The government adopted on Monday a draft of its Next Cybersecurity Strategy, naming China, Russia and North Korea for the first time as countries that conduct cyberattacks.
Adopted at a meeting of the Cybersecurity Strategic Headquarters held in the Prime Minister’s Office, the draft sets out Japan’s policy to drastically strengthen the Self-Defense Force’s cyberdefense capabilities.
The draft is to be adopted at a Cabinet meeting soon.
“It is observed that China, Russia and North Korea are continuing to build the cyber capabilities of their military and other institutions,” says the draft, which outlines Japan’s strategy for the next three years.
Due to the need to strengthen capabilities for defense, deterrence and situational awareness against attacks on critical infrastructure, the draft stipulates a plan to strengthen cyber defense capabilities by enhancing the structure of cyber-related units.
It also includes cooperation with the United States, Australia, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Japan’s government plans to crack down on the rampant crime utilizing cryptocurrencies, the dark web and social media. It is considering setting up a cyber command center and a working unit within police authorities.
The draft says Japan’s strategy will proceed in line with the government’s digital reforms, which have included the launch of the Digital Agency in September. The agency will present a basic policy on cybersecurity for the development of national and local information systems.
“Enhancing our capabilities and the cooperation of related organizations are necessary to make effective use of limited human resources,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, who leads the headquarters, said at the meeting.
North Korea fired a short-range missile into the East Sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The launch took place just minutes before North Korea’s ambassador to the UN urged the US to drop its “hostile policy” at the UN.
The JCS offered no details, saying South Korean and US intelligence are looking into the launch, while Japan’s defense minister said the projectile appeared to be a ballistic missile, without elaborating. North Korea has recently test-launched ballistic missiles, criticizing US hostile policy.
At the UN General Assembly, Kim Song, North Korea’s UN envoy, said the US has to scrap its hostile policy and stop holding joint military drills with South Korea and bringing in strategic weapons into the Korean Peninsula.
“The US should show all of that in action and not words,” Kim said, noting North Korea would be open to any offer to talks once the US makes the change. He added he believed Washington would not drop the policy right away and Pyongyang would no longer ask but watch how the situation unfolds.
The US abandoning its “hostile policy” was one of the two conditions, alongside doing away with “double standards,” that North Korea suggested last week South Korea find ways to do in order to reopen nuclear dialogue. Cheong Wa Dae said it was closely looking at the proposal.
The “double standards” mentioned were Washington’s reaction to the two Korea’s missile tests on Sept. 15, when they tested their ballistic missiles hours apart. The US condemned the North Korean test but not the South Korean launch.
Since then, Pyongyang has reached out to Seoul with overture on talks if the South drops the hostile policy and double standards.
While the Moon Jae-in administration is looking to seize the opportunity to reconnect with the regime at the last minute before Moon leaves office in less than a year, some experts consider the offer a ruse to see Seoul’s response and make it accountable for actions it takes against Pyongyang later.
South Korea cannot unilaterally make change to either of the US position and even if Seoul were to do it, Seoul risks fraying the alliance with Washington, experts said, adding that North Korea was manipulating the Moon administration, which is eager to see another Moon-Kim summit open.
Moon and Kim have met three times since April 2018, but the two Koreas have seen little progress on denuclearization.
YANGON- Many of the businesses across Myanmar have stopped their operation temporarily or permanently following protests and internal political instability since February 1 takeover.
Among them are CMP (cutting, making and packing) factories and businesses. Some of them had to shut down due to a complete lack of overseas order.
A Chinese-owned Hanmauk (Myanmar) Garment Factory with a 1,000-strong workforce in Shwe Thanlwin Industrial Zone in Hlinethaya Township officially announced its closure on its Facebook page on June 19 as it could no longer survive amid various hardships. The administrator of the Shwe Thanlwin Industrial Zone Management Committee cited severe shortages of raw materials and lack of orders as reasons for the shutdown.
“They submitted a letter to us informing that they had to close down as they received no order from overseas. Political instability may be another reason. The main reason is they could not obtain raw materials,” he said.
On September 21, Myanmar Unique Garment Factory in Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone closed temporarily after operating for five years due to a lack of orders. The factory is owned by a Myanmar citizen.
“The factory operation has been suspended. It is partly due to the Covid-19 crisis. We received few orders since 2020. The political issue is also one of the reasons. We stopped operation because we received no orders. But, it is only a temporary closure,” a factory official said.
There are three industrial zones—Hlaing Tharyar , Shwe Linban and Shwe Thanlwin— in Hlaing Tharyar Township where most of the factories and businesses in Yangon Region are centered.
A lot of factories in these industrial zones have closed since February of this year, according to the zone committees.
Twenty nine factories in Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone have closed down so far, said a zone committee official.
“In our zone, 29 have closed since February. But they said in their letters they have only closed temporarily. The factories closed after paying all compensations to the workers in accordance with the law,” he said.
Likewise, nine factories in Shwe Thanlwin Industrial Zone have closed temporarily or permanently, said an official from the zone committee. He,however, said some factories had moved to other places.
There have been 35 factories in Shwe Linban Industrial Zone which closed temporarily or permanently.
In our zone, about 30 factories have closed temporarily while about five others have shut down. They closed only after paying salaries and wages to their workers,” said a zone official.
He added that a least 10 garment factories were among the 35 closures.
Thousands of workers became unemployed after the factory and business closures.
The closure of 29 factories in Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone alone left about 7,000 workers unemployed, said a zone official.
Similarly, nearly 3,000 workers lost their jobs after nine factories closed down in Shwe Thanlwin Industrial Zone while around 10,000 workers became unemployed after the closure of 35 factories and businesses in Shwe Linban Industrial Zone, according to the respective zone committees.
“They will be facing hard times because they are out of work. As you know, all are in trouble. There are various hardships and difficulties including high inflation rate. Even operative factories and businesses are facing difficulties more or less. There are closed factories as well as operative ones. But, the running ones have to struggle. Things are not good anymore,” said an official from the Shwe Linban Industrial Zone Management Committee.
A female worker said most of the factory workers in Yangon came from various regions of the country. When their factories closed, they became unemployed and faced problems with their living conditions such as their hostel rents and meals.
“I came from another town to work here at a factory. I came to work despite the political situation in our country. With factory closures and the current political situation, we find it very hard to find a job. While seeking a job, we have to struggle for our cost of living,” the woman commented.
In some cases, whole families moved to Yangon to work in factories. When the factories closed, they became jobless facing a lot of problems.
With high commodity prices, even those going to work regularly have to be grappling with their day-to-day living as they are poorly paid.
“I still have to go to work. I receive my salary regularly. We also receive overtime fees. As our factory continues to operate, we can still afford our living with our salary even though we may be poorly paid. Due to high commodity prices, we have to tighten our belt. I have pay hostel rents,” said a garment factory worker in Yangon.
The garment industry, a lifeline for workers
Among other businesses, garment factories require a large number of workers. Although there are a wide range of factories in the industrial zones, garment factories have a much stronger workforce.
Garment industry plays an important role in Myanmar’s economic growth. The garment sector topped the list of exported goods in 2019. Garment businesses are also best prospects for the labour intensive industry.
Myanmar’s garment industry is based on a CMP (cutting, making and packing) system. The garment export value was US$1 billion in 2013-2014 fiscal year and jumped to US$3 billion in 2017-218 fiscal, seeing a triple increase in five years.
According to the data from the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA), nearly 600 garment factories with about 500,000 workers exported garment and textile products worth US$4.37 billion in 2019.
Under its ten-year strategic plan, the MGMA has estimated the garment industry will be able create up to 1.5 million jobs and export garment products worth about US$10 billion.
Not only garment industry but also some other businesses such as shoe making and bag making are operating in Myanmar under CMP system.
However, the closure of such a large number of garment factories does not bode well for the country’s future and its economic prospects.
A joint India and the United States collaboration will advance scientific discovery and management of global health threats, Union Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar said here on Monday.
Addressing an inaugural session of the 4th Indo-US Health Dialogue, being hosted by India, at the Ministry of Health, she said “Collaboration between our countries will advance scientific discovery and management of global health threats.”
Marking the beginning of the two-day dialogue, Pawar said the platform will provide an opportunity to all the participants for detailed deliberations, which may be used to broaden the scope of partnership on the health agenda with multiple agencies both in India and the US.
Multiple ongoing collaborations between the two countries in the health sector are the focus of the meet, the ministry said in the statement.
This also includes several areas of concern pertaining to strengthening of epidemiological research and surveillance, vaccine development, the “One Health” approach, zoonotic and vector-borne diseases, health systems and health policies etc., it added.
The US delegation for the dialogue is led by Loyce Pace, Director, Office of Global Affairs at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
She lauded the way in which the two countries have enhanced collaboration in research and development, especially with respect to pharmaceuticals, therapeutics and vaccine development, which could be seen in Indian manufacturers collaborating with US-based agencies to develop Covid vaccines, the statement said.
Pawar appreciated a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2020 on mental health that enhanced cooperation and strengthened bilateral ties between India and the US in the health sector.
Another MoU between the Ministry of Health and the US Department of Health and Human Services in the health sector has been finalised, that is likely to cover issues such as health safety and security, communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases, health systems and health policy, the statement said.
Pawar recapitulated the need to focus on these emerging areas to prevent and control infectious diseases, relying on well-designed and validated scientific approaches and collaboration between countries to aid in advance scientific discovery and management of global health threats, it added.
She also said the public and private sector should work together and combine their strengths in fighting the inequities of the health systems through innovations.
Shri Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary, Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and Secretary, Health Research among other senior officials of the Ministry represented India at the event.
PUTRAJAYA: With interstate travel likely to resume by mid-October, the government is also looking at lifting border control, it was announced.
National Recovery Council (NRC) chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the government would deliberate on whether the country was ready to reopen to tourists and business travellers.
“The reopening of the country’s borders was discussed and will be deliberated further by the related ministers this week.
“They will be looking into whether to allow fully vaccinated Malaysians to travel abroad.
“At the same time, it will also be discussed whether to allow tourists and business travellers into the country.
“I believe this will bring about a big effect to the country.
“The matter will be brought to the Prime Minister, and an announcement will be made soon,” Muhyiddin told a press conference yesterday after chairing the council meeting for the first since his recent appointment.
On interstate travel, he said the council was given a briefing by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
He said people would be allowed to cross states when 90% of the adult population had been immunised.
“We were told this could be achieved by early October or at the latest by the middle of the month.
“So you can start making plans to travel around country after this. But do not forget the SOP,” Muhyiddin said.
At present, about 83% of the country’s adult population have been fully vaccinated.
He said Khairy also briefed the council on the falling numbers of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units.
“We are pleased and this shows the positive effects of the vaccination programme,” Muhyiddin added.
He said it was proposed that state-level NRCs be formed to ensure that recovery plans were implemented efficiently, adding that the respective mentris besar and chief ministers would chair it.
He said the meeting also discussed the reopening of schools and higher learning institutions.
Also present was Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Senior Minister (International Trade and Industry) Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, Senior Minister (Education) Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin, Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz and Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
The recycling of high-capacity batteries used in electric vehicles is gaining traction as a business opportunity, because they can still be used for other purposes even after they have degraded and can no longer power a vehicle.
As Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started mass-producing EVs more than 10 years ago, battery replacement cycles have already started to kick in. Now, a growing number of companies from other industries are getting into the business of recycling or repurposing these expensive components.
■ High performance
The Forest Country Club, a golf course in Shizuoka Prefecture, has 11 electric golf carts running on used EV batteries.
Compared to new lead-acid batteries, used EV batteries have a second lifespan of five to six years, which is about three times longer, and they also consume less electricity.
“The initial cost of used EV batteries is expensive, but in terms of maintenance costs, it is inexpensive. We would like to promote the use of the batteries in the future,” said an official of Kawashima Group that operates the golf course.
Seven-Eleven Japan Co. has deployed storage batteries made from second-hand batteries at its 11 outlets in Kanagawa Prefecture as part of a verification trial. Electricity generated by solar panels is stored in the batteries during the day and used in the stores at night.
“[We will verify the effectiveness of this system] as part of our decarbonization efforts,” a spokesperson for the company said.
[Japan] Efforts to recycle EV batteries spreading
East Japan Railway Co. is also conducting a verification trial to see how used EV batteries can be converted into a power source for railway crossings during power outages.
Lithium-ion batteries used for EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs) eventually require replacement, as the cruising radius deteriorates after about 10 years of use.
However, these EV batteries — which have a capacity several times that of ordinary household storage batteries — can still be used even after they have deteriorated to the point where they can no longer be used to power a vehicle.
■ Various applications
Nissan’s Leaf EV, launched in 2010, has sold more than 500,000 units in total, meaning there will be around that many more used batteries to deal with in the future. Batteries account for a major portion of an EV’s price.
Nissan and Sumitomo Corp. have jointly set up 4R Energy Corp. to reuse EV batteries. The company collects used EV batteries in Japan and overseas and decides where to reuse them according to the degree of their deterioration.
4R Energy President Eiji Makino is eager to expand the business, saying, “The expansion of the used battery market should lead to the spread of EVs.”
The company plans to roughly triple its current capacity to process about 1,500 used EV batteries.
Mitsubishi Motors, for its part, began collecting batteries used in PHVs and recycling them as storage batteries at its plants last fiscal year.
Eneos Holdings, Inc. will start a trial for recycling used batteries for use as household storage batteries and street lighting in fiscal 2022.
Major trading companies also see the reuse of EV batteries as being a business opportunity.
Itochu Corp. has started a business to convert used lithium-ion batteries for EV taxis and buses in China into storage batteries for factories and distribution centers in Japan and overseas.
The company aims to achieve annual sales of about ¥10 billion by fiscal 2026.
In 2019, Mitsui & Co. also established an operating company jointly with Renault SA of France and other companies, and started a service to reuse batteries as storage batteries for power-related companies in Germany.
There is also a movement to recycle used batteries as a source of minerals.
Envision AESC Group, a Chinese affiliated company that produces batteries for EVs, will start a business to extract rare metals such as nickel and cobalt from used batteries, and then reuse them as resources.
SEOUL – Things were looking up for the aviation sector in Asia in the middle of this year.
As soon as the number of Covid-19 infections started to stabilise against rising vaccination rates, South Korea announced it would seek to create travel bubbles with other countries in a bid to revive tourism.
Airlines and booking sites expected a surge in demand from vaccinated travellers, and duty-free shops prepared to reopen.
South Korean officials said the plans could be rolled out as early as July, They were just as eager to see foreign tourist arrivals bounce back to pre-pandemic levels of nearly 3 million a month – up from just 127,090 in June.
Budget carrier Jeju Air announced the resumption of flights to Saipan and Guam, both of which were popular destinations for beach vacationers.
But all hope for air travel in South Korea was dashed as quickly as it was raised as Covid-19 returned with a vengeance, with a new wave involving the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus. The surge in infections came amid a shortage of vaccines.
The same scenario was repeated elsewhere in Asia, with air hubs pushing back reopening plans as governments struggled to contain the virus just as things were getting better.
Tourist arrivals tumbled to record lows everywhere and only cargo volumes helped lift some air hubs.
Reopening, many realised, was not just about reviving flights, but also accepting that there is a trade-off – restoring connectivity comes with the prospect of rising case numbers, although vaccination mitigates the risk of serious infections.
Malaysia’s north-western island Langkawi welcomed its first planeload of fully vaccinated travellers on Sept 16, as 159 people from the capital Kuala Lumpur landed to begin their first vacation after months of lockdown in the country.
Langkawi is now aiming for 400,000 visitors by the end of year, hoping they will spend some RM165 million (S$53 million).
Foreign tourists are not allowed yet, even though Langkawi International Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport were jointly named the world’s No. 1 airports for the second quarter of the year by the Airports Council International (ACI).
Meanwhile, Thailand reopened its two most popular resort islands, Phuket and Koh Samui, in early July, allowing fully vaccinated international tourists to visit without serving mandatory quarantine.
Similar larger plans for the whole country, however, have been delayed by a struggle with the Delta variant, which coursed through the population early this year amid a sluggish vaccination programme.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has vowed to reopen the country by next month despite the fact that only about a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated at present.
The state-owned Airports of Thailand (AOT) has been badly hit by the pandemic, with revenue plunging by 87.7 per cent in the nine months to June 30.
Before the pandemic hit, the main Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok served 53.5 million international passengers in 2019. It handled a mere 527,411 in the first seven months of the year.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is also a pale shadow of the heady days before Covid-19 struck.
Passenger traffic at the airport has fallen from 75.1 million in the 2018/19 financial year to 60.9 million in 2019/20 and 800,000 in 2020/21. In tandem, revenue plunged from HK$19.5 billion (S$3.4 billion) to HK$17.1 billion and HK$5.3 billion.
Mr Shukor Yusof, head of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, told The Straits Times that Hong Kong’s position as an aviation and financial hub has declined significantly over the past two years, triggered by the street protests in the territory and exacerbated by Covid-19.
“The zero-Covid stance it is pushing is not realistic, in my view. The situation is compounded by Cathay Pacific’s decline as a top airline,” he said.
He added that the pandemic would leave irreparable damage all over the world but more so to places reluctant to adjust and balance the risks with the reopening of the marketplace.
“The damage is ongoing and will accumulate as long as Hong Kong steadfastly stays shut,” he said.
Aviation analyst Brendan Sobie said the revival of international air hubs “is a question of which countries are reopening faster, not which airports are reopening faster”.
“If you look at Bangkok particularly, it’s a lot of inbound traffic, so it completely hinges on the reopening of borders,” he told ST.
“So if Thailand opens up the borders faster and tourists come to Thailand sooner – even though they have a lower vaccination rate than Singapore – obviously, the traffic will recover faster in Bangkok than in Singapore.”
The fortunes of an air hub are also tied to its geographic location, said Mr Sobie.
He noted that the international airport in Dubai has a lot more traffic now because it is a transit hub for connections to markets that have already reopened, such as Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“Right now, Singapore is not really able to connect any two markets that are open,” he said. “Neither is Bangkok or Hong Kong, because they all rely on countries that haven’t reopened yet.”
Dubai International Airport (DXB) is expecting robust growth in the second half of this year, after clocking 10.6 million travellers in the first half.
The latest ACI figures establish DXB as the world’s busiest airport for international passengers after it retained the title for the seventh consecutive year for annual traffic in 2020. DXB currently has nearly twice the passenger traffic as the next busiest international hub in the Middle East.
Mr Paul Griffiths, the CEO of Dubai Airports, said the outlook for 2021 in terms of passenger numbers “looks very promising”, with major international events such as the rescheduled Dubai Expo 2020 and Dubai Airshow 2021 lined up in the months ahead.
“In anticipation of the robust recovery of global air travel, we started the second half on a high note by reopening Terminal 1 and Concourse D – the home terminal for our 60 international carriers – after 15 months of hibernation, to accommodate the seasonal rush of travellers over the summer holidays,” he added.
Mr Griffiths was also upbeat about the campaign to safely relax restrictions on global air travel.
An industry player in Hong Kong told ST the situation remains fluid, so recovery would be uneven, adding that reopening would be gradual and based on regions that carriers preferred.
South Korea’s Incheon International Airport could edge ahead of the competition “if the Koreans take calculated risks”, said Mr Shukor.
How fast the main airline at an air hub would be able to restore its services and capacities would determine the air hub’s recovery if all regional borders reopened at the same time, Mr Sobie pointed out.
Changi Airport’s recovery would be tied to the fortunes of Singapore Airlines, for example.
But he cautioned that the choice of airports do not really figure high in travellers’ priorities. They are more concerned about the attractiveness of a destination.
“It becomes more of an issue of competition between airlines, and also an issue of competition between destinations,” he said.
India and the other G-4 nations have strongly pitched for an expansion of the UN Security Council in both permanent and non-permanent categories to enable the body to effectively deal with the ever-complex and evolving challenges to the maintenance of international peace and security.
The G-4 nations, which also include Japan, Germany and Brazil, support each other’s candidature for inclusion in the UNSC.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar participated in a G-4 meeting in New York last evening on the margins of the UN General Assembly along with Foreign Minister of Brazil Carlos Alberto Franco Franca, Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Maas and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan Motegi Toshimitsu.
A statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) today said the four foreign ministers underlined the urgency of reforming the UNSC in order to make it more legitimate, effective and representative by reflecting the reality of the contemporary world, including developing countries and major contributors, the G4 Ministerial Joint Press Statement said.
They expressed their strong determination to work towards launching text-based negotiations without further delay in the Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN), on the basis of a single document, with a view to its adoption in the General Assembly.
The ministers instructed their delegations to the UN to support the efforts of the President of the 76th General Assembly Abdulla Shahid and the IGN chairs and to identify ways to develop a single consolidated text as a basis for a draft resolution.
The four ministers also decided to intensify dialogue with all interested member states, including other reform-minded countries and groups, in order to seek concrete outcomes in a definite time frame.
The G-4 ministers, reviewing the work of the 75th session of the UNGA, welcomed that the Assembly reflected in its decision the commitment of all heads of state and government to instil new life in the discussions on the reform of the UNSC, as mentioned in the Declaration on the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the UN.
South Korea will begin to move past restrictive COVID-19 measures and return to normality in about a month’s time, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Sunday.
Speaking with provincial and municipal broadcasters, Kim pointed to late October as when life can begin to return to normal in Korea — a shift in pandemic control strategy also described as “living with COVID-19.”
“About 80 percent of adults aged 18 and above are expected to become fully vaccinated before October ends, by which time normal life can resume in stages,” he said. The adult vaccination rate of 80 percent would “give the virus less space to roam,” he added.
Citing damage to the economy, he said it was “hard to ask small businesses to put up with pandemic-related restrictions any longer.”
According to the prime minister, how Korea would go about normal is twofold: by extending eligibility to groups so far not covered by the vaccination campaign — minors and pregnant women — and expanding at-home care for patients with mild illness to reduce the burden on health care systems.
He hinted that the plan for vaccinations for the rest of the year, to be unveiled in detail Monday afternoon, also included an extra round of “booster” vaccinations for older people and front-line health care workers. Soon, the gap between two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are currently administered six weeks apart, will be shortened as well, he said.
The prime minister blamed the Chuseok holiday weekend, which lasted until Wednesday, for cases rising at record-setting levels in the past few days.
“The holiday is taking a serious toll on the COVID-19 situation,” he said.
After seeing a new all-time high of 3,272 cases Saturday, replacing the record of 2,431 cases set the day before, Korea announced 2,771 more cases Sunday — the second-highest one-day total.
But the streak of record-shattering days may not be Chuseok’s doing, according to Dr. Jung Ki-suck, who headed the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016-17. Given COVID-19’s average incubation period of five to seven days, the post-Chuseok surge has probably not begun yet, he said.
“Cases linked to Chuseok are likely not yet reflected in the numbers,” he said, explaining that the warning signs of “a surge upon a surge” were already there before the holiday could make an impact.
Despite testing performed per day dropping by nearly half to about 70,000 to 80,000 during the five-day weekend, there was no decline in cases, with the positivity rate in the period doubling to 2 percent.
He said cases were being traced to places “usually where you’d expect an outbreak would take place, like saunas, bars and other nightlife facilities.”
“Korea is now at a phase where it’s looking to lift, rather than tighten, public health interventions, according to government announcements,” he said, “which means that control of the spread will be more heavily reliant on vaccinations.”
On easing back into normalcy, he pointed out that throughout its course of the pandemic, Korea “never really had to sacrifice normal life too much” compared to other countries such as Australia, which is “undergoing a lockdown over a 100-something daily cases.”
“The closest thing we had to a lockdown was a nighttime curfew for high-risk businesses,” he said.
When Korea was counting an average of about 1,700 cases a day in the weeks leading up to Chuseok, intensive care beds across the country were half full, he warned. By that calculation, a couple of weeks of more than 3,000 cases could fill up beds for patients with severe or critical COVID-19.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, 48 percent of all ICU beds for COVID-19 patients were occupied. In Seoul, which accounts for the majority of Korea’s cases, the occupancy rate was higher at 54 percent.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Eom Joong-sik at Gachon University Medical Center in Incheon, neighboring Seoul, said people’s compliance with social distancing began to noticeably wane about a month ago, when talks of returning to normal began to surface among political circles and government officials.
“Having normal after Chuseok was widely promoted too early, when barely 40 percent of the population were fully vaccinated,” he said. The “communication mishap” caused people “to let their guards down,” when “the messaging for more caution should have been sustained to motivate people to continue to practice social distancing.”
The good news was that the incidence of severe cases among people in their 70s and older, to whom vaccines were distributed early on, remained relatively low, said Eom, whose hospital saw an onslaught of younger patients in August. Many of the patients ending up at hospitals recently were in their 40s to 60s — age groups that vaccines had taken longer, or are just getting to reach.
“As more people across demographics become fully immunized against COVID-19, we could expect a similar decline in hospitalizations,” he said.
In an emergency news briefing organized Saturday, the national health protection agency’s commissioner, Jeong Eun-kyeong, said health care capacities had room to cope with 2,500 to 3,000 cases occurring each day for another week or two.
After restrictions were eased earlier this month to permit families to gather over Chuseok, overall movements had increased, she said, and that based on the trends in health data, the number of cases could continue to hover above 3,000 a day this week.
She said whether to ease restrictions next month as planned depended on how much of the population was protected with vaccines by then.
The pressing task at the moment was lessening the caseload, she said, asking those who traveled for the holiday to get tested regardless of an absence of symptoms and cancel plans at least for the next two weeks.
“There’s no way around it but to follow the same safety precautions of wearing face masks, keeping indoor spaces well-ventilated, avoiding crowds and washing hands frequently,” she said.
By Saturday’s end, 74 percent of 51 million people in Korea had received at least one dose of a vaccine while 45 percent had been fully vaccinated, seven months since the vaccine campaign began in February.
HÀ NỘI — Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính said the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control has agreed to change the strategy policy from “Zero COVID” to “Safe and flexible adaptation and effective control of the COVID-19 pandemic”, striving to bring the country back to a new normal by the end of September.
He made the statement at the committee’s meeting on Saturday, held to review the leadership, direction, implementation of measures to prevent and control the pandemic in the past; analysing results, limitations, causes in pandemic prevention and control.
Speaking at the online meeting between the Steering Committee and officials from 10,400 communes, wards and townships, 705 districts, and 63 cities and provinces nationwide, the PM noted that so far, COVID-19 has been gradually controlled in the majority of localities, but complicated developments continue.
A report from the Steering Committee at the meeting said that, from the beginning of the fourth wave of the pandemic to September 24, the whole country recorded 734,000 cases, while 503,000 people have recovered (69 per cent), and more than 18,000 deaths were reported.
Last week there were 72,236 new cases, down 9.7 per cent compared to the previous week and the number of deaths in the week decreased by 12.1 per cent compared to the previous week. Currently, there are 16 out of 63 provinces and cities that have gone 14 days without any new infections.
In 23 localities implementing social distancing measures, the pandemic situation is gradually being controlled; the number of cases in the last seven days decreased by 9.8 per cent compared to the same previous period.
Regarding vaccinations, as of September 24, 2021, the whole country had administered 37.6 million doses, with more than 30 million people receiving first shots and 7.5 million people getting two shots, while about 14 million more vaccine doses will continue to be administered.
At the meeting, leaders of ministries, sectors and localities shared their experiences in pandemic prevention and control, especially in directing, organising, coordinating and implementing social distancing, screening, rapid testing, F0 classification, care and treatment.
They also discussed the temporary plan for “Safely and flexibly adaptation and effective control of the COVID-19 pandemic” in the spirit of striving to implement pandemic control and socio-economic development at the same time.
While lauding localities’ efforts in the pandemic fight, PM Chính also pointed to shortcomings in the field, including the ineffective implementation of directions in some localities, particularly at grassroots level, slow testing progress and inefficiency in conducting support policies for pandemic-hit groups.
He noted that localities should not stay relaxed and be negligent when the pandemic is just controlled at a very basic level, and they must be consistent and persistent in leadership and direction, but apply anti-pandemic measures flexibly based on specific condition of each locality.
He asked localities to strengthen decentralisation in pandemic prevention and control activities, with communes, wards and townships as “fortresses” and people as “warriors” in the fight. They should speed up vaccinations, especially targeting those in high-risk areas, he said.
PM Chính also urged ministries, sectors and localities to quickly design measures to restore production while continuing to ensure safety.
He assigned the Ministry of Health to gather ideas and build criteria on safely, flexibly adapting to and effectively controlling COVID-19, along with detailed guidelines on its implementation.
Ministries, sectors and localities should immediately set up their task forces for socio-economic recovery and development headed by their top leaders, and build plans for economic recovery in accordance with their own situation, the Government leader requested.
He also asked for the revision of regulations on entry-exit control, giving optimal conditions for foreign experts to enter the country to work.
It is necessary to study regulations on the recognition of “vaccine passports”, he stressed.
The PM assigned the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) to coordinate with localities to ensure telecoms services and computers for students studying online. The MIC was requested to quickly develop an app used for all COVID-19 prevention and control activities.
PM Chính also underlined the need for ministries, sectors and localities to give timely and effective support to pandemic-hit groups in a transparent manner, honouring individuals and organisations with outstanding contributions in pandemic prevention and control, and strictly handling violations.
Earlier in a meeting on Thursday, Chính stressed that instructions for fighting the pandemic in the future should go in tandem with inspection and supervision, and reiterated the principles that health care plays the central role; economy serves as the foundation; data, science and technology are the key; political and social stability is essential; and vaccines, treatment drugs and public awareness are the prerequisites. — VNS