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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Dec. 20 to Dec. 26, Saudi crown prince takes COVID-19 vaccine

Sinovac vaccine below 90% efficacy in Brazil; Total global cases near 80m

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman gets a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Riyadh on Dec. 25.(Saudi Royal Court via Reuters)

Nikkei Asia is tracking the spread of the new coronavirus that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Global cases have reached 79,793,342, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 1,749,235.

To see how the disease has spread, view our virus tracker charts:

Saturday, Dec. 26 (Tokyo time)

10:39 a.m. Australian golfing great Greg Norman has been hospitalised in the United States showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Norman, whose two major titles came at the British Open in 1986 and 1993, had earlier tested negative for the novel coronavirus but on Friday he posted a picture on social media of him wearing a mask and lying on a hospital bed, using an expletive to suggest he had tested positive.

7:58 a.m. A Frenchman who recently arrived back in France from London has tested positive for the new variant of the coronavirus, the French Health Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The ministry said that the case - the first in France - had been found in the city of Tours.

The man in question arrived from London on Dec. 19, and he was currently self-isolating and felt alright, the ministry added.

6:15 a.m. An update on the backlog of trucks waiting to cross the English Channel -- an ongoing headache for European and other companies looking to navigate year-end:

5:00 a.m. Turkey will require all travelers to the country to present proof of negative COVID-19 tests carried out within 72 hours of their arrival, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says in a tweet.

The measure will take effect Monday for air passengers.

"Otherwise, they will not be allowed to enter the country," Koca says.

2:55 a.m. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the nation's vaccination program, the state news agency reports.

2:00 a.m. Air travelers arriving in the U.S. from the U.K. will need to test negative for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before departure, according to new rules announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to a new coronavirus variant.

This order becomes effective on Monday.

"Viruses constantly change through mutation, and preliminary analysis in the U.K. suggests that this new variant may be up to 70% more transmissible than previously circulating variants," the CDC says.

12:30 a.m. "People of all faiths have been unable to gather as they would wish for their festivals, such as Passover, Easter, Eid and Vaisakhi" this year, the U.K.'s Queen Elizabeth II says in her 2020 holiday message that emphasizes the cultural diversity of Britain and the Commonwealth.

"But we need life to go on," the Queen adds.

Friday, Dec. 25

11:00 a.m. Japan reports 3,814 new COVID-19 cases for Friday as of 7:30 p.m., marking a third straight day of record new infections. This brings the country's total to 214,459.

Deaths from the disease rise by 43 to 3,166.

10:49 p.m. The Chinese-developed Coronavac COVID-19 vaccine has shown an efficacy greater than 50% but less than 90% in Brazilian trials, Sao Paulo's state health secretary says.

Jean Gorinchteyn's remarks in an interview with CBN radio comes after officials earlier this week withheld detailed trial results again at developer Sinovac's request.

Brazilian officials on Wednesday had said only that the vaccine candidate had cleared the 50% efficacy threshold that would be need for approval.

9:40 p.m. Japan reports its first cases of the new coronavirus variant burning through the U.K. The strain was detected in five travelers returning from Britain, all of whom have been quarantined.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says the country is ready to roll out vaccines "as soon as" health experts have all the data they need to give their approval, likely in February.

5:40 p.m. Indonesia records its biggest daily rise in COVID-19 deaths with 258 fatalities, taking the total to 20,847, government data shows. Infections rose by 7,259, bringing the total to 700,097 cases.

A man reads from the Quran on Dec. 1 in Jakarta at the grave of a relative who died from COVID-19. Indonesia on Friday recorded its biggest daily rise in coronavirus deaths with 258 fatalities, taking the country's total to 20,847.    © Reuters

3:11 p.m. Tokyo reports 884 new infections, the second highest after the previous day's record of 888. The number of patients in serious condition increased by eight to 81, the most in Tokyo since the pandemic began.

1:40 p.m. The U.S. government will require all airline passengers arriving from the U.K. to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure starting Monday, amid concerns over a new coronavirus variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

12:20 p.m. A Japanese health ministry panel says those 65 and older should be given priority when vaccinations begin. The panel also says people with underlying conditions, including chronic heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and chronic kidney disease, should be put in the priority line.

Hong Kong is tightening its restrictions on arrivals to the city as especially virulent mutations of the coronavirus begin to spread.   © Reuters

11:20 a.m. Hong Kong adds seven days to its compulsory quarantine for all arrivals who have stayed outside of China in the 21 days prior to arrival. As a result, travelers must quarantine for 21 days at a designated hotel. Hong Kong also adds anyone who has spent at least two hours in South Africa to a ban on boarding flights to the city. The ban was imposed earlier this week, targeting travelers who have been in the U.K. The moves are meant to guard the city against especially virulent mutations of the coronavirus.

11:00 a.m. Australia's New South Wales state has increased COVID-19 testing to rein in a resurgence of infections in Sydney. A record of nearly 70,000 tests were conducted on Thursday across the country's most populous state.

9:30 a.m. China records 14 new cases for Thursday, down from 17 the previous day. Seven of the new cases were imported. The seven local transmissions all came in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

9:10 a.m. South Korea records 1,241 new cases, up from 985 a day earlier and the country's highest-ever daily count. Tougher restrictions to stem new cases were taken this week, including a ban on gatherings of more than five people. Also, ski resorts and tourist spots have been shut in a bid to slow the virus's spread during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

A South Korean soldier walks past people waiting in line for COVID tests near a subway station in Seoul. South Korea is being hit by a surge in infections.   © Reuters

9:06 a.m. FedEx's Canadian subsidiary and Innomar Strategies, a Canada-based unit of U.S. drug distributor AmerisourceBergen, say they have started to distribute Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine across Canada. The government separately announces that the first doses had arrived in Canada.

8:40 a.m. Japan's unemployment rate improved to 2.9% in November for the first drop in five months, in a sign that the pandemic's impact on the labor market is easing, government data shows. The job availability ratio stood at 1.06, up from 1.04 in October, which means there were 106 job openings for every 100 job seekers.

7:28 a.m. More than 600,000 people in Britain have taken their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as of Dec. 20, the Department of Health and Social Care reports.

5:33 a.m. Corporate fundraising from initial public offerings and other share sales this year grows roughly 60%, topping $1 trillion for the first time, data from Refinitiv shows.

This year's notable IPOs include room rental platform Airbnb, cloud-based data warehouser Snowflake and China's JD Health. Big amounts of fresh capital were raised by electric-car maker Tesla, brewer Asahi Group Holdings and smartphone maker Xiaomi.

Total proceeds stood at $1.07 trillion as of Wednesday, the data shows.

The Nasdaq market site in New York's Time Square shows the Airbnb logo on the day of the company's Dec. 10 initial public offering. 

5:41 a.m. Annual births in Japan are expected to fall below 800,000 next year, crossing a grim milestone more than a decade earlier than previously anticipated, as uncertainty caused by the pandemic accelerates a yearslong decline. The trend threatens to put further pressure on the already-shrinking working-age population that supports the country's social safety net.

5:30 a.m. Pope Francis urges Christians to extend a hand to the forgotten in a Christmas Eve mass attended by fewer than 100 churchgoers and a small number of cardinals and bishops, compared with the thousands that usually crowd St. Peter's Basilica on this night, Reuters reports. "The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God," Francis is quoted as saying in his homily.

5:00 a.m. Sometime in 2021 the COVID-19 pandemic will recede. But life in Japan's corporate establishment will not revert to the pre-pandemic status quo, writes Steven Givens in Nikkei Asia commentary.

Salarymen who used to toil under the constant gaze of their co-workers and superiors have, thanks to Zoom, discovered a new and liberating mode of working. They will not be content to return to long commutes and the suffocating social pressures of the corporate beehive. Read more.

4:05 a.m. Achieving herd immunity against the virus that causes COVID-19 may require as many as 9 in 10 people receiving a vaccine, according to U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

"We need to have some humility here," Fauci says in a New York Times interview. "We really don't know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90%. But, I'm not going to say 90%."

3:10 a.m. The Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac shows a 91.25% efficacy so far in Phase 3 clinical trials in Turkey, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca and scientists say.

The efficacy is expected to increase later in the trails, the officials say.

"We can easily say the vaccine is safe, and we can use it with ease," Koca says of the jab developed by Sinovac.

Koca also says Turkey will sign a contract with Pfizer and BioNTech soon for 4.5 million doses of their vaccine until the end of March, as well as an option for an additional 30 million doses.

Andrew Yang, shown here as a Democratic U.S. presidential candidate in February, favors higher stimulus payments than Congress has agreed on.   © Reuters

1:10 a.m. Entrepreneur and former U.S. presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has found something to agree on with President Donald Trump -- higher stimulus payments for Americans.

Yang, a Democrat who reportedly plans to run in next year's New York mayoral race, has tweeted his support for the $2,000 payments that Trump is urging.

The president's resistance to Congress' plan for payments of $600 per person has held up a new round of relief for the U.S. economy.

During his campaign to be the Democrat candidate for president, Yang argued for a "Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income for all American adults."

12:50 a.m. The first roughly 300,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Argentina following its approval by the South American nation for emergency use, Reuters reports.

Thursday, Dec. 24

9:15 p.m. Japan reports 3,737 new COVID-19 cases as of 8:30 p.m. Thursday, bringing total cumulative cases to 210,647. The nation's death toll from the disease rose by 40 to 3,109.

7:48 p.m. Indonesia becomes the latest Asian country to ban travellers from the U.K. and tightened rules for those arriving from Europe and Australia to try to limit the spread of a new coronavirus variant. Foreigners arriving from Britain, where a coronavirus variant is spreading rapidly, would not be allowed entrance, a circular says.

7:33 p.m. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will impose a third national lockdown to fight climbing COVID-19 infections. The curbs will come into effect on Sunday evening and last for 14 days, pending final cabinet approval.

6:30 p.m. Taiwan's Transport Ministry fines EVA Airways Corp. 1 million New Taiwan dollars ($35,000) after the government blamed one of its pilots for a rare locally transmitted case of COVID-19 because he failed to follow virus prevention rules.

Taiwan had, until this week, not had any domestic transmission since April 12, thanks to early and effective moves to stop the virus from spreading. The case has ignited public anger after the government said he had not reported all his contacts and the places he had been to, nor worn a face mask in the cockpit when he should have.

5:30 p.m. Russia reports a record one-day tally of 29,935 new cases as well as 635 deaths from the virus, the most confirmed in a single 24 hour period since the pandemic began. Authorities have so far reported a total of 2,963,688 cases and an official death toll of 53,096.

4:50 p.m. China will suspend direct flights to and from the United Kingdom, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin says, citing the emergence of a new coronavirus strain. "After much consideration, China has decided to take reference from other countries and suspend flights to and from U.K.," Wang says, joining other Asian countries such as South Korea and the Philippines.

3:10 p.m. Tokyo reports a record-high daily count of 888 new infections, up from 748 a day earlier. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has asked restaurants serving alcohol to close by 10 p.m. to reduce the spread of the virus, but experts say business hours should be shortened further.

Tokyo's Ginza shopping district. On Thursday, Japan's capital reported a record-high daily count of 888 new infections.   © Reuters

1:23 p.m. India reports 24,712 new cases in the past 24 hours, up from 23,950 for the previous day, bringing the country total to 10.12 million. Deaths increased by 312, to 146,756. Of the total confirmed cases, 2.8% are active while 95.75% of all patients have recovered. India's COVID mortality rate stands at 1.45%, according to the latest data from the health ministry.

12:22 p.m. India intends to mass-produce enough COVID-19 shots to help the global community fight off the pandemic. Bangladesh, Myanmar, Qatar, Bhutan, Switzerland, Bahrain, Austria and South Korea have shown keen interest in partnering with India, which can produce vaccines more cheaply than Western makers

12:10 p.m. Millions of Sydney residents have been asked to limit their mobility over Christmas, with some families in lockdown and indoor gatherings limited to 10 visitors, as officials try to contain an outbreak that has reached 100 transmissions. Australia's most populous city has been virtually isolated from the rest of the country, with state border closures or mandatory 14-day quarantines for Sydney arrivals in place.

11:00 a.m. More than 1 million Americans have, as of Wednesday morning, been given the first of the two doses required for the two coronavirus vaccines that have been approved, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. But most Americans have been told it could be six months or more before they are eligible for the shots, as priority is being given to health care workers, nursing home residents and, in some cases, top government officials.

Singapore, which might have 12 patients with one of the latest more virulent strains, received its first COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 21.   © Reuters

10:30 a.m. Singapore has confirmed its first case of the new variant found in the U.K., the city-state says. Also, 11 others in quarantine have returned preliminarily positive results for the new strain. All of the patients, travelers who had been to Europe, were placed in 14-day quarantine at dedicated facilities or isolated upon arrival; their close contacts are also in quarantine. "There is currently no evidence that the B117 strain is circulating in the community," Singapore's health ministry said late on Wednesday.

10:05 a.m. South Korea has signed deals with Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen to import coronavirus vaccines, enough for 10 million people from Pfizer and for 6 million from Janssen, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun says. The government had previously arranged to purchase vaccines from four companies, including Janssen and Pfizer, as well as from the global COVAX initiative, backed by the World Health Organization, as part of a program to cover up to 85% of its population of 51 million.

The country, meanwhile, reports 985 daily cases, down from 1,090 a day ago. Total infections reach 53,533, with 756 deaths.

9:15 a.m. China records 17 new cases for Wednesday, up from 15 the previous day. Of the new cases, 11 were imported. The six locally transmitted cases are in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

6:20 a.m. Netherlands will require negative COVID-19 tests from all travelers wanting to fly to the country within three days before departure from next Tuesday, Reuters reports, citing a government announcement.

This expands a requirement already in place for travelers from the U.K. and South Africa in response to a new variant of the coronavirus.

5:00 a.m. As COVID-19 rips through Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is training his sights on currency speculators. If only the prime minister displayed the same passion for Tokyo's battle against the pandemic, writes William Pesek in Nikkei Asian review commentary. Read more.

A woman receives an injection in the trial stage of the Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine candidate on Dec. 11.    © Reuters

4:05 a.m. The COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac has an efficacy that clears the 50% level needed for approving emergency use in Brazil, according to a biological research institute in Sao Paulo state.

Sinovac has asked Brazil not to disclose the full results of trials of the so-called Coronavac for 15 days, according to the Instituto Butantan, which is overseeing the trials.

The Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo earlier reported the Coronavac had shown an efficacy greater than 50% in stage-three trials.

12:50 a.m. Canada has approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, according to a health ministry statement.

"Today's authorization is a critical step in ensuring additional COVID-19 vaccines are available to all Canadians in all parts of the country," the ministry says. "The different storage and handling requirements of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine mean that it can be distributed to isolated and remote communities, including the territories."

12:40 a.m. The U.K. has detected another new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says in a briefing.

"As part of our surveillance, and thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we've detected two cases of another new variant of the coronavirus here in the U.K.," Hancock says. "Both are contacts of cases who have traveled from South Africa over the past few weeks."

"This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the U.K.," the minister adds.

Wednesday, Dec. 23

11:40 p.m. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, said in an interview with media outlet Newsy that she will retire after helping the federal government transition to the Biden administration.

Birx, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, led the U.S. response to the coronavirus as part of the White House task force, frequently appearing at press briefings with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

She was criticized for recently traveling out of state for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging Americans to forgo holiday travel.

10:00 p.m. The U.S. government will buy 100 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, Secretary of Health & Human Services Alex Azar says.

"Under the terms of the agreement announced today, Pfizer will deliver at least 70 million doses by June 30, 2021, with the balance of the 100 million doses to be delivered no later than July 31, 2021," Azar says.

8:53 p.m. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that residents would be able to choose which vaccine to take as she confirmed the government had reached a deal with a third provider and is still seeking a fourth.

Officials have secured 22.5 million doses overall to cover the two shots each of the city's 7.5 million residents will require. The latest deal covers the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, adding to ones from China's Sinovac and, through Fosun Pharmaceutical, Germany's BioNTech.

Hong Kong on Tuesday said people returning from the U.K. would not be allowed into the city.   © Reuters

6:00 p.m. Hong Kong health officials announced that two students who had returned from the U.K. this month appear to have carried the new mutated coronavirus strain with them. One of the students returned on Dec. 7 and the other on Dec. 13. Hong Kong on Tuesday temporarily barred others from returning.

5:41 p.m. A coronavirus vaccine developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences was found to be safe and triggered immune responses in early and midstage trials, researchers said.

A late-stage trial of the ZF2001 vaccine, which CAS is developing with a unit of Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products, began last month in China. Four other Chinese vaccines from Sinopharm, Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics have also entered Phase 3 clinical trials.

4:26 p.m. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called on people to keep calm, one day after the island confirmed its first locally transmitted case of COVID-19 since April 12. The government announced negative tests so far for the person's contacts.

A medical worker holds a vial of the Sputnik V vaccine at a clinic in Moscow on Dec. 5.   © Reuters

3:44 p.m. Malaysia is in talks to secure 6.4 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, said the science minister, Khairy Jamaluddin. The country also is in negotiations with Pfizer and German partner BioNTech on an option to increase its purchase of their vaccine to cover another 20% of its population, Khairy said at a news conference.

Malaysia has already secured 12.8 million doses from Pfizer under a deal signed last month, and earlier this week agreed to buy 6.4 million doses from AstraZeneca.

3:34 p.m. Malaysia launches a 10-year plan to restart its battered tourism sector, which is estimated to have lost more than 100 billion ringgit ($24.61 billion) this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A restaurant area in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. (Photo by Makoto Okada)

3:07 p.m. Tokyo reports 748 new infections, up from 563 a day earlier and the second-highest total, after 821 last week. The number of patients in serious condition rises by five to 69.

1:50 p.m. India confirms 23,950 new cases in the last 24 hours, a day after recording the nearly six-month low of 19,556, pushing the country's total to about 10.1 million. The death toll rose by 333 to 146,444.

1:01 p.m. Japan and other Asian countries are joining the ban on travel from the U.K. amid fears of a coronavirus variant believed to be more transmissible than other strains.

12:10 p.m. Tokyo Electric Power Company -- operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that melted down in 2011 -- has decided to delay the removal of nuclear debris by about one year from 2021 due to the pandemic, sources say.

11:24 a.m. South Korea will suspend flights from the U.K. until the end of December over fears of a new strain of coronavirus.

10:16 a.m. Australia's most populous state of New South Wales relaxes virus curbs for Christmas following a second straight day of low infection counts, though parts of Sydney remain under lockdown.

10:14 a.m. U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to not sign a $892 billion coronavirus relief bill, saying it should be amended to increase the amount of payout in stimulus checks destined for individuals. The threat from the outgoing president throws into turmoil a bipartisan effort in Congress to provide help for people whose lives have been upended by the pandemic. "The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated," Trump said in a video posted on Twitter. "It really is a disgrace."

9:58 a.m. The Philippines becomes the latest country to ban flights from the U.K. to prevent spread of a coronavirus variant. The restriction will be in effect from Dec. 24 to Dec. 31. All passengers who have been in the U.K within 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines -- including those in transit -- are restricted from entering the Philippines during the period.

9:35 a.m. South Korea reports 1,092 new cases as of Tuesday midnight, the second-highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic. The recent surge has frustrated efforts to contain the virus, prompting the shutdown of ski resorts and winter tourist spots to stop the virus spread during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

South Koreans undergo COVID-19 tests at a center that was temporarily set up in front of a Seoul railway station.   © Reuters

7:55 a.m. At least four drugmakers expect their COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against the new fast-spreading variant and are performing tests that should provide confirmation in a few weeks, reports Reuters.

The chief executive of Germany's BioNTech, which with partner Pfizer, took less than a year to get a vaccine approved, says he expects its messenger RNA vaccine to still work well. Moderna, Germany's CureVac and British drugmaker AstraZeneca also believe their shots will work against the new threat.

5:20 a.m. British drugmaker AstraZeneca says its COVID-19 vaccine should be effective against the new coronavirus variant spreading in the U.K., Reuters reports, citing a company spokesperson.

4:00 a.m. U.S. infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci, one of the faces of America's pandemic response, has taken the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gestures after receiving his first dose of the new Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 22   © Reuters

3:30 a.m. The coronavirus has landed in the last continent previously free from COVID-19: Antarctica.

Chile's military says at least 36 people have been infected at its Bernardo O'Higgins base, including 26 army personnel and 10 civilian contractors conducting maintenance at the base.

Base personnel "are already properly isolated and constantly monitored" by health authorities in Chile's Magallanes region, the army says.

2:10 a.m. Japan's government and ruling coalition want aid for businesses that comply with pandemic-related closures to be enshrined in law, with the possibility of fines for those that ignore the requests, Nikkei has learned.

Japanese law makes no specific provision for such aid when local authorities urge stores and other establishments to close or shorten their hours.

The government looks to clarify its support for such restrictions in order to increase their effectiveness. The move comes after Japan called for a "critical" three-week fight against rising COVID-19 cases, during which the public continued to go out to restaurants and stores.

2:00 a.m. Total U.S. COVID-19 cases have surpassed 18 million, with nearly 320,000 deaths, data gathered by Johns Hopkins University shows.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has no plans to impose COVID-19 screenings for passengers traveling from the U.K. in response to the spread of a highly infections coronavirus variant there, Reuters reports, citing people briefed on the decision.

Tuesday, Dec. 22

11:20 p.m. U.S. life expectancy could fall by two to three years in 2020, which would mark the biggest decline since 1943, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert.

A gain of just 0.1 year in 2019, shown by data out Tuesday, will be reversed when 2020 figures are released next year, the Journal reports.

That said, the decline in longevity will be far less severe than the one in 1918 during the so-called Spanish Flu pandemic, Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality-statistics branch of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, is quoted as saying.

New York City's Empire State Building is seen beyond graves in the Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens.   © Reuters

10:50 p.m. A new vaccine against mutations of the virus causing COVID-19 could be made within six weeks with existing technology, says the CEO of Germany's BioNTech, the co-developer of a coronavirus vaccine.

Ugur Sahin says he believes the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is effective against the new variant spreading the the U.K., the Financial Times reports.

But if that is not the case, "the beauty of the messenger mRNA technology is we can directly start to engineer a vaccine that completely mimics this new mutation and we could manufacture a new vaccine within six weeks," he is quoted as saying.

9:10 p.m. The United Arab Emirates is providing COVID-19 vaccinations free of charge to all citizens and residents.

The UAE approved a vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm earlier this month.

8:10 p.m. China is suspending operations of its Visa Application Service Centre in London from Dec. 22, the Chinese embassy in Britain said on Tuesday.

8:07 p.m. Hungary's government has banned air passenger planes from Britain from landing in Hungary until Feb. 8 to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the government said in a decree published late on Monday in its official gazette.

7:57 p.m. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke about disagreements on fishing which are preventing a post-Brexit trade deal, as well as the latest on coronavirus, during a call on Monday, Reuters reported.

People queue outside the Waitrose and Partners supermarket in London on Dec. 22, amid the coronavirus outbreak.   © Reuters

7:28 p.m. Panasonic announces a COVID-19 outbreak was confirmed at a factory in Slangor, Malaysia. The plant, which makes rice cookers and irons, will be closed until at least Dec. 23. The company screened all 2,137 employees, 116 of whom tested positive for the coronavirus.

7:16 p.m. Indonesia's president announces a sweeping reshuffle of his cabinet, including a replacement for a health minister who has been criticized for his perceived mishandling of the country's coronavirus crisis.

6:57 p.m. The U.K. was stuck in COVID-19 isolation on Tuesday after much of the world cut off travel ties due to a highly infectious new coronavirus strain, including halting one of Europe's most important trade routes between Dover in the U.K. and Calais in France, just days ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline for a post-Brexit trade deal. With queues of trucks building up in the southeastern English county of Kent and supermarket shelves stripped just days before Christmas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrambled to get French President Emmanuel Macron to lift a ban on freight coming from Britain.

A truck waits near the entrance to the Port of Dover on Dec. 22, as EU countries impose a ban on arrivals from the U.K. following a COVID-19 outbreak in the English city.   © Reuters

6:40 p.m. BioNTech and U.S. Drugmaker Pfizer will supply 12.5 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union by the end of the year, the German company says. The 27 EU member states that want shots will receive them within five days, BioNTech's chief business officer, Sean Marett, told a briefing as the companies gear up to deliver the first shots following regulatory approval on Monday.

6:26 p.m. Germany imposes a travel ban for anyone coming from Britain, Northern Ireland and South Africa, which could remain in place until Jan. 6, Reuters reported.

4:40 p.m. Five people arriving in India from Britain have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a government official says, but it was not clear if they had a highly infectious new strain of the virus.

3:35 p.m. Japanese shares plumbed three-week lows as investors took profits from stellar gains over the past couple of months on concerns that a fast-spreading coronavirus strain found in Britain could disrupt a swift global economic recovery. The Nikkei average fell 1.04%, the biggest drop in about a month, to 26,436.39 -- its lowest close since late November.

3:06 p.m. Tokyo reports 563 new infections, up from 392 a day earlier, with the number of patients in serious condition rising by one to 63.

2:40 p.m. Taiwan records its first locally transmitted COVID-19 case for more than 250 days after a woman was infected after coming into contact with a pilot from New Zealand. The woman, an employee of a unit of a subsidiary of MacBook maker Quanta Computer, had been in touch with 167 people over the past two weeks. The government is testing those she came into contact with, and has demanded that 13 of them quarantine at home.

2:00 p.m. Thailand confirms 427 new infections, up from 382 a day earlier, most linked to a seafood center in a province near the capital, Bangkok. The new cases include 397 migrant workers in the province, Samut Sakhon, where Thailand's worst outbreak yet was confirmed last weekend.

Migrant workers outside a shrimp market closed by a coronavirus outbreak in Thailand's Samut Sakhon Province on Sunday.   © Reuters

1:50 p.m. The U.S. Senate on Monday passes an $892 billion coronavirus aid package, throwing a lifeline to the nation's pandemic-battered economy and also funding federal government activities through September 2021. The House of Representatives passed the measure earlier in the day. It now heads to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

1:45 p.m. India reports 19,556 new cases in the last 24 hours, the lowest daily count since early July, bringing the national total to 10.07 million. The death toll jumps by 301 to 146,111.

12:00 p.m. Malaysia has signed a deal to procure 6.4 million doses of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says. The government is also in final negotiations with China-based manufacturers Sinovac and CanSino as well as Russia's Gamaleya Institute to procure their vaccines. Malaysia expects to buy enough supplies to cover more than 80% of its population, he said.

Malaysia has already secured 12.8 million doses from its deal with Pfizer-BioNTech signed last month, as well as from its participation in the global COVAX facility, backed by the World Health Organization.

Malaysia will procure 6.4 million doses of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine and also is in final negotiations to get Chinese and Russian vaccines.   © Reuters

11:27 a.m. A woman has contracted bird flu from a poultry market in Hunan Province, state media Xinhua reported on Monday night. She was diagnosed with H5N6 avian influenza on Saturday and is in intensive care in a Ningyuan County hospital. All live poultry markets in the county have been shut since Monday, and no human-to-human infection has been reported.

10:00 a.m. Brazilian health regulator Anvisa says it has certified the production standards of CoronaVac, China's Sinovac-produced coronavirus vaccine candidate, which is being tested in Brazil. Sao Paulo state is to announce on Wednesday if CoronaVac has been found to be effective against the virus.

9:58 a.m. South Korea reports 869 daily cases, down from 926 a day ago. Total infections reach 51,460, with 722 deaths. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government will shut down ski resorts from Thursday to stop the outbreak.

9:45 a.m. China records 23 new cases for Monday, up from 17 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 22 were imported. A single local transmission was in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

8:17 a.m. The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech receives approval from the European Commission. Countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy plan to start vaccinations from Sunday as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and Britain, where inoculations began earlier this month.

5:26 a.m. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden receives a COVID-19 vaccination at a hospital in Delaware. He urges Americans to get a shot themselves when they can.

5:10 a.m. Delta Air Lines says it will require pre-departure COVID tests for passengers flying from the U.K. to New York, Reuters reports.

4:00 a.m. The World Health Organization cautions against major alarm over a new, highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain, saying this was a normal part of a pandemic's evolution. Officials say vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 should handle the new variants as well, although checks were underway to ensure this was the case.

3:55 a.m. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says $600 checks to Americans will be going out in the mail starting next week as part of a new round of relief for the coronavirus-bound economy. The reaction to Mnuchin's Twitter post thanking President Donald Trump and congressional leaders was markedly negative, with some saying it was too little, too late for struggling small business owners or the unemployed. One Twitter user quips: "$600 is what 70-year-olds remember being a lot of money in the 1960's."

3:29 a.m. The Japanese health ministry's expert board on Monday postponed a decision on whether to approve Fujifilm Holdings' Avigan for coronavirus treatment, opting to examine more evidence to determine its efficacy. "This is not a rejection of Avigan's effectiveness," a ministry representative said. The board will continue with its deliberations once additional clinical trial results come out, with a decision now expected no earlier than January. Fujifilm called the ministry's decision extremely regrettable.

The company has sought approval for Avigan, originally developed for the flu by unit Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, as a coronavirus treatment since October. The drug led to faster recovery times among patients with "non-severe" pneumonia as a complication of COVID-19, according to clinical trial results from the company

Children line up for lessons in Indonesia's Lebak: Young people may be more susceptible to a new COVID-19 variant seen in the U.K. than to other strains, British scientists say.   © Reuters

3:00 a.m. Children may be more susceptible to a new variant of the coronavirus spreading in the U.K. than to earlier strains, scientists say. "There is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children," said Neil Ferguson, a professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London, is quoted as saying by Reuters. Overall, computer models suggests that the new variant is 70% more transmissible than other novel coronavirus strains spreading in the U.K., the Financial Times reports.

"Scientists say two aspects of B.1.1.7 give cause for concern. One is the unprecedented number of mutations it carries. The other is the speed with which it is supplanting other strains of the Sars-Cov-2 virus in south-east England."

2:43 a.m. Japanese bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group will extend $520 million in government-backed loans to assist African nations in combating the COVID-19 epidemic. The government's Nippon Export and Investment Insurance will guarantee 90% of the loans, which will be distributed to eight countries, including Egypt, Ghana and South Africa. The money will be used to purchase medicine, medical equipment and food.

Rome's Trevi Fountain: Italy and other European countries are preparing for Christmas under coronavirus restrictions.   © Reuters

12:26 a.m. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has criticized the U.S. federal government for not doing enough to prevent a coronavirus variant from entering the country, as Asian governments start to bar travel from the U.K. after Boris Johnson's government said a coronavirus variant was out of control in parts of the country.

"One hundred twenty countries demand that before you get on a flight in the U.K. to come to their country, you have to have tested negative," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a call to reporters on Sunday. "The United States does not require it."

Monday, Dec. 21

11:30 p.m. The U.K. is not alone in reporting a new coronavirus variant.

At least five countries and airlines, including Germany and Turkey, are said to have banned flights from South Africa on Monday over concerns about about a mutation of the virus observed there, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, India has taken similar action to Hong Kong in barring travelers from the U.K.


10:00 p.m. Cooperation among democratic countries that share values of diversity and tolerance is essential for tackling the economic and social problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Asian political leaders stressed at an international conference on Monday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed establishing a library of traditional Buddhist literature in India by gathering digital copies of documents found in monasteries around the world to serve as a "platform for research and dialogue."

Speaking at the Shared Values and Democracy in Asia symposium, organized by Nikkei and co-organized by New Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga outlined the role Japan has been playing in Asia to promote democracy. He said this comes with a desire to "cherish and respect diversity and tolerance," based on the region's traditional beliefs.

9:00 p.m. Myanmar has closed public gardens, parks and a lake in its biggest city, Yangon, in an attempt to avoid a coronavirus spike during the year-end holidays, Reuters reports. Officials are concerned that pandemic fatigue could lead to big crowds at these sites. Myanmar has recorded more than 116,000 infections and 2,443 deaths as of Monday, though the daily numbers have been trending downward.

6:30 p.m. Britain's AstraZeneca and Russia's Gamaleya Institute, which developed the Sputnik V vaccine, will sign a memorandum of intent on cooperation on Monday, the Kremlin says. Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund said this month AstraZeneca would start clinical trials to test a combination of its experimental vaccine with the Sputnik V shot to see if this can boost the efficacy of the British drugmaker's vaccine.

6:00 p.m. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urges the capital's 14 million residents to stay home during the upcoming holiday season to prevent further spread of infections. "I would like people to prioritize life above everything else during the year-end and New Year," Koike said at a news conference. "I do hope families will stay home during the holiday season."

4:45 p.m. Hong Kong says it will bar anyone who has spent at least two hours in the U.K. in the past two weeks from boarding a flight to the city due to the outbreak of a new, more virulent strain of the coronavirus. Permanent residents of the city will be included, marking the first time they have been restricted from inbound travel since the outbreak began. Travelers from the U.K. who have arrived in Hong Kong over the past two weeks will have to spend a third week in quarantine. The new rules start from midnight.

Hong Kong will also extend social distancing restrictions, which compel restaurants to close at 6 p.m. and which have shuttered gyms, bars and many other businesses until Jan. 6.

2:15 p.m. South Korea's capital Seoul and surrounding areas will ban most gatherings of five people or more later this week in an attempt to reduce coronavirus cases over the Christmas and New Year holidays, officials say. On Monday, South Korea recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus, as a surge in infections strains the health system and prompts police raids on venues suspected of violating social distancing rules.

With Christmas and New Year's approaching, South Korea is battling a surge of infections that is straining its health care system.   © Reuters

1:50 p.m. Thailand confirms 382 new coronavirus infections, with the majority of cases linked to an outbreak at a seafood center in a province near the capital. The new cases include 360 migrant workers in the southwestern province of Samut Sakhon, where Thailand's worst outbreak so far emerged over the weekend.

12:20 p.m. U.S. congressional leaders say they have reached an agreement on a $900 billion package to provide the first new aid in months to an economy hammered by the pandemic, with votes likely on Monday.

10:30 a.m. Japan's cabinet approves the country's largest-ever annual draft budget, 106.61 trillion yen ($1.03 trillion) for fiscal 2021. As the coronavirus crisis deepens, 5 trillion yen will be set aside for future responses.

10:09 a.m. South Korea reports 925 daily cases, down from 1,097 a day ago. Total infections reach 50,591 with 698 deaths. The government is under pressure to start vaccinations as soon as possible, but the country lags in securing vaccine doses. Health authorities say AstraZeneca's vaccine could arrive in February, raising worries about the intervening winter months.

9:15 a.m. China records 23 new cases for Sunday, unchanged from a day earlier. Of the new cases, 21 were imported. The two local transmissions were in the northeastern provinces of Liaoning and Heilongjiang.

8:10 a.m. Europe's medicines regulator on Monday will assess the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with a green light to put Europe on course to start inoculations within a week. Germany, Austria, Italy and other EU countries have said they plan to start vaccinations on Sunday. If the European Medicines Agency grants clearance, the final hurdle is approval by the European Commission, which is expected on Wednesday.

7:00 a.m. Clinical trials of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in Japan will start "as early as in January," a Takeda Pharmaceutical executive says. Rajeev Venkayya, who is in charge of the Japanese drugmaker's global vaccine business unit, tells Nikkei in an interview that Takeda expects about 200 enrollees for the trials in Japan. Takeda and Japan's health ministry in October agreed with Moderna on a deal to supply 50 million doses of the vaccine to Japan beginning in the first half of 2021.

5:00 a.m. Britain's European neighbors begin closing their doors to travelers from the U.K. amid alarm about a rapidly spreading strain of the virus. France says it will bar all entries from the U.K. for 48 hours from Sunday night, including freight carriers, whether by road, air, sea or rail. Germany, Italy and the Netherlands order suspensions of flights from Britain, while Ireland says it will impose restrictions on flights and ferries.

4:40 a.m. The chief science adviser for the U.S. government's vaccine distribution effort says nearly 8 million doses of coronavirus vaccine will be shipped Monday.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that 5.9 million doses of a vaccine made by Moderna and 2 million of a vaccine made by Pfizer will be shipped.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Washington on Dec. 18.    © Reuters

Sunday, Dec. 20

5:39 p.m. South Australia state imposed a 14-day quarantine for Sydney arrivals on Sunday and banned travelers from affected suburbs as a coronavirus cluster in the city grew to around 70.

1:24 p.m. Thailand confirmed 576 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, including 516 migrant worker cases announced the day before, according to a Health Ministry statement. Thailand plans to test more than 10,000 people, most of whom were among migrant workers linked to a shrimp market near the capital where the outbreak appeared.

1:14 p.m. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 22,771 to 1,494,009, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday. The reported death toll rose by 409 to 26,049, the tally showed.

12:24 p.m. Moderna Inc said on Saturday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend the use of the company's COVID-19 vaccine on people 18 years of age and older. The panel voted 11-0 in favor of the vaccine and 0 members voted against, the company said in a press release.

9:31 a.m. South Korea reports 1,097 new coronavirus cases, a new daily record for the country. The prison in southeastern Seoul had 188 inmates and staff infected, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, bringing the total number of infections linked to the facility to 215.

6:33 a.m. Apple has temporarily shut all of its 53 stores in California amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, a spokesman says, expanding previously announced closures.

2:22 a.m. The U.K. prepares to enter a new lockdown phase after the prime minister and health officials say a new strain of coronavirus identified in the country is up to 70% more infectious but not thought to be more deadly and vaccines should still be effective.

"There's no evidence that it causes more severe illness or higher mortality, but it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily," Prime Minister Boris Johnson tells a news conference to announce tougher lockdown restrictions for millions of people.

12:07 a.m. Malaysia secures the AstraZeneca vaccine, on the heels of news it will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in February, as it grapples with a surge in infections. The AstraZeneca deal, to be signed on Monday, will allow immunization of about 20% of Malaysia's population of 32 million, similar to that of the deal with U.S. giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, says Health Minister Adham Baba. The Southeast Asian nation has seen a spike in cases since September, with nearly 92,000 cases of the new coronavirus and 433 COVID-19 deaths.

Saturday, Dec. 19

10:20 p.m. Switzerland's drugs regulator authorizes the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech, calling it the world's first such approval under a standard procedure. Two months after receiving the application, Swissmedic approved the vaccine for people aged 16 and older after a rolling review of documents being submitted.

7:46 p.m. The Sydney to Hobart yacht race, scheduled to take place from Dec. 26-31, has been canceled following an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Sydney, race organizers said on Saturday. Australian states and territories on Friday began imposing border restrictions after 28 cases of the virus were detected from a cluster on Sydney's northern beaches. Tasmania, where the race finishes, on Saturday announced that anyone from the area, where many of the competitors are based, would be forced to undergo 14 days of quarantine upon arrival in the state.

3:22 p.m. South Korea orders hospitals to secure beds for critical COVID-19 patients as a third wave surge of infections raised concerns about a shortage of beds in a country that has kept fatalities low so far.

South Korea has recorded 659 COVID-19 deaths out of 48,570 infections, a comparatively low mortality rate attributed to aggressive tracing and testing, which minimized the strain on hospitals, allowing them to focus on seriously ill patients. The mitigation efforts made the country a global success story when many nations saw soaring infections, prompting wide lockdowns.

But the recent surge -- stemming from widespread clusters across the country rather than the large, isolated outbreaks of the first two waves -- has caused a severe shortage of hospital beds. The health ministry's Central Disaster Management Headquarters on Friday ordered major general hospitals and national university hospitals to secure 1% of its licensed beds as dedicated beds for serious COVID patients, Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday, citing hospitals and regional governments.

To catch up on earlier developments, see last week's latest updates.

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