By Sayantani Ghosh
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Battling their own surges in coronavirus cases, Asian nations including Japan and South Korea said they were closely monitoring a new super virulent strain of the virus identified in Britain, but none immediately cancelled UK flights.
The new strain could be up to 70% more infectious, the United Kingdom has said, prompting its European neighbours and several other countries including Canada and Iran to close their doors to travellers from the country.
Much is unknown about the strain, but experts said current vaccines should still be effective against it. No Asian country has reported the new strain.
South Korea, which imposes a 14 day quarantine for everyone entering the country, said on Monday it was reviewing new measures for flights from the UK, and would test twice those coming in from Britain before they were released from quarantine.
New cases climbed to over 1,000 a day in South Korea several times last week. It reported on Sunday an outbreak in a Seoul prison where 188 inmates and staff were infected.
The country, which has said it is running short of hospital beds, said on Monday Seoul will ban gatherings of more than four people later this week and double hospital beds for critical COVID-19 cases by year end.
Taiwan, which also has a 14-day quarantine, said on Sunday there were no plans at present to stop flights from Britain.
An Indian government committee tasked with monitoring the pandemic, will meet on Monday to discuss the new strain, local media reported, but there was no clarity on whether flights to the UK would be halted. The UK is one of 23 countries that India shares an “air bubble” with.
India, which has the second-highest number of cases after the United States, does not currently mandate institutional quarantine for international travellers if they have a negative COVID-19 test result 72 hours before entering India.
Japan, where entry from Britain is already banned in principle, said it would keep in close touch with other countries as well as the World Health Organization to see how the new type of virus was spreading.
AUSTRALIA, THAILAND BATTLE OUTBREAKS
The new strain in Britain comes as cases have surged recently in several Asian countries that successfully contained the pandemic earlier this year. The spikes in cases have prompted localised lockdowns in some countries and more aggressive testing.
Thailand said on Sunday it was testing tens of thousands of people, and extended curbs on movement, following the country’s worst outbreak yet that began at a shrimp market in a province that is a centre of the seafood industry and home to thousands of migrant workers.
Thailand, the first country outside China to report COVID-19 cases, has so far reported just 60 deaths from the virus among its 70 million population. On Monday, the country confirmed 382 new coronavirus infections, mostly migrant workers.
Thousands of workers in South East Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia have been infected in dormitories and factories, revealing often unsanitary living and working conditions even as overall numbers in these places have largely been contained.
Australia, where cases in Sydney have flared in recent days, on Monday cancelled dozens of domestic flights.
New South Wales, which reported 86 new local cases since Thursday, ordered more than a 250,000 people in Sydney’s northern beaches area into a lockdown, and urged people who had visited venues where confirmed cases were found to get tested and self-isolate.
Australian health authorities said a virus strain in northeastern Sydney matched a traveller from the United States, but how it got from the airport to the community was puzzling.
(Reporting by Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha in Seoul, Renju Jose in Sydney, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)