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Wednesday October 27, 2021

Thailand eases Covid-19 restriction amid rising vaccination levels; Palau nears 100pc Covid vaccination; Bali reopens to flights but no tourists in sight

By AFP & Xinhua
October 15, 2021

Bali, Indon: Bali reopened to international flights from select countries on Thursday, including China, Japan and France, as the pandemic-struck Indonesian holiday island took a step toward welcoming back tourists.

But authorities in Bali, which lost its primary source of income as tourism dried up, said there were no international flights expected on Thursday.

Foreign visitors must be vaccinated, quarantine in a hotel for five days and follow strict visa requirements under new entry rules for travellers.

"We’re ready and waiting for international flights," said airport spokesman Taufan Yudhistira.

"But so far there’s nothing scheduled today."

Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport was open to travellers from 19 countries including South Korea, China, Japan, France, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and New Zealand, authorities said.

The partial reopening, however, does not include Australians -- a key source of the millions of tourists who flocked to the palm-fringed island before the pandemic.

Indonesia was previously devastated by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus -- recording more than 56,000 new Covid cases in just one day in mid-July.

The government announced emergency restrictions in the hardest-hit areas, shutting down non-essential businesses and limiting people’s movement.

But case numbers are now falling nationwide as the government ramps up vaccinations across the Southeast Asian archipelago of 270 million people.

Authorities have begun a steady easing of restrictions as the country sees a decrease in daily confirmed Covid cases and deaths.

Meanwhile, Thailand announced on Thursday a further easing of Covid-19 restrictions nationwide starting from Oct. 16, as the country's immunization rates have been increasing recently.

According to the Centrefor Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), the night-time curfew will be reduced to four hours from 11.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m.

Moreover, the number of "dark red" provinces which are under maximum control will be cut down from 29 to 23 provinces.

Meanwhile, the number of "red zone" or areas with maximum control will also reduce from 37 to 30, indicating the country's overall improving and stabilizing control over Covid-19 situation, CCSA spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin said.

The CCSA also announced more relaxation on eateries, flea markets, all kinds of sports facilities, shopping centers and movie theaters by permitting their operating hours to be extended to 10.00 p.m. Trade fairs, convention and exhibition centers and hotels are permitted to organize meetings up to 500 people per event, according to the CCSA.

Thailand has eased some restrictive measures since Oct.1, including reopening of certain businesses, and fewer curfew hours as part of a plan to gradually phase out Covid-19 curbs and reboot the economy.

To date, Thailand has administered over 62.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, with around 34 percent of its nearly 70 million population having been fully vaccinated.

Thailand recorded 11,276 new Covid-19 cases and 112 more deaths over the previous 24 hours, taking the total figures to 1,751,704 infections and 18,029 fatalities.

In a related development, the tiny Pacific nation of Palau has emerged as one of the world’s most vaccinated places with more than 99 percent of the eligible population fully protected against Covid-19, according to data released on Thursday.

In a population of about 18,000, almost 15,000 people have been fully vaccinated, according to the country’s ministry of health and human services.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that meant more than 99 percent of the eligible population had been fully jabbed.

In a statement, the health body praised what it said was a "remarkable" pace of vaccination, but warned that coverage elsewhere in the South Pacific was patchy.

The figures allow Palau -- situated about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of the Philippines -- to "contesting top spot in the world for Covid-19 vaccination rates" according to the IFRC.

In Europe, Gibraltar lists a 119 percent inoculation rate. But that figure is inflated by visitors from Spain who got jabbed while in the British territory.

Palau was one of the few countries to avoid Covid-19 after closing its borders early in the pandemic, despite the huge cost to its tourism-reliant economy.

That record of zero Covid cases was broken in August when two people who arrived from Guam tested positive.

A handful of cases have been detected at the border since then, but there is no widespread community transmission.

During the crisis Palauans have been able to walk into pop-up clinics and receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, and have done so in their -- relatively small -- droves.

Meantime, Europe’s drug watchdog said on Thursday it has started evaluating AstraZeneca’s anti-Covid cocktail called Evusheld, which could eventually lead to the authorisation of its use in the EU.

The move comes after AstraZeneca this week said trials showed that the drug, made from a combination of two monoclonal antibodies, reduced severe Covid-19 symptoms and deaths.

The decision to start the rolling review "is based on preliminary results from clinical studies, which suggest that the medicine may help protect against the disease," the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said.

It can take several months between the start of a rolling review by the EMA and any eventual green light.

Monoclonal antibodies -- which recognise a specific molecule of the target virus or bacteria -- are synthetic versions of natural antibodies.