Singapore — India, South Korea, and Thailand faced mounting coronavirus infections on Thursday, undermining cautious hopes that Asia might be emerging from the worst of the pandemic as worries about safety threatened to delay vaccination drives.
India reported a record 126,789 new cases, the third day this week tallies have surged to more than 100,000, catching by surprise authorities who have blamed crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as shops and offices reopen.
More infectious variants of the virus may have played a role in India’s surge, some epidemiologists say, with hundreds of cases found of variants first detected in Britain, South Africa, and Brazil.
The alarming numbers have led to New Zealand putting a temporary ban on anyone arriving from India, even for the first time blocking New Zealand citizens from coming home, for about two weeks.
“We are temporarily suspending entry into New Zealand for travelers from India,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference in Auckland.
New Zealand, which has virtually eliminated the virus within its borders, recorded 23 new cases at its border on Thursday, 17 from India.
Two other countries that managed to largely keep the coronavirus under control during the first year of the pandemic were also grappling with new waves, though smaller than India’s.
South Korea reported 700 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily figure since early January, and the prime minister warned that new social distancing rules would likely be needed.
Thailand, which has been planning a cautious re-opening of its tourist industry, reported a rise in new daily infections to 405 on Thursday, taking its total number of infections to 30,310, with 95 deaths.
Adding to Thai worries, it has detected 24 cases of a highly contagious virus variant first detected in Britain, its first reported domestic transmission of the variant.