Relatives and volunteers in protective suits take out the body of a COVID-19 victim from an ambulance for cremation at a crematorium in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, May 25, 2021.
Relatives and volunteers in protective suits take out the body of a COVID-19 victim from an ambulance for cremation at a crematorium in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, May 25, 2021.

The situation in pandemic-ravaged South Asia is “unlike anything our region has seen before,” the regional director of UNICEF said Tuesday.

"The sheer scale and speed of this new surge of COVID-19 is outstripping countries’ abilities to provide life-saving treatment,” George Laryea-Adjei told reporters Monday in Geneva.

Laryea-Adjei said that while India recorded the highest-ever single-day death toll from COVID-19 – 4,529 deaths in one day last week – an estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers across the region died due to disruptions in essential health care services.

“With a surge that is four times the size of the first, we are facing a real possibility of a sever spike in child and maternal deaths in South Asia,” he said.

India has recorded nearly 27 million cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Many believe the number is much higher because of a lack of testing.

Olympic warning

With less than two months remaining before the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Olympics received another jolt Monday when the U.S. government issued a warning for its citizens not to travel to Japan due to rising rates of new COVID-19 cases.

The State Department issued its highest travel advisory warning, Level 4, citing Japan’s slow vaccination rate and the country’s own restrictions on travelers from the United States.

People wearing masks to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk in front of a screen showing the news on U.S. warning against visits to Japan, May 25, 2021, in Tokyo.

A separate warning issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said “even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Japan.”

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8 after a one-year postponement as the novel coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the globe. But the Japanese capital and other parts of Japan are under a state of emergency to quell a surge of new infections that has overwhelmed hospitals across the country, prompting growing public sentiment against staging the event.

The opposition was boosted by an open letter earlier this month from the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, which represents about 6,000 primary care doctors and hospitals, urging Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to convince the International Olympic Committee to cancel the games.

Senior citizens wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a large-scale vaccination center in Osaka, western Japan, May 24, 2021, in this photo distributed by Kyodo.

The current outbreak has already prompted Japanese authorities to ban foreign audiences from attending the Olympics.  But Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Tuesday the warning does not prohibit essential travel to Japan, and that authorities there do not detect any change in  Washington’s support for Japan to go through with staging the Olympics.

Japan has recorded just 722,668 total COVID-19 infections and 12,351 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, but has only inoculated just under five percent of its population.

Expiring vaccines

In Hong Kong, a high-ranking official is warning that the city may soon have to discard millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses because not enough people are getting inoculated before the doses expire.

Thomas Tsang, a former controller of Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection and a member of the government’s vaccine task force, told public broadcaster RTHK Tuesday there is only a “three-month window” to use the first batch of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, a situation complicated by current plans to close the community vaccination centers after September.

Migrant workers queue up for Covid-19 testing in the Central district of Hong Kong, May 1, 2021.

Hong Kong bought rough doses of Pfizer and China’s Sinovac vaccine to cover its entire 7.5 million citizens, but only 2.1 million have taken the shots since the city’s vaccination program began in late February.

Tsang said it was "just not right" that Hong Kong was sitting on an unused pile of doses while the rest of the world "is scrambling for vaccines” and warned that the city would not be buying anymore doses.

Observers have blamed the situation on a number of factors, including vaccine hesitancy, online disinformation, a lack of urgency in a city that has largely avoided a major outbreak of the virus, and rising distrust of authorities in Hong Kong and China.

 

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