began its vaccination drive in January and has advanced to the second phase, giving shots to health care workers, people older than 60 and people over 45 with significant health risks.

But the program aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by August is running way below capacity.

More than 26 million people have gotten a shot, though only 4.72 million are fully vaccinated with both doses.

India has reported more than 158,000 deaths from COVID-19.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Thailand delayed its use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after Denmark and other European countries temporarily suspended vaccinations pending an investigation into reports of blood clots. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was to receive his first dose of the vaccine Friday but the public event was canceled less than an hour before it was scheduled to occur. Instead, a dozen health officials held an emergency news conference explaining the delay. Denmark said it has no evidence the vaccine caused the clots, and the European Medicines Agency said the vaccine can continue to be administered while the reported clot cases were evaluated. Thailand’s delay further complicates the country’s vaccination program. AstraZeneca and Sinovac are the only vaccines it has approved so far. Thailand is aiming to inject 10 million doses a month from June, and plan to cover at least half of the total population by the end of 2021.

— Mayors are reimposing a nighttime curfew in the Philippine capital region of more than 12 million people amid a spike in coronavirus infections, which placed dozens of villages back under police-enforced lockdowns. Authorities will enforce the 7-hour curfew for two weeks starting Monday in the Manila metropolitan area, said Benhur Abalos, who heads the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. The Philippines has reported more than 600,000 infections and more than 12,500 deaths. President Rodrigo Duterte said he did not know how he could considerably ease quarantine restrictions when cases continue to surge. He said further reopening the economy may be possible when millions of Filipinos have been vaccinated. But the government’s vaccination campaign has faced supply problems and public reluctance.

— South Korea is extending its current social distancing measures for at least another two weeks as it struggles to slow coronavirus infections in the greater capital area. The measures include clamping down on private social gatherings of five or more people nationwide and prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants and bars in the Seoul metropolitan area after 10 p.m. Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said Friday that health authorities will inspect shopping malls, restaurants, public baths and private tutoring academies in the capital area and have employees tested if their working conditions are seen as highly vulnerable to infections. The country reported another 488 new cases Friday, bringing its caseload to 94,686, including 1,662 deaths.

— New Zealand has removed remaining coronavirus restrictions on the city of Auckland after containing a small outbreak. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Friday the city of 1.6 million would join the rest of the country in having no restrictions other than an ongoing requirement to wear masks on public transport and planes. A community outbreak of 15 cases last month had prompted the restrictions in Auckland. New Zealand has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to the virus and eliminated community spread. “I know everybody in our largest city will be looking forward to a weekend with fewer restrictions, with life feeling mostly back to normal,” Ardern said. “And Auckland deserves that.”

— Japanese transportation minister Kazuyoshi Akaba says Japan will tighten border controls and limit the number of entrants to up to 2,000 per day for the time to guard against more contagious variants of the coronavirus. Health authorities say the new variants have been found in about half of Japan’s 47 prefectures and precautions should be increased. Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures are under a non-binding state of emergency, which was to end on March 7 but has been extended for two weeks. Japan had about 444,300 cases and 8,451 deaths as of Thursday, the health ministry said.

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