Travel updates: Taipei bans dining-in, Japan extends Covid-19 emergency
Asia stepped up actions to tackle the resurgence of the coronavirus in the region with plans to vaccinate more people and further restrictions imposed. Japan’s large-scale vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka open, Taiwan’s capital is banning all on-site dining and drinking, while Malaysia details new rules.
The spread of Covid-19 in the US continues to slow, with the country ending its first week since June with no days of infections exceeding 30,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.
Still, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that under-vaccinated areas in the US could become hot spots for a mutation of the coronavirus first detected in India and is increasing surveillance of the more-transmissible variant.
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Japan Opens Vaccination Centers (7:53 p.m. HK)
Japan’s large-scale vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka opened from Monday, as the government pushes towards the goal to administer 1 million doses a day and finish inoculating the country’s 36 million over-65s by the end of July.
The venues will use Moderna Inc.’s vaccine. A total of 7,500 people are expected to get the shots at the venues on the first day, according to broadcaster NHK. Japan has been slow in its vaccination drive, with local municipalities largely responsible for inoculating its residents with vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.
Taipei Bans On-Site Dining Amid Outbreak (7:44 a.m. HK)
Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, banned all on-site dining and drinking from May 24, the city government said in a statement Sunday. Outlets will only be allowed to serve takeout food or make deliveries. Operators who fail to comply will be fined as much as NT$15,000 ($536).
Malaysia Curbs Movements in New Restrictions (7:20 a.m. HK)
In new rules imposed in Malaysia from May 25, businesses will only be allowed to operate from 8 a.m until 8 p.m. daily, while about 80% of government officers and 40% of private sector employees will work from home, with the move affecting 7 million to 8 million workers.
High-risk places will be shut immediately and usage of public transportation will be limited to 50% capacity. Further guidelines for the economy are expected to be announced. The moves are an attempt by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to tamp down new infections without derailing the nascent economic recovery by imposing a nationwide lockdown.
Singaporeans Told to Expect More Testing (7:12 a.m. HK)
Singapore said it will conduct more targeted testing and surveillance operations to curb a coronavirus outbreak.
“Special ops” such as testing all residents in a particular housing apartment block, will help detect and isolate people early, including those who show few or no symptoms and would otherwise be missed, Health Minister Ong Ye Kungsaid in a Facebook post Sunday.
Sniffing Dogs Could Shorten Travel Lines (7:07 a.m. NY)
Covid-sniffing dogs could be used to detect the coronavirus at ports of entry, potentially reducing long waits at testing lines and strengthening efforts to contain transmission, according to a U.K. study.
Two dogs could accurately scan 300 plane passengers in about half an hour as part of a rapid screening strategy, scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in research published Monday. Then only the people selected by the dogs would need to undergo a PCR test.
Japan to Extend Emergency (6:58 a.m. HK)
The Japanese government is planning to extend a coronavirus state of emergency in 9 prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka that’s scheduled to expire on May 31, the Yomiuri newspaper reports, citing several unidentified officials.
The government is considering an option to extend the period in all 9 prefectures to June 20 when the emergency in Okinawa is due. Another option being discussed is to end the period on June 13. An official decision is expected this week.
Three at Wuhan Lab Hospitalized in Late 2019, WSJ Reports (3:20 p.m. NY)
Three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, about the time when experts say the coronavirus began circulating around the Chinese city, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The newspaper cited a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could bolster the theory that the pandemic began at the laboratory, which studied coronaviruses. No official conclusion has been made about the origin of the virus, and many nations, including the U.S., have criticized China for a lack transparency, without overtly embracing the lab-leak theory, which had been pushed by the Trump administration.
France Deaths Lowest Since Fall (1:36 p.m. NY)
France reported the lowest daily increases in coronavirus-related deaths since October, in a sign that the pandemic’s grip on the country is loosening. The 70 additional fatalities registered over the past 24 hours bring the official toll to 108,596. France reported 9,704 new cases, about a third less than the seven-day average.
Gottlieb Says Covid Profile Changing (12:22 p.m. NY)
Falling hospitalizations from Covid-19 show a “rapidly-declining vulnerability” in the U.S., as the people getting infected -- sharply falling, but still averaging over 25,000 a day in the past week -- tend to be younger and less vulnerable to complications, said former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Gottlieb said on CBS that many in the U.S. are gradually recalibrating their approach to masks, social distancing and other measures as cases and deaths fall sharply.
“We need to make a judgment about what our comfort is. A lot of people have spent a year wearing masks and taking precautions, so it will take some time for us to get comfortable again going into settings without those precautions,” he said.
Texas Governor Hails Early End to Masking (12:05 p.m. NY)
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said his decision to remove mask mandates and to allow businesses to open at full capacity as early as March was the “right move.”
“Of course, President Biden and the Democrats railed against it,” he said Sunday on Fox News. “Democrats said that I had issued a death warrant.”
New cases and deaths have been declining in Texas since March. Last week, the state reported zero virus-related deaths for the first time in more than a year. About 43% of the population in Texas has received at least one dose of vaccine, behind the U.S. average of almost 49%, according to Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
Italy Reports Fewest Deaths This Year (11:58 a.m. NY)
Italy on Sunday reported the lowest number of daily coronavirus-related deaths this year, according to Ansa. There were 3,995 new virus cases compared with 4,717 a day before and 72 deaths compared with 125 on Saturday.
US Outbreak Continues to Weaken (8:16 a.m. NY)
The US reported just over 18,700 new cases Saturday, capping the first week since June with no days of infections exceeding 30,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Average daily infections dropped to about 25,600, compared with almost 217,500 at the end of the first week that vaccines were rolled out in the US in mid-December.
A further 481 fatalities were recorded, capping a week with the fewest fatalities since the end of March 2020.
UK Denies Cummings Claims (7:05 a.m. NY)
The UK government pushed back on claims from the former chief aide of Prime Minister Boris Johnson that officials pursued a herd-immunity strategy in the early days of the pandemic. Dominic Cummings unleashed a series of tweets on Saturday criticising the UK’s response.
He said that letting enough citizens become infected in order to reach natural herd immunity was the “official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings” until early March 2020, when it became clear that such a policy would lead to catastrophe.
When asked about the allegations in an interview on the BBC on Sunday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that was “not at all” the plan. Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, also said it wasn’t the nation’s strategy.
Germany Vows Summer Easing (5:51 p.m. HK)
Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, has promised a wide-ranging easing of pandemic restrictions during the summer if the country’s seven-day incidence rate falls below 20. “Last summer the rate was below 20. We should aim for that again,” Spahn told the Sunday edition of Bild. According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany has a seven-seven-day incidence rate of 64.5. That means that there are 64.5 new infections per 100,000 individuals over a period of seven days.
CDC on Variant Watch (5:01 p.m. HK)
Federal health officials are ramping up their surveillance of the highly transmissible Covid-19 variant first identified in India, as experts warn that under-vaccinated areas in the U.S. could become hot spots for the mutation.
While U.S. cases attributed to the B.1.617 variant currently sit below 1%, the growth rate remains unclear due to the small sample size. One science group said the strain could be as much as 50% more transmissible than B.1.1.7, the variant that emerged from the U.K. That mutation was first seen in the U.S. in late December, and is now dominant nationally.
India Cases Lowest in More Than a Month (2:38 p.m. HK)
India’s new coronavirus cases continued to slow with a daily total of 240,842 on Sunday, the lowest in more than a month. Meanwhile, India’s capital extended its lockdown until May 31 as it halted vaccinations of people age 18 to 44 due to a shortage of jabs. India and scores of other World Trade Organization members made a fresh appeal for a three-year patent waiver on products and technology used in the treatment of Covid-19, the Economic Times reported.
CDC Probes Cases of Youth Heart Inflammation (7:17 a.m. HK)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating “relatively few” reports of a heart problem in adolescents and young adults after a Covid-19 vaccination.
A report from a meeting of the agency’s safety group on May 17 said that most discovered cases of myocarditis “appear to be mild” and could be unrelated to vaccinations. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle often found after an infection.
The cases were mostly in adolescents and young adults and more often in males than females. The report added that the cases occurred more often after a second dose than the first and were typically found within four days after infection.