Russia battles COVID surge as Asia-Pacific tightens restrictions

Russian capital Moscow sees a record number of daily COVID deaths as Indonesia records highest number of daily cases.

Medical workers carry a patient suspected of having coronavirus on a stretcher at a hospital in Kommunarka, outside Moscow [Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo]

The Russian capital, Moscow has recorded its worst daily coronavirus death toll and Indonesia has seen the highest number of cases in a day, as countries across the Asia-Pacific region extended or re-imposed restrictions to tackle fresh waves of COVID-19 infections.

The pandemic has now killed close to four million people across the world. Vaccination drives have brought down infection numbers in many wealthy countries, but the Delta variant of the virus remains a concern.

Delta is in 85 countries as of Sunday and is the most contagious of any COVID-19 strain so far identified, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Still, in much of Europe and the United States curbs on daily life are easing as vaccination programmes bear fruit, although Russia is grappling with a deadly third wave.

Russia cases rising

Moscow on Sunday recorded 144 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours, a day after Saint Petersburg set the previous highest figure.

Saint Petersburg has hosted six Euro 2020 matches and is due to host a quarter-final on Friday, with spectator numbers capped at half but still upwards of 26,000 people.

Russia as a whole has seen an explosion of new infections since mid-June driven by the Delta variant.

The surge comes as officials in Moscow are pushing vaccine-sceptic Russians to get inoculated after lifting most anti-virus restrictions late last year.

“To stop the pandemic, one thing is needed: rapid, large-scale vaccinations. Nobody has invented any other solution,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Saturday.

The surge in Russia comes as officials in Moscow are pushing vaccine-sceptic Russians to get inoculated [Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters[

The Delta variant is also increasing fresh outbreaks in Southeast Asia and Australia where authorities have brought back or extended restrictions.

More than five million Sydney residents endured their first full day of a two-week lockdown on Sunday.

Restaurants, bars and cafes were shuttered and stay-at-home orders were issued, leaving the city centre virtually deserted.

“Given how contagious this strain of the virus is, we do anticipate that in the next few days case numbers are likely to increase even beyond what we have seen today,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

More than 110 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Sydney since a driver for an international flight crew tested positive in mid-June for the Delta variant.

The surge has been a shock for a place that had returned to relative normality after months with few local cases.

“The Northern Territory is now facing its biggest threat since the COVID crisis began,” Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.

Restrictions reimposed

Similar spikes in infections have been seen across Southeast Asia, with Indonesia setting a new daily infection record of more than 21,000.

Hospitals are flooded with patients in the capital Jakarta and other COVID-19 hotspots across the region’s hardest-hit nation.

Thailand will from Monday reimpose restrictions on restaurants, construction sites and gatherings in the capital Bangkok.

The country’s latest wave began in April when a cluster was found in upscale Bangkok clubs.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha has said he plans to fully reopen the country by October, but this would require hitting a target of vaccinating 50 million Thais in four months.

Thailand’s latest wave began in April when a cluster was found in Bangkok [Rungroj Yongrit/EPA]

Pravit Rojanaphruk, a newspaper columnist, said that vaccine rollout in Thailand has been beset by delays.

“Only about 10 percent of the population had their first dose, while only four percent received the second jab,” he told Al Jazeera.

In neighbouring Malaysia, the prime minister announced that a nationwide lockdown in place for about a month already will continue, and he gave no date for the lifting of restrictions.

His government had previously said the strict curbs would be eased in stages, as long as there was a drop in infections, intensive care bed use and a rise in vaccination rates.

Bangladesh also said it would impose a new national lockdown from Monday, with offices shut for a week and only medical-related transport allowed.

The announcement prompted tens of thousands of migrant workers to desert the capital Dhaka, where the lockdown will cut off their revenue sources.

People walk with their belongings before boarding a ferry as authorities ordered a new lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Bangladesh [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Infections declined in May but started to rise again this month, with more than 5,000 new cases and a pandemic high of 119 deaths on Sunday, according to the health ministry.

Dr Mushtuq Husain, a medical adviser to the Bangladeshi government, said that the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths was increasing in the country.

He told Al Jazeera: “Everything will be shut down [from July 1], so that the chain of transition will be put down. In two weeks, a decline in the number of cases and in three weeks a decrease in the number of deaths are expected.”

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Sunday began new trials to test a modified vaccine against the Beta variant, which first emerged in South Africa.

The new vaccine, known as AZD2816, has been designed using the same base as the main AstraZeneca shot but with minor genetic alterations to the spike protein based on the Beta variant.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies