Coronavirus: Malaysians warned of ‘vertical surge’ in cases; curbs reimposed in Melbourne

“We have to stay safe and it’s safest to stay home and follow the SOPs,” Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said in an interview with state-owned RTM television on Sunday, while ruling out a repeat of last year’s national lockdown.

Malaysia’s Covid-19 reproduction number that shows how quickly the virus multiplies climbed to 1.21 as of Sunday, Noor Hisham said on Monday. The reading was at 1.14 at the start of the Ramadan month in mid-April.

Curbs reimposed in Melbourne

’s second-largest city Melbourne reinstated Covid-19 restrictions on Tuesday as authorities scrambled to find the missing link in a fresh outbreak that has grown to five cases.

Home gatherings will be limited to five guests, only 30 people allowed at public meetings, and face masks will be mandatory indoors from 6pm local time on Tuesday until June 4.

“This is a responsible step that we need to take to get on top of this outbreak,” James Merlino, Victoria state’s acting premier, told reporters in Melbourne.

The latest Melbourne outbreak ends Victoria state’s run of zero cases for nearly three months.

Victoria was the hardest hit state during a second wave late last year, accounting for about 70 per cent of total cases and 90 per cent of deaths in Australia. The state, the country’s second-most populous, only controlled the outbreak after one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns.

One new locally acquired case has been reported in Melbourne, Merlino said on Tuesday, a day after four infections were reported in the city.

All five cases belong to one extended family across different households and could be traced back to the variant found in an overseas traveller who returned to Melbourne early this month after completing quarantine in the city of Adelaide.

Authorities, however, said they could not yet find how the latest cases contracted the virus from the overseas traveller.

Thousands have been ordered to self isolate and undergo Covid-19 tests with health alerts issued for several sites, including one of the largest shopping centres in the country.

One of the cases had a high viral load while he visited some venues prompting authorities to warn Melbourne’s five million residents to brace for more positive cases in the next few days.

Speedy tracing systems, movement curbs and social distancing have largely helped Australia contain Covid-19 outbreaks. It has recorded just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, New Zealand suspended quarantine-free travel with Victoria over the new cluster on Tuesday, the fourth time the trans-Tasman travel bubble has been disrupted since it opened last month.

“The government understands the disruption this will temporarily cause affected passengers,” New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said. “It was a close call but the correct one given the current unknowns.”

Vaccine hesitancy grows ahead of Thai roll-out

Vaccine hesitancy has risen sharply in

opinion polls show, just weeks away from the start of a mass inoculation programme and as the country fights its deadliest Covid-19 outbreak.

Reasons for the rise in vaccine hesitancy were unclear in the polls, but there are widespread complaints at government disorganisation, delays in getting vaccines and reliance on Sinovac and locally made AstraZeneca doses.

Thailand has reported 135,439 infections and 832 deaths since the pandemic began last year.

In January, 83 per cent of Thais surveyed by polling firm YouGov were willing to be vaccinated, but by May that dropped to 63 per cent in the same poll, lower than Vietnam and the Philippines at 83 per cent and 66 per cent willingness, respectively.

Thai-based Suan Dusit Poll on Sunday echoed the YouGov findings of rising vaccine hesitancy, with 64 per cent of respondents willing to be vaccinated, compared with 66 per cent in January.

Dissatisfaction with the military-backed government’s vaccine strategy has been building for months.

“People are worried about the vaccines that the government procured. It’s not that we don’t want to get shots, but there is hesitancy,” Facebook user Than Tongkum wrote under a government announcement encouraging vaccinations.


SCMP Explains: What’s in a Covid-19 vaccine?

Asked by Suan Dusit poll for their views on Thai vaccinations, only 57 per cent of respondents believed they would help develop immunity and reduce the virus impact, while 59 per cent worried about side-effects.

With Thailand’s main vaccination drive, which is due to start June 7, relying heavily on AstraZeneca, respondents had 66 per cent confidence in the shot, fourth behind US-developed vaccines, with Pfizer top at 75 per cent.

Thailand aims to inoculate 70 per cent of its population by year-end, a level its tourist hotspots must also reach locally before reopening to vaccinated foreign visitors.

Registration is ongoing for the first 16 million people including those over 60 or with health conditions.

So far, 7.8 million people have registered.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said he believes the vaccines will be embraced once the inoculation programme starts.

“As Thailand receives more doses, there will be more vaccine sites, which will help create awareness among the public after they see large numbers of vaccinations do not lead to serious side effects,” he said.

Actress Araya “Chompoo” Hargate sparked controversy after she posted to her 10.5 million followers on Instagram saying she chose Sinovac.

“Can’t help but think this is government PR,” wrote user iloveurdadmaybe.

Among the concerns is perception that Sinovac has a low efficacy rate.

“Just hearing that it’s Sinovac that’s only 50 per cent safe and 50 per cent effective,” wrote Facebook user Dang Juntawan.

“Injections are on chance. If you’re unlucky you’ll die.”

Restrictions tightened in Hanoi

Hanoi authorities have ordered all restaurants in the Vietnamese capital to stop accepting dine-in customers as of Tuesday, while public exercise must cease amid the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began, state media said late on Monday.

Hair salons and beauty parlous in Hanoi were also closed, starting from Tuesday. City chairman Chu Ngoc Anh also said entertainment activities, outdoor exercise and gatherings in parks and gardens must “absolutely stop”, according to local media reports.

The move follows the closing of bars and schools in early May as the nation battles major outbreaks of the coronavirus. But city authorities have stopped short of declaring a full lockdown so far.

Vietnam has repeatedly been praised for its response to the pandemic, yet after a month without any community transmissions of the coronavirus, local cases emerged again on April 27 and, on May 15, the country recorded its first Covid-19 death in eight months.

The new cases were linked to a 27-year-old man who returned to Vietnam from Japan on April 7, and a Chinese expert entering the nation for work, both of whom tested positive after completing their mandatory two-week quarantine.

Since then, the Southeast Asian nation has recorded over 2,000 cases, bringing the total coronavirus caseload to 5,404 and 44 deaths since the pandemic broke out in Vietnam in January last year.

Death toll in Philippines tops 20,000


’ Covid-19 death toll topped 20,000 on Tuesday, as authorities stepped up calls for Filipinos to put aside their vaccine worries and get the jab.

The Department of Health reported 36 new deaths from Covid-19, pushing the national death toll to 20,019.

With new daily cases still in the thousands, authorities reiterated calls for eligible members of the population to get inoculated now – regardless of the brand of the vaccine.

The government is so far giving shots to priority groups of health care workers, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

But not everyone has been getting vaccinated, due to concerns about the safety and efficacy of the available vaccines, 60 per cent of which are made by China’s Sinovac.

Since the government launched its vaccination drive in March, 4.3 million Filipinos have received a jab.

Of these, only 986,929 are fully vaccinated, representing less than 1 per cent of the country’s estimated population of 110 million.

A nationwide survey showed that 63 per cent of Filipinos prefer a vaccine made in America, but presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the supply of US-made shots is not enough for all.

“That’s why our appeal is for everyone to get vaccinated with whatever brand is available,” he said. “If you want to choose the brand, you will have to wait at the end of the line.”

“Let’s just hope that you will not be infected by the more contagious coronavirus variants while you’re waiting,” he added.

The country’s total Covid-19 caseload stood at 1,188,672 on Tuesday, with the department recording 3,972 additional infections.

Reporting by Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, dpa, Reuters

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