South Korea warned on Wednesday it may reinstate stricter social distancing curbs as it posted a record daily coronavirus tally due to a persistent spike in breakthrough infections among those vaccinated and serious cases. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) posted 7,850 cases for Tuesday, with the number of patients in serious condition also reaching a fresh high at 964. Daily tallies of infections shot past 7,000 for the first time last week, just days after passing the 5,000 mark, putting ever greater strains on the country’s medical capacity. Total infections in the pandemic so far have risen to 536,495, including 128 cases of the potentially more transmissible Omicron variant, with 4,456 deaths, according to the KDCA. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum warned on Wednesday that the government is considering reimposing strict distancing curbs including a ban on gatherings and a curfew on dining in eating establishments. An official announcement is expected on Friday. “We’re looking at the current situation very seriously, and seeking to implement even stronger social distancing measures,” Kim told an intra-agency meeting, without elaborating. South Korea to use facial recognition tech to track Covid-19 cases South Korea has fully vaccinated more than 94 per cent of its adults so far, and is accelerating its ongoing campaign promoting booster shots by shortening intervals for all ages. But the number of new cases has been spiralling since authorities eased distancing rules last month as part of a ‘living with Covid-19’ policy. The daily death toll also hit its highest levels at 94 on Monday, compared with around 10 in early November, KDCA data showed. Authorities have scrapped plans for further relaxing, but remained hesitant to trigger a circuit breaker it had vowed to issue if more than 75 per cent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds are used nationwide, due to business backlash and growing public fatigue. More than 81 per cent of ICU beds are occupied nationwide and the ratio topped 86 per cent for the greater Seoul area as of Wednesday. Australia reopens borders Australia on Wednesday reopened borders to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students after a near two-year ban on their entry, in a bid to boost an economy hit by Covid-19 lockdowns and restart international travel. The emergence of the new Omicron variant forced officials to delay the reopening by two weeks after health officials sought a temporary pause to get more information about the strain, which so far appears to show milder symptoms than other Covid-19 variants. “I just met my mum for the first time in four years, I’m so happy and thankful borders have opened,” Kang Jin, a traveller from South Korea, told reporters in Sydney. The reopening of Australia’s borders came as its most populous state, New South Wales, reported its biggest one-day rise in cases in four months, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was well placed to deal with rising numbers. “We’re going to live with this virus, and we’re not going to let it drag us back to where we’ve been,” Morrison told radio station 4BC on Wednesday. “We’ve got one of the highest vaccination rates, which means we can fight this thing. We don’t have to surrender to it.” Australia has inoculated nearly 90 per cent of its population above 16 with two doses and shortened the wait time for booster shots after the emergence of the Omicron cases. Coronavirus: Australia sticks with easing plan despite surge in cases Morrison, who had been deemed a casual contact after attending an event last week along with a person infected with Covid-19, said he has been cleared to fly interstate to Queensland after negative test results. “That’s what living with the virus is,” he said. Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in a bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus and had limited the number of citizens and permanent residents allowed entry. The relaxation of border rules is expected to ease labour shortages, which threaten to hamper an economic rebound. The return of foreign students, who are worth about A$35 billion (US$25 billion) a year to the Australian economy, will help businesses to fill many casual jobs. More than 235,000 foreigners, including about 160,000 students, held visas for Australia at the end of October, official data showed. New South Wales, home to Australia’s biggest city of Sydney, lifted most restrictions from Wednesday for the unvaccinated, despite a steady rise in Omicron infections after a staggered reopening. The state logged 1,360 new cases, the biggest daily rise in more than three months and since a nearly four-month lockdown ended in early October. New South Wales Minister for Health Brad Hazzard warned infections could rise to 25,000 a day by the end of January. While New South Wales said its health system was coping well with the rising cases, Western Australia state said on Wednesday it would restrict the entry of people from New South Wales. Australia has recorded about 235,500 cases and 2,117 deaths since the pandemic began. Blinken cuts short Asia trip after Covid case in delegation US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has cut short his trip to Southeast Asia due to a Covid-19 case among his travelling party, a State Department official said on Wednesday. The decision was made to mitigate the Covid-19 risk and prioritise health and safety, and Blinken had expressed by phone his deep regret to the foreign minister of Thailand, where he was due to attend meetings on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. The positive case was confirmed on Wednesday while Blinken was in Malaysia. He was in Indonesia the previous two days. SII’s billionaire owners pledge US$66m to Oxford University Vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII) has pledged £50 million (US$66.2 million) to the University of Oxford for setting up a research campus that would also house the institute behind the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 shot. The investment was made through the Indian company’s Serum Life Sciences unit, Oxford University said on Wednesday. The research building would be named after Serum’s billionaire owners, the Poonawalla family. The pledge builds on the collaboration between Oxford University, AstraZeneca and SII, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and the producer of a version of the British duo’s Covid-19 shot for low- and middle-income countries. WHO calls for action as Omicron variant spreads to 57 countries SII has also agreed with the Jenner Institute, which was behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine , to produce and develop Jenner’s R21/Matrix-M malaria shot on a large scale. The shot is currently in late-stage trials. SII was founded in 1966 in the Western Indian city of Pune by Cyrus Poonawalla, son of a horse breeder, and India’s fifth-richest person, according to Forbes. In 2019, Cyrus was also conferred an honorary degree by Oxford University. It is currently run by his son Adar Poonawalla, whose wife Natasha Poonawalla heads Serum Life Sciences. With a penchant for luxury cars and racehorses, the pair is often seen rubbing shoulders with Hollywood and Bollywood stars. The Poonawallas in September invested £50 million in Oxford Biomedica to help fund the development of a plant that manufactures Covid-19 shots. Cambodia detects first case of Omicron variant Cambodia has detected the country’s first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in a local woman who had travelled from Ghana, the ministry of health said. The 23-year old woman had returned from Ghana via Dubai and Bangkok, the ministry said. She is 15 weeks pregnant and has been admitted to hospital for treatment. The Omicron variant first detected in South Africa and Hong Kong last month has now been reported by over 70 countries and is probably present in most worldwide, but should not be dismissed as “mild”, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. The Southeast Asian nation reopened its borders last month to vaccinated tourists after achieving one of Asia’s highest Covid-19 vaccination rates, with more than 88 per cent of its 16 million people now inoculated. Indonesia starts Covid-19 vaccinations for young children Indonesia started vaccinating primary schoolchildren aged 6-11 against Covid-19 on Tuesday, becoming one of the few countries in Asia to start mass inoculations for young children. Vaccinations against the virus for this age group has been a sensitive issue in some countries. Europe has just started vaccinations for younger children, but countries there are pursuing different strategies because lack of data has made winning over parents. Children and young people are seen as unwitting transmitters of the virus to high-risk people and experts say inoculating them is a critical step towards taming the pandemic. Indonesia’s campaign kicked off with 100 children using China’s Sinovac vaccine. They are among 26.5 million targeted for immunisation in Indonesia, which was once Asia’s Covid-19 epicentre. How the pandemic brought Asian children to breaking point Muhammad Avisena, 11, said the pain of the injection was worth it compared with potential suffering from becoming sick. “It will hurt more if exposed to Covid-19 because the lungs would be damaged and infected,” he said after his injection. His mother, Siti Nuriyah Safitri, said the vaccination would help children get back to school faster after nearly two years of disruption. “I feel bad for the children if the learning system stays this way,” she said, adding that at her son’s school only 50 per cent of the children attend each day, with those not coming to school doing lessons online. Covid-19 has infected 4.2 million people and killed more than 143,000 in Indonesia, where about 38 per cent of the 270 million population have been vaccinated. In Asia, China has already started vaccinating children aged 3 and above, while Cambodia gave its first vaccines for young children in September. Singapore will soon start vaccinating children aged 5-11.