funeral victim
© EPA
Health workers in protective gear carry victim during a funeral in Klang, near Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia on Sunday reported its highest ever daily rise in Covid-19 cases, with the cumulative number of infections topping 1 million for the first time. Health authorities recorded 17,045 new infections, bringing the total to 1.01 million with 7,994 deaths.

On June 28, the government extended its lockdown for an indefinite period, but the spread of infections has not stopped, especially in the Kuala Lumpur metropolitan area. It has said lockdown rules will only be eased when daily Covid-19 cases fall below a weekly average of 4,000 and hospitals have more space to treat patients.

The parliament is expected to resume for the first time in about seven months on Monday, but the administration of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been criticised for failing to control the pandemic.
Barbed wire lockdown
© Xinhua
Barbed wire lockdown in Kuala Lumpur

Australia hit by 'reckless' anti-lockdown protests

Australia's New South Wales logged its second-highest daily increase of the year in locally acquired Covid-19 cases on Sunday amid fears of a wave of new infections and extended restrictions after thousands of people joined an anti-lockdown protest.

"In relation to yesterday's protests, can I say how absolutely disgusted I was. It broke my heart," Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of the country's most populous state, told reporters. I hope it won't be a setback, but it could be," she said.

There were 141 Covid-19 cases reported, down from 163 a day earlier. The outbreak, which began in June, is being driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, and has now infected 2,081 people in New South Wales. There are 43 people in intensive care, up from 37 a day earlier.

Under fire for a slow vaccine roll-out, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more vaccine supply was not going to ensure New South Wales gets out of lockdown, but what was needed was an effective, properly enforced lockdown.

"Let me be clear - there's not an alternative to the lockdown in New South Wales to get this under control. There is no other magic bullet that's going to do that," Morrison told reporters at a televised media conference. He called the anti-lockdown protests in Sydney reckless and self-defeating.

While Berejiklian and other state leaders have blamed Canberra for the slow vaccine roll-out, critics have said NSW did not enforce its stay-at-home orders, which has led to Delta variant leaks to other states.

At least 38 of the new cases in NSW had spent time in the community while infectious, state health authorities said. Numbers of such cases have stayed stubbornly high even after four weeks of lockdown in Sydney, now expected to be extended beyond July 30. The state reported two deaths overnight, including a woman in her 30s with no pre-existing conditions.

Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of about 32,600 cases and 918 deaths.

To help speed up vaccinations in Sydney, the government's official adviser, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), on Saturday changed its advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, urging anyone in the city under the age of 60 to strongly consider getting vaccinated with it.

Morrison said on Sunday the government has secured an additional 85 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but they will only be delivered in 2022 and 2023. "To have those booster shots pre-ordered means we can go into 2022 with confidence," he said.

Australia's Victoria state reported 11 locally acquired Covid-19 cases on Sunday, down from 12 a day earlier, raising hopes the state will end a hard lockdown imposed 10 days ago.

State Premier Daniel Andrews said it was too early to say whether restrictions will be eased on Tuesday, but: "At this stage, though, things are going well". All of the cases were linked to the current outbreak clusters and all of them were in isolation throughout their infectious period, the state's health department said.

South Australia reported three new cases on Sunday.

Indonesia extends virus curbs

Indonesia extended its Covid-19 restrictions by a week to August 2 to try to curb infections, President Joko Widodo announced on Sunday, after the government said it would add more intensive care units amid a rise in deaths.

Indonesia has become Asia's coronavirus epicentre with hospitals deluged, particularly on the densely populated island of Java and on Bali, where oxygen supplies are running thin.

"I'd like to thank all Indonesians for their understanding and support for the curbs that have been effective for 23 days," the president said, adding that infections and hospital bed occupancies had declined, without specifying by how much.

Considerably looser than the previous curbs, he said the government would gradually adjust some restrictions on "some activities", while allowing traditional markets and restaurants with outdoor areas to open, with some limitations. Some businesses, from salons and laundries to vehicle repair shops, are now allowed to open.

Indonesia last week reported record-high deaths on four separate days, the last of which was 1,566 deaths on Friday, bringing cumulative deaths to more than 83,000. Total infections have climbed to more than 3.1 million, though health experts say both deaths and case numbers have been undercounted.

The average number of Covid-19 deaths reported each day in Indonesia has been increasing for 10 days straight, a Reuters tracker shows.

Less than 7 per cent of Indonesia's population of 270 million has been fully vaccinated, with Southeast Asia's largest country primarily reliant on shots produced by China's Sinovac Biotech.

Thailand reports record cases

Thailand on Sunday reported 15,335 coronavirus cases, a daily record, bringing the country's cumulative cases to 497,302. Thailand also reported 129 new deaths, bringing total fatalities to 4,059.

Elsewhere, India reported 39,742 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, a government statement said on Sunday. The Covid-19 death toll rose by 535 deaths in the last 24 hours, with the total reaching 420,551, health ministry data showed.

mural Hanoi
© EPA-EFE
Mural in Hanoi
South Korea steps up curbs ahead of holiday

South Korea said on Sunday it will tighten social distancing rules across most of the country this week, warning that its worst-ever Covid-19 wave might spread further in the summer holiday season. The curbs will be increased to Level 3 on a four-level scale, which will mean a 10pm dining curfew and ban on gatherings of more than four people, from Tuesday for two weeks for most areas except for some small counties.

"What's most concerning is the virus' recent spread in the non-capital areas," President Moon Jae-in told an intra-agency meeting reviewing efforts in the campaign against the coronavirus. "There has been an increase in movements nationwide, especially around vacation spots."

South Korea early this month imposed the toughest Level 4 curbs, which include a ban on gatherings of more than two people after 6pm, in the capital Seoul and neighbouring areas.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Sunday reported 1,487 cases for Saturday, the highest increase recorded on any weekend. South Korea's total infections have risen to 188,848, with 2,073 deaths.

Vietnam says more US vaccine donations expected

The United States is considering giving more coronavirus vaccines to Vietnam, its ambassador to the United States said on Sunday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles to control outbreaks of the fast-spreading Delta variant of the virus. After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has been facing rapid outbreaks of infections, with daily cases repeatedly hitting new highs.

Vietnam took delivery of a shipment of 3 million Moderna doses from the United States on Sunday, taking the amount given by the US, via the global Covax Facility, to 5 million doses.

"The US side has said it is also considering more vaccine donations to Vietnam soon," the ambassador to the United States, Ha Kim Ngoc, said speech posted on a government website.

Vietnam is also in talks with the United States on domestic production of mRNA vaccines, its foreign ministry said on Thursday, adding that production could begin in the fourth quarter or early in 2022. The ministry did not identify the US and Vietnamese companies involved in the talks. State media reported on Saturday Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup was in talks with San Diego-headquartered Arcturus Therapeutics Holding on mRNA vaccine production.

Clinical trials could begin in Vietnam in August, the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, adding that the firms could produce 100 million to 200 million doses a year under such a deal. Vingroup and Arcturus did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Vietnam kept the virus at bay for the first year of the pandemic but infections have been spreading quickly since late April.

The health ministry reported 7,968 infections on Saturday, a record daily increase. In all, it has recorded nearly 95,000 infections and at least 370 deaths, most in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. Nearly half of the latest shipment of Moderna vaccines will be sent to that city, the US Embassy in Hanoi said on Saturday.