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New restrictions, travel bans in Asia region as delta variant cases rise

A tuk-tuk driver rests inside his vehicle in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, on July 21. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images)
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Growing coronavirus outbreaks in Asia and the Western Pacific prompted several nations there Friday to reimpose restrictions or suspend travel between neighbors to stem the spread of the virus.

The surging cases — in places such as Australia, Malaysia and Thailand — have been blamed on the more contagious delta variant now sweeping across the globe.

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Thailand and Malaysia both reported a record number of new infections Friday, while Indonesia registered its highest single-day increase in covid-related deaths.

Health officials in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, said that an expanding cluster of cases there was a “national emergency,” and New Zealand announced it was suspending a travel bubble with its pandemic-hit neighbor.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee reported a record number of new daily coronavirus cases linked to the Olympic Games on Friday. At least 19 new infections were detected, including three athletes who tested positive, just hours before the Opening Ceremonies.
  • A new study from Hungary found that China’s Sinopharm vaccine offers weak protection against covid-19 among older populations. Researchers this week said that 50 percent of blood samples from individuals over 80 showed no protective antibodies against the virus, even after a full course of the two-dose vaccine.
  • Italy has ramped up pressure on its unvaccinated population, announcing on Thursday that a digital or printed health pass would be necessary for accessing many everyday leisure activities, including theaters and indoor dining.
  • Israel’s Health Ministry has released new data suggesting that the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is only 39 percent effective at preventing infection from the delta variant. Protection against severe illness remained high, however, at 91 percent, the ministry said.
  • Britain’s government announced late Thursday that it was exempting more than 10,000 food industry and other workers from coronavirus isolation rules that caused staff shortages at supermarkets and disrupted supply chains in other sectors such as hospitality.
  • The United States is at “another pivotal moment” in the pandemic as the more transmissible delta variant tears through unvaccinated communities, causing hospitals to reach capacity in some areas, Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday.

“COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in Southeast Asia, and the worst is still yet to come,” Yasir Arafat, a regional health and nutrition adviser for the nonprofit group Save the Children, said in a statement Thursday.

“Southeast Asia is one of the least vaccinated regions in the world,” he said, adding that “it also has an extremely low testing rate, so it’s likely that things are even worse than the data suggests.”

In Thailand, which reported more than 14,500 new cases Friday, officials in Bangkok closed down parks and other public spaces to residents, the Associated Press reported. The prime minister on Thursday ordered his government to step up the pandemic response after several dead bodies of people infected with the virus were found on the streets of the capital. The incidents prompted an outcry online.

The Philippines said Friday that it was planning to ban travelers coming from Thailand and Malaysia beginning Sunday because of the severity of the outbreaks there. Malaysia reported more than 15,500 new cases on Friday, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began.

In the Philippines, authorities announced new restrictions in the sprawling capital, Manila, and surrounding regions, including a ban on children playing outdoors.

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