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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Feb. 20 to Feb. 26, Hong Kong to let infected children avoid hospitalization

China detects 100 imported cases from Hong Kong; Japan's Shionogi files for oral drug approval

A girl cries as she receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a community vaccination center in Hong Kong on Feb. 25.    © Reuters

Nikkei Asia is tracking the spread of the coronavirus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Cumulative global cases have reached 432,954,363, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,937,132.

For more information about the spread of COVID-19 and vaccination progress around the world, please see our interactive charts and maps.

-- Global coronavirus tracker charts

-- Status of vaccinations around the world

UPDATES CLOSED

Saturday, Feb. 26 (Tokyo time)

12:54 p.m. Hong Kong authorities says they will allow some children who have tested positive for COVID-19 to remain at home, rather than being separated from their parents and hospitalized, after a public outcry from families across the city, according to Reuters. 

Friday, Feb. 25

2:00 p.m. China reports its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases arriving from outside the mainland in nearly two years, with infections mostly from Hong Kong as the financial hub grapples with a wave of infections. China detected 142 imported cases with confirmed symptoms for Thursday, marking the highest imported caseload since the authority began classifying domestically transmitted cases and infected travelers from outside the mainland separately in March 2020. More than 100 imported cases came from Hong Kong, with 47 reported in the southern city of Shenzhen and 51 in the eastern municipality of Shanghai.

12:52 p.m. Japanese drugmaker Shionogi has filed for emergency use approval for its COVID pill, paving the way for Japan's first domestically developed oral COVID treatment. The drug, code-named S-217622, prevents the coronavirus from replicating in infected cells by inhibiting its protease, an enzyme for protein production. The drug has been in the clinical trial stage since July.

11:00 a.m. South Korea reports 165,890 new coronavirus cases for Thursday, down by 4,126 a day earlier, but still about 50% more than the daily tally a week earlier, according to the Yonhap news agency. The number of seriously ill patents rose 74 to 655, topping the 600 mark for the first time in 40 days.

As protests against pandemic restrictions continue in Ottawa, police try to restore normality to the Canadian capital on Feb. 19.   © Reuters

4:09 a.m. Medicago's vaccine becomes the world's first plant-based shot approved against COVID-19 after Health Canada clears it for use in adults. The two-dose vaccine, which uses an adjuvant -- a chemical that boosts the body's immune response -- from GlaxoSmithKline, is the sixth COVID-19 shot to receive regulatory clearance in Canada. The Quebec-based privately held company has an agreement to supply up to 76 million doses of the vaccine to the Canadian government. The homegrown vaccine, branded Covifenz, is based on a technology that uses plants in its development process to produce noninfectious particles that mimic the virus.

1:30 a.m. The European Union's health regulator backs giving a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to adolescents age 12 and over, as well as expanding use of the Moderna shot in children ages 6 to 11. The recommendations by the European Medicine Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use will be followed by final decisions by the European Commission.

Thursday, Feb. 24

6:12 p.m. Taiwan's economy is forecast to grow 4.42% this year, slowing from an expected 6.45% for 2021, the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics says. The full-year 2021 growth forecast was revised up slightly from a previous estimate of 6.28% announced in January.

3:00 p.m. Thailand reports a record daily increase of 23,557 new coronavirus infections as the country deals with an outbreak driven by the omicron variant. The country also reports 38 new deaths.

A medical worker prepares a Pfizer shot on Jan. 12 in Jakarta as Indonesia started its booster vaccination program for the general public amid the rise of the omicron variant.   © Reuters

12:49 p.m. Indonesia says it is among four Asian countries to obtain approval from the World Health Organization on the transfer of technology for mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines. Following the approval, state-owned vaccine maker Bio Farma will receive technical training on clinical development of the vaccines, industrial-scale production and quality control. The three other countries are Vietnam, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Indonesia is hoping that the technology transfer will help expand access to vaccines for many developing and poor nations.

10:35 a.m. Hong Kong invokes emergency powers to allow mainland Chinese doctors to work in the city without a locally recognized registration as the public health system buckles under the immense pressure of thousands of daily COVID-19 cases. "Hong Kong is now facing a very dire epidemic situation which continues to deteriorate rapidly," the government says in a statement.

10:00 a.m. South Korea's central bank keeps interest rates steady, taking a breather after back-to-back hikes as surging coronavirus cases and escalating tensions in Ukraine cloud the economic outlook. Thursday's rate decision was the last policy review for outgoing Gov. Lee Ju-yeol, who has led the bank's seven-member board to unwind heavy pandemic-era monetary stimulus.

People line up for COVID tests on Feb. 23 in Hong Kong, which will require residents to show their vaccine record to access venues including supermarkets, malls and restaurants.   © Reuters

9:40 a.m. Hong Kong rolls out a vaccine passport that requires people age 12 and above to have at least one COVID-19 vaccination and also tightened restrictions in a city that already has some of the most stringent rules in the world. Residents will have to show their vaccine record to access venues including supermarkets, malls and restaurants. On Wednesday, Hong Kong reported a record 8,674 new infections as the global financial hub prepares for compulsory testing of its 7.4 million people.

5:50 a.m. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. fell to about 84,000 on Tuesday, a tenth of the peak in late January and down 40% from a week earlier, according to Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations have fallen 70% from late January, and deaths are trending lower as well.

People wearing masks pose for a photo at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, New York.    © Reuters

12:34 a.m. French drugmaker Sanofi and British partner GlaxoSmithKline are seeking regulatory approval for their COVID-19 vaccine candidate to be used as a booster, as well as a stand-alone two-dose shot. Sanofi looks to produce the protein-based vaccine in France, Italy and the U.S. Early data from the late-stage trial of the candidate as a stand-alone two-dose shot showed it was 100% effective against severe COVID-19 and hospitalization, with 75% efficacy against moderate or severe disease.

12:32 a.m. Bavaria will block the production of Russia's Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine even if it is approved by the European Medicines Agency, the premier of the German state says, calling Moscow's latest actions against Ukraine "an unacceptable breach of international law."

No contracts have been signed to make the vaccine in Germany, but the Russian company R-Pharm set up a production site in Bavaria that was expected to help produce up to 10 million doses monthly.

12:27 a.m. The World Health Organization has created a hub in South Korea to provide workforce training for low- and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines and therapies. The U.N. agency set up a similar technology transfer hub in South Africa last year to give companies from poor and middle-income countries the know-how to produce COVID-19 vaccines based on mRNA technology.

Hong Kong is facing the toughest social restrictions since the pandemic began as daily infections hit a new record on Feb. 23.   © Reuters

Wednesday, Feb. 23

9:24 p.m. Hong Kong tightens measures by limiting the number of diners per table to two and mandating masks for those exercising outdoors, including hiking and jogging. The restrictions will come into effect Thursday, the same day when vaccination proof will be required to enter venues such as shopping malls, restaurants and grocery stores.

Legislator Alice Mak and IT Undersecretary David Chung have both also tested positive for COVID. Health officials note that the mortality rate for the current wave is 0.3%, much lower than the 2.2% in the fourth wave.

5:37 p.m. Hong Kong reports a record 8,674 new COVID-19 infections as the city prepares for compulsory testing of its residents after authorities extended the toughest social restrictions imposed since the pandemic began. Health authorities reports 24 deaths compared with Tuesday's 32.

11:05 a.m. South Korea's new daily cases hit a record high, surging to 171,452 from 99,569 a day ago. Total infections reach 2.33 million. The country's daily deaths also jumped to 99, the fourth-largest figure so far, raising the total death toll to 7,607. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 as infections are increasing sharply in that age group.

12:20 a.m. Japan reports a record daily death toll from COVID-19, surpassing 300 for the first time. The health ministry confirmed 322 deaths on Tuesday. The number of patients in serious condition reached 1,504, topping 1,500 for the first time since September last year.

Tuesday, Feb. 22

9:05 p.m. Hong Kong will enforce citywide coronavirus testing without resorting to a lockdown, Chief Executive Carrie Lam says after Beijing ordered city officials to contain the latest outbreak.

All 7.4 million residents will be required to take three nucleic acid tests over three weeks in March.

"We must detect early and quarantine early to cut the transmission chain," Lam says.

5:49 p.m. Hong Kong reports 6,211 new COVID-19 infections, and another 9,369 positive cases from preliminary tests as the city battles to curb a coronavirus outbreak that has overwhelmed health care facilities in the global financial hub.

3:30 p.m. South Korean health authorities say that people infected with the omicron variant are about 75% less likely to develop a serious illness or die than those who contract the delta variant. A study by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency of 67,200 infections since December shows that omicron's severity and death rates averaged 0.38% and 0.18%, respectively, compared with 1.4% and 0.7% for delta. The KDCA classified severe cases as people who were hospitalized in intensive care units.

2:30 p.m. India's daily cases continue to slide with the country logging 13,405 infections in the last 24 hours -- the lowest single-day count since late December -- bringing the country total to 42.85 million. Fatalities rose 235 to 512,344.

11:50 p.m. Canada's parliament backs Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to invoke rarely used emergency powers to end pandemic-related protests that have blocked streets in the capital Ottawa for more than three weeks. The Emergencies Act was approved in parliament by 185 to 151, with the minority Liberal government getting support from left-leaning New Democrats. The special measures, announced by Trudeau a week ago, have been deemed unnecessary and an abuse of power by some opposition politicians.

11:00 a.m. Hong Kong says it has found COVID-19 on packages of frozen beef from Brazil and frozen pork skin from Poland, and vows to step up inspections of imported food. The city is pursuing a "dynamic zero COVID" strategy similar to mainland China's, aiming to eradicate outbreaks at all costs. Daily infections have risen sharply this year, reaching a record 7,533 on Monday.

An elderly person receives a third COVID jap at a facility in Yokohama, Japan.   © Kyodo

9:30 a.m. Japan reports a record number of COVID clusters at elder care facilities, while the total number of cases in the country has been on a steady decline since peaking in early February. For the week through Feb. 13, 455 clusters were reported to the health ministry -- a record high and nearly nine times more than a month earlier. Experts say the low rate of older people receiving booster shots is an underlying problem, with only 36% of people aged 65 years or older having had a booster.

1:50 a.m. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will end all coronavirus restrictions in England. The legal requirement to self-isolate for people who test positive for COVID will be removed Thursday, while free universal testing ends April 1.

"Restrictions pose a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental well-being and on the life chances of our children, and we do not need to pay that cost any longer," Johnson tells Parliament. "So let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves and others without restricting our freedoms."

A pedestrian in London on Feb. 20, as the spread of COVID-19 continues.   © Reuters

Monday, Feb. 21

5:40 p.m. Hong Kong will officially roll out its "vaccine pass" scheme on Thursday, with the city reeling from a worsening fifth wave of infections. At least one jab will be required to enter most indoor premises. Residents will have to show their ID card and proof of vaccination to go into restaurants. Although presenting documentation won't be required for access to shopping malls, street markets or supermarkets -- where the vaccine pass also applies -- law enforcement officers may conduct spot checks. Hong Kong reports a record 7,533 new cases on Monday, after the Center for Health Protection's controller, Edwin Tsui, said the day before that the government might further tighten social distancing rules if the situation continues to worsen.

4:36 p.m. Britain's Synairgen said its inhalable therapy failed an international late-stage trial testing the drug in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, dealing a blow to the development of the drugmaker's key product.

4:00 p.m. India reports 16,051 new coronavirus infections, pushing the country's cumulative total to 42.84 million cases. Deaths rose by 206 to 512,109.

2:13 p.m. New Zealand will lift COVID-19 vaccine mandates and social distancing measures after the omicron peak has passed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says. As protesters occupying the parliament grounds again clashed with police, Arden said: "We all want to go back to the way life was, and we will. ... But when that happens, it will be because easing restrictions won't compromise the lives of thousands of people -- not because you demanded it." The peak is expected in mid- to late March.

A medical worker in blue assists people as they wait for coronavirus tests in Seoul on Feb. 20.   © AP

12:00 p.m. South Korea's number of seriously ill COVID patients rose 41 to 480 on Sunday, the highest level in a month, according to Yonhap news. Daily cases fell below 100,000 for the first time in four days, due partly to fewer tests over the weekend. But the daily tally was still 70% higher than a week ago.

10:38 a.m. Thailand's economy expanded 1.6% overall in 2021 as a strong recovery in exports helped Southeast Asia's second-largest economy. The turnaround followed a 6.2% contraction in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, but was too weak to push the economy back to 2019 levels.

8:58 a.m. Australia fully reopens its borders to vaccinated travelers. The country had barred travelers for nearly two years. More than 50 international flights will reach Australia through the day, including 27 touching down at Sydney, according to Reuters.

As Australia opens up to overseas visitors, more than 50 international flights are scheduled to arrive in the country on Feb. 21.   © AP

6:40 a.m. U.S. average daily cases and hospitalizations continue to fall, as infections on Saturday barely topped 100,000 -- a sharp downturn from about 800,850 on Jan. 16, according to Johns Hopkins University data. In New York, the number of cases plummeted more than 50% over the last two weeks.

Sunday, Feb. 20

11:30 p.m. Israel will allow entry to all tourists, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, beginning March 1, the prime minister's office says. Entry into Israel still will require two PCR tests, one before flying in and one upon landing in Israel. Currently, foreigners are allowed into Israel only if vaccinated.

10:07 p.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wishes Queen Elizabeth a quick recovery from COVID-19. "I'm sure I speak for everyone in wishing Her Majesty The Queen a swift recovery from COVID and a rapid return to vibrant good health," Johnson says on Twitter.

8:45 p.m. Queen Elizabeth tests positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms, Buckingham Palace says. The palace says the queen will continue with "light" duties at Windsor Castle over the coming week.

"She will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines," the palace says.

5:48 p.m. Hong Kong health authorities report 6,067 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths, after posting 6,063 confirmed cases on Saturday as the city battles to contain an outbreak of coronavirus that has overwhelmed its health care system.

1:17 a.m. U.S. health regulators are looking at authorizing a potential fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the fall, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. The Food and Drug Administration has been reviewing data to authorize a second booster dose of the messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer and vaccines from Moderna, the report adds.

Saturday, Feb. 19

11:59 p.m. Moderna will soon start a clinical trail for a next-generation booster that is effective against both the delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus, with the aim of delivering the shot this fall, the company's chief medical officer, Paul Burton, tells Nikkei. The vaccine developer is also planning to offer a shot that offers protection against both the seasonal flu and the coronavirus in 2023 as it sees COVID-19 as an endemic that humanity will have to grapple with for years to come.

11:45 p.m. Canadian police use pepper spray and stun grenades in a final push to clear the capital of trucks and demonstrators who have occupied the downtown core of Ottawa for more than three weeks to protest against pandemic restrictions. After clearing a portion of the blockade and making more than 100 arrests on Friday, 47 more arrests are made this morning as police move quickly to disperse the main portion of the blockade in front of parliament and the prime minister's office.

6:20 p.m. China is giving booster vaccines using technologies different from the initial injections, in an effort to improve immunization strategies amid concerns that its most-used jabs appeared to be weaker against variants such as omicron. Adults injected with a vaccine developed by Sinopharm or Sinovac at least six months earlier can now receive booster doses with a vaccines using different technologies, produced by CanSino Biologics or a unit of Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products, National Health Commission official Wu Liangyou says. Around one-third of China's 1.4 billion people had received boosters using vaccines of the same technologies as their primary doses as of Feb. 7.

5:45 p.m. Hong Kong health authorities report 6,063 new COVID-19 cases and 15 new deaths. To combat an outbreak of the virus raging across the city, Chief Executive Carrie Lam says the government will build 10,000 isolation units in two new community facilities, with the help of the mainland. Meanwhile, 114 Chinese medical personnel arrive in Hong Kong, the second batch of health workers sent from the mainland, Reuters reports.

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

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