The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is surging through Asia this week, prompting some countries to tighten curbs and others to hasten vaccination.
The variant, first detected in India in December last year, has spread to about 100 countries and the World Health Organisation warned recently that it could soon become the dominant form of the virus. It is also driving a spike in cases in Japan, casting a pall over this month’s Olympic Games.
Japan reported on Wednesday that the Delta variant now accounts for nearly a third of all cases in the eastern part of the country, including Tokyo, and that could grow to 50 per cent by mid July.
Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures are among areas under a “quasi” state of emergency set to run until July 11th and the recent uptick in infections has officials leaning towards keeping restrictions in place, government sources said.
On Friday, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike reiterated that a ban on spectators for the Olympic Games, which start on July 23rd, would be an option if the coronavirus situation worsened.
In South Korea, officials said on Friday daily coronavirus cases topped 800, the highest in nearly six months, with vaccination below 10 per cent. The average number of new infections in the country has risen for 10 days straight, and authorities in Seoul have delayed relaxing social distancing measures.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, imposed emergency measures that begin on Saturday until July 20th to contain a spike in cases.
India’s official death toll from the coronavirus topped 400,000 on Friday, though experts say the actual number of dead could have reached one million or even higher, with a possible third wave of infections looming.
India added 100,000 deaths in 39 days, a Reuters tally showed, as a brutal second wave of infections swept across cities and into the vast countryside where millions remain vulnerable without a single shot of vaccines. Overnight, the country recorded 853 deaths, taking the toll past the 400,000 mark, according to data from its health ministry.
International tourism in Asia is largely suspended. The exception is Thailand’s tourist isle of Phuket, which reopened on Thursday to fully vaccinated travellers from overseas in a step towards reviving a battered industry.
Still, Thailand on Friday reported the third straight day of record coronavirus deaths. The Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, is still the dominant variant in the country, although authorities said they expect the Delta variant to dominate in the next few months. – Reuters