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Tightened COVID-19 measures around the world as countries tackle new waves of outbreak

Heightened alert levels, travel bans and venue restrictions are in place as countries grapple with a recent surge in infections.

Sarah Chan

Likes museum trips and is sometimes artsy. Can be found in pattern prints.


Published: 17 May 2021, 6:31 PM

With the recent surge in COVID-19 community cases, Singapore announced tightened restrictions and measures as it enters Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) from May 16.

Around the world, countries are also similarly grappling with a surge in infections, with some facing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases despite having kept their infection rates low previously.

From Thailand to the populous regions in Australia, we take a look at various measures in place as countries tackle the new wave of outbreaks.

1. Taiwan

Taiwan has managed to keep its COVID-19 community infection rates low since 2020 and has one one of the lowest per capita infection rates in the world without entering a complete lockdown.

However, the country is currently on high alert after a sharp rise in domestic COVID-19 cases and an outbreak among pilots at China Airlines since April.

On May 10, Taiwan announced that they will quarantine all pilots from its largest carrier China Airlines for 14 days after 35 infections emerged from the cluster. Several pilots had visited bars and restaurants prior to testing positive, raising fears of a community infection.

There were also six new unlinked local infections reported on May 11 – with five of the six from its northeastern county Yilan and none with recent travel history overseas.

As of Sunday (May 16), Taiwan reported 206 new domestic COVID-19 cases.

Following the domestic outbreak, the country announced tightened restrictions amidst concerns of a community spread while the government tracked down close contacts of confirmed cases.

The measures include a cancellation of all outdoor activities with more than 500 people and indoor activities of more than 100 people as well as a ban on food and drinks on trains. The restrictions will be imposed until Jun 8.

 

Authorities in Taiwan appealed to the public not to panic buy after many rushed to the stores when the restrictions were announced. PHOTO CREDIT: RICHARD BURLTON VIA UNSPLASH

 

In the capital Taipei and its surrounding cities, COVID-19 alert levels were raised to level three of a four tier system on Saturday (May 15) to help curb spread among the community.

The measures will be imposed for two weeks. It includes the closing of entertainment spots and other similar venues, compulsory mask wearing outdoors and a limit to social gatherings. School and work were also encouraged to be conducted from home.

The recent outbreak has also prompted a rise in the number of people registering for their vaccines in Taiwan. More than 6,400 people received their vaccinations on May 6, setting a new single day record for the country.

2. Thailand

Thailand recently declared Bangkok and 17 other provinces as “red zones” on Apr 26 as the country seeks to control its third wave of COVID-19 infections.

The surge in infections were traced back to an outbreak in April from night spots and clubs in Bangkok, with several cases identified as the more contagious variant from the United Kingdom.

While no curfew was imposed, the restrictions led to a temporary closure of several night venues for 14 days, compulsory mask wearing and a change in operating hours for restaurants, malls and department stores – among several measures.

As of May 17, Thailand recorded its highest single day increase with 9,635 new cases. Three quarters of cases, or 6,853 infections, were from their prison clusters.

From May 1, a lengthened quarantine period from 10 days to 14 days was imposed for all arriving visitors regardless of their vaccination status. It was previously reduced to seven days for vaccinated tourists and 10 days for others to help boost its tourism sector.

Despite the outbreak, Thailand affirmed that it will still proceed with its plans to reopen Phuket on Jul 1 and nine other popular destinations by October. The reopening will be determined by its ability to inoculate 70 per cent of its residents and hospitality workers.

The country has since stepped up its effort to increase its vaccination rollout with plans to secure more vaccines and recent approval of the Moderna vaccine.

Thailand has also temporarily suspended the issuance of certificates of entry from May 1 to foreign nationals travelling into the country from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The move was made to prevent the emergence of the new B1617 virus variant into the country.

3. Indonesia

In light of current COVID-19 restrictions, Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations were modest in Indonesia this year as the country seeks to contain the virus outbreak.

From May 6 to May 17, Indonesia – a Muslim-majority nation – imposed a domestic travel ban by air, land, sea and rail ahead of mudik where millions are expected to return to their hometown for celebrations. Mosques and places of worship were also ordered to shut in high-risk areas.

Following Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the country will also begin random COVID-19 testing and mandatory checks on travelers returning from their hometowns starting from May 15.

Indonesia had also stopped issuing visas from April 23 for foreigners who have been in India for the past 14 days.

The move comes after 12 of 129 people on board a chartered flight from Chennai had tested positive for the virus and was made to prevent the spread of the mutant COVID-19 strain.

However, Indonesians arriving from India are still allowed entry, subject to stricter health protocols.

4. Japan

As Japan prepares for its upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the country is currently grappling with its fourth wave of COVID-19 infections just 10 weeks before its scheduled start in July.

The infections come amidst a surge in cases caused by a more infectious mutant strain. As of May 12, Japan reported more than 7,056 cases, its first figure above 7,000 in four days.

Seven of 47 prefectures had also reported a record number of daily cases on May 13. Tokyo recorded 1,010 cases, its third consecutive day with more than 900 daily cases.

With the surge in cases, Japan declared its third state of emergency with restrictions initially imposed in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures. The state of emergency was slated to run from Apr 25 until May 11 but has been extended to May 31.

The state of emergency was later expanded to Aichi and Fukuoka on Wednesday (May 12) as well as Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima prefecture on Friday (May 14).

The state of emergency is not imposed nationwide and will only apply to areas where necessary when the number of cases and hospital bed occupancy rates increases.

 

Uncertainty looms over the possibility of holding the Tokyo Olympics this July as Japan faces a wave of COVID-19 outbreaks. PHOTO CREDIT: DAVE KIM VIA UNSPLASH

 

The measures include an alcohol ban at all alcohol-serving establishments which are required to close by 8pm. There will also be a capacity cap on event spectators and earlier closing hours on selected commercial outlets.

The government is also facing mounting pressure from the public as many are calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics. Around 59 per cent of people surveyed in Japan believe that the games should be cancelled.

Japan had previously only vaccinated around one per cent of its population and had only begun vaccinating its sizable elderly population on Apr 12.

The Japanese government will begin to speed up its vaccination drive this May with plans to open large vaccination centres in Tokyo and Osaka.

5. South Korea

South Korea is currently dealing with a new wave of COVID-19 infections that began in mid-April with a recent surge in cases in the greater Seoul area.

Following the wave of infections, the South Korean government had announced on Apr 30 its decision to extend its current COVID-19 restrictions amid cluster infections in Seoul.

The country extended its level two social distancing guideline – its third highest tier or five tiers – until May 23 in the Seoul area. Level 1.5 will be imposed in other areas and measures will be adjusted based on the severity of infections.

 

The COVID-19 measures coincide with three holidays in May where there is a heightened risk of infection. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@ISEOULU

 

The restrictions include a ban on any gathering of five or more people. Operation of entertainment facilities will also be prohibited and multi-use facilities such as restaurants are required to close by 10pm in the greater Seoul area.

Daily infection numbers have shown no significant signs of slowing down with increased gathering and activities during the warmer weather.

As of May 16, the country reported 610 COVID-19 infections, a dip from more than 700 cases on Thursday and Friday. The lower figures are usually attributed to fewer testing over the weekend.

Cases of COVID-19 variants have also been reported in various regions and local authorities have increased their social distancing measures, testing stations and strengthened monitoring of new arrivals from abroad.

In an effort to encourage more residents to be vaccinated, South Korea also announced exemptions for residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Residents who have been in contact with a confirmed patient or have returned from overseas travel are not required to undergo a two week quarantine if they have had both vaccine shots and have tested negative for the virus.

The exemption is not applicable to residents arriving from South Africa and Brazil where virus variants are prevalent.

6. India

India is currently facing its second COVID-19 wave that started in Mid-March. The surge in infections rapidly increased and peaked at almost 400,000 cases on April 30.

The second wave has not only affected populous states, but also smaller towns and countryside where the healthcare systems are not equipped for such a large health crisis.

The wave of infections could be attributed to several reasons including mass gatherings, low vaccination rates and a more contagious virus variant.

The more contagious COVID-19 variant, B1617, was first detected in India and has now been found in over 44 countries. It is a “variant of concern” due to its increased transmissibility and resistance to antibodies or vaccinations which could have contributed to the surge in cases.

As of May 16, India reported 311,170 infections and 4,077 deaths – its smallest daily rise in almost three weeks. The lower figures have indicated a possible stabilising in numbers after its initial surge led to several states imposing stringent lockdowns measures.

Due to the surge in cases, the country was facing a medical oxygen shortage – a key treatment for COVID-19 patients – as issues in transport and storage affected the supply chain.

The government has since been ordered by the Supreme Court to provide more medical oxygen to the capital city of New Delhi. Various countries have also stepped forward to provide international aid and other medical supplies.

Locally imposed lockdowns have been issued in multiple states to help curb the spread. Several states such as Delhi and Haryana have also announced extended lockdowns by a week on May 16.

Following the deadly outbreak, India has since stepped up its inoculation programme.

It recently began rolling out Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, the first foreign-made vaccine to be used in the country on Friday (May 14). This is in addition to state-made vaccines – Covaxin of Bharat Biotech and AstraZeneca by the Serum Institute of India.

7. Australia: New South Wales and Victoria

Australia has managed to contain its COVID-19 infection rates low with their swift response that included international border restrictions since March 2020.

However, its most populous state of New South Wales went into alert recently after a Sydney couple tested positive on May 5 – its first locally acquired case in more than a month.

The community case reinstated COVID-19 restrictions as the source of infection was unknown and fears of a wider outbreak remained. New South Wales imposed restrictions from May 6 to May 17 – an extension to its original date May 10 – and a campaign to get more residents tested.

The measures include a limit to 20 guests per household; compulsory mask wearing on public transport and most public venues except retail settings; a two visitor limit at aged care settings; a ban on drinking while standing at indoor venues and a ban on dancing at hospitality venues.

While New South Wales recorded no new COVID-19 infections since the incident as of May 10, concerns over the possible chain of transmission remain.

In neighbouring Victoria, the state had similarly entered a level of heightened alert after its first locally transmitted case in more than two months was reported on May 11.

The case prompted authorities to conduct immediate contact tracing. More than 100 passengers on a flight from Adelaide to Melbourne as well as around 35 people who were in hotel quarantine with the case have since been asked to undergo testing and self-isolation.

Since April this year, Australia has begun its plans to increase vaccination rollout for residents over 50 with mass inoculation sites and increased vaccine supply.

The vaccination rollout was previously delayed due to caution over side effects caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine which affected the country’s goal of vaccinating its population by October. Australia has since secured vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.

The country had also announced a lift on border restrictions for Australian residents and citizens returning from India that was imposed on May 1. Three repatriation flights will be chartered out between May 15 and May 31.

The first batch of 80 people have since arrived in Darwin on Saturday (May 15). It was a drop from its original 150 passengers after 70 were barred for testing positive or coming into close contact with confirmed cases.

On May 16, Australia announced that it will stick by its plans to reopen the country to international travel only from mid-2022.


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