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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Feb. 28 to March 6, Dalai Lama gets vaccinated in India

Disneyland can reopen in California April 1; WHO report on COVID origins due out mid-March

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Zonal Hospital in Dharamshala, India, on March 6. (Office of the his holiness the Dalai Lama via AP)   © Office of the his holiness the Dalai Lama via AP

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

Global cases have reached 116,023,244, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 2,578,785.

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

-- Global coronavirus tracker charts

-- Status of vaccinations around the world

-- World map of spreading mutated strains

-- Coronavirus mutations can be classified into 12 types

-- Distribution, duration, safety: challenges emerge in vaccine race

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UPDATES CLOSED

Saturday, March 6 (Tokyo time)

3:23 p.m. The Dalai Lama has received a Covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in Dharamshala, a city in India's north where he resides. In a video message after taking the jab, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader says his trusted friends, including doctors, suggested that he get vaccinated as a preventive measure. "More people should have [the] courage to take this injection."

3:10 p.m. Tokyo confirms 293 new infections, down from 301 a day earlier. The seven-day average for daily cases in the capital edged down to 267 from 269 a week ago, but the pace of decline has slowed. The Japanese government has decided to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures until March 21.

California will allow Disneyland and other theme parks to open in limited capacities starting April 1. Theme parks have been closed for nearly a year due to the pandemic.   © AP

12:30 p.m. California health officials have set new ground rules that would allow Walt Disney's Disneyland and other theme parks to reopen on a restricted basis as early as April 1, after being closed for nearly a year due to the pandemic. Theme parks and amusement parks would be permitted to resume operations at a severely limited capacity as long as the counties where they are located move out of the most restrictive "purple" tier of California's color-coded system of public health constraints by then.

12:00 p.m. The findings of a WHO-led mission to Wuhan, China, to investigate the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19 are expected in mid-March, the World Health Organization says. "The current timing is the week of 14th-15th March," Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the mission, told a Geneva news briefing. WHO officials had earlier said that the mission might issue a summary report before its full findings were ready. This is no longer planned.

10:30 a.m. China reports 10 new cases for Friday, compared with nine cases a day earlier. All of the new cases originated from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 23 from 12 cases a day earlier.

4:54 a.m. The World Health Organization warns countries against relaxing efforts to combat the pandemic as vaccines arrive, citing the spread of a more contagious variant in Brazil.

"Now is not the time for Brazil or anywhere else for that matter to be relaxing," says Mike Ryan, the WHO's top emergency expert.

"Countries are going to lurch back into third and fourth surges if we're not careful," he says.

A man receives a Sinovac COVID vaccine in Brazil's Amazonas state.   © Reuters

2:42 a.m. Mexico will begin administering Chinese drugmaker Sinovac's vaccine this weekend, according to Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard. Three other vaccines have already been approved for use in the country.

12:55 a.m. Canada's drug regulator approves the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine, the fourth to be given the green light in the country. Canada has pre-ordered 10 million doses of the J&J vaccine, with the option to buy 28 million more.

"With millions of doses already secured, we're one step closer to defeating this virus," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter.

Friday, March 5

11:30 p.m. Is China vaccinating its population fast enough? No, experts say. At the end of February the country had administered 52 million doses, but that pace is "of great concern," according to an infectious disease specialist.

10:03 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announces that the COVID state of emergency will be extended for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures for two week though March 21.

"We need two weeks to contain the spread of the infections and to carefully watch the situation," Suga explained to reporters, identifying hospital bed occupancy as an area of continued concern.

7:04 p.m. A panel of experts that advises Austria's government on vaccines has recommended that AstraZeneca's coronavirus jab be given to people aged over 65, Austrian news agency APA said. The panel recommended in January that the vaccine only be given to people aged 18 to 64.

6:31 p.m. The Philippines has recorded 52 more cases of a highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, the health ministry said. The Philippines first reported six cases of the variant on Tuesday.

Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical is seeking regulatory approval to add the Moderna jab to the country's COVID-19 vaccination mix.   © Reuters

6:15 p.m. Takeda Pharmaceutical, a Japanese multinational, said it had asked Japanese regulators to approve the use of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, which would add a third option to the country's vaccination program. Takeda, which is handling the Japanese approval process and imports of about 50 million Moderna doses, had earlier said approval could be given in May.

5:40 p.m. Malaysia has found two cases of a coronavirus variant thought to be more contagious and resistant to antibodies, Reuters reports, citing the country's top health official. The variant, known as B.1.525, was found in two people who had traveled from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah says.

Referring to a mutation detected in analysis of their tests, Noor says, "The E484K protein spike mutation is of high concern as this mutation has been reported to evade the immune system." Authorities in the U.K. and elsewhere have said E484K could potentially reduce vaccine effectiveness.

5:30 p.m. The Philippines reports 3,045 cases, the highest single-day tally in five months, bringing the country total to 587,704 with 12,423 deaths.

5:00 p.m. Sinovac Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine may not trigger sufficient antibody responses against a new variant identified in Brazil, a small-sample lab study shows. The emergence of variants has raised concern that vaccines and treatments that were developed based on previous strains may not work as robustly. Plasma samples taken from eight people vaccinated with Sinovac's CoronaVac failed to efficiently neutralize the P.1 lineage variant, researchers said in a paper published on Monday ahead of peer-review.

3:20 p.m. Tokyo reports 301 cases, up from 279 a day earlier. The seven-day average for daily cases, which the metropolitan government is closing monitoring, rose to 273 from 267 a week ago.

People wait to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Mumbai on March 1.   © Reuters

2:40 p.m. India vaccinated over a million people in a single day for the first time on Thursday since starting its inoculation drive on Jan. 16. This brings the number of vaccinations across the country to over 18 million. Meanwhile, the country reports 16,838 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 17,407 on Thursday morning, pushing the country's total to 11.17 million. Fatalities jumped by 113 to 157,548.

2:30 p.m. Vietnam says it will launch its vaccination campaign on Monday. The country received 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month. Inoculations will initially be conducted in 18 hospitals treating coronavirus patients and in highly infected areas.

1:08 p.m. The Tokyo metropolitan government will set a threshold for lifting the current state of emergency, such as recording fewer than 140 daily cases based on a seven-day average, Nikkei has learned. The average stood at 269 on Thursday, down from 279 a week ago. But the pace of decline has slowed.

12:40 p.m. Australia has asked the European Commission to review a decision by Italy to block a shipment of AstraZeneca's vaccine while stressing the missing doses would not affect Australia's inoculation drive. Italy, with EC support, barred the export of about 250,000 doses after AstraZeneca failed to meet its contractual commitments with the European Union.

11:00 a.m. South Korea reports 398 cases, down from 424 a day ago, bringing the country total to 91,638 with 1,627 deaths. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun asked lawmakers to pass a 19.5 trillion won ($17.3 billion) supplementary budget to help small business owners struggling with the pandemic.

South African police seized hundreds of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine doses and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national in connection with the haul.   © Reuters

10:27 a.m. China sets its economic growth target to over 6% this year, but warns of uncertainties over the global recovery from the pandemic. The country continues to focus on its goal of becoming a developed economy by 2035. According to today's work report, Premier Li Keqiang told the annual session of the National People's Congress that China will embrace its 14th five-year plan through 2025.

9:30 a.m. China reports nine new cases for Thursday, compared with 10 cases a day earlier. All of the new infections originated from abroad. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 12 from 14 cases a day earlier.

9:00 a.m. The Japanese government plans to extend a state of emergency to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures until March 21, two weeks longer than originally scheduled, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura says. Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, which make up 30% of the country's population, sought the extension past the originally scheduled end date of March 7 as new cases, had not fallen enough to meet targets.

6:30 a.m. The U.S. is now vaccinating people at a rate of 2 million doses a day, The New York Times reports, projecting that 90% of the country's population will be vaccinated against the coronavirus by October. The estimate is based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The introduction of a new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson that requires only one dose for immunization and higher storage temperatures, promises to accelerate the trend.

5:00 a.m. South African police have seized hundreds of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines and arrested four suspects in connection with the haul, the Interpol global police co-ordination agency says. Some 400 ampoules -- equal to about 2,400 doses -- containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse near Johannesburg. Three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested. That led to the identification of a network selling counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines in China, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects by Chinese police.

2:30 a.m. The U.S. state of Alabama will end its mask mandate April 9, Gov. Kay Ivey says. Similar moves by Texas and Mississippi to relax coronavirus restrictions were criticized yesterday by President Joe Biden as "Neanderthal thinking."

Singer Dolly Parton receives a vaccination against the coronavirus disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.   © Reuters

The monthlong period until Alabama's deadline leaves ample time for retailers to develop their own policies on masking, Ivey says. Several major retailers - including Kroger, Target and Walgreens - indicated they will leave orders requiring facial coverings in place even as more states drop the requirement.

1:36 a.m. The European Commission and Italy block a shipment of about 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine headed for Australia, sources tell Reuters, saying the drugmaker was not fulfilling its obligations to supply the European Union.

The sources also say the EU plans to extend its vaccine export authorization regime until June. The scheme, which was to expire at the end of the month, has created tensions with countries that rely on vaccines made in the EU.

Thursday, March 4

9:05 p.m. The Philippines receives over 480,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine from the COVAX facility, the Department of Health says. This is the second batch to arrive in the country, which began its immunization program on Monday using 600,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech jabs donated by the Chinese government.

8:30 p.m. Thailand's tourism minister says he will propose a plan for foreigners to quarantine in popular tourist areas, including beach resorts, according to Reuters.

Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says the hotel quarantine plan could start in April or May in the provinces of Phuket, Krabi, Surat Thani, Chonburi and Chiang Mai. "Why these provinces? They are popular among tourists who usually stay for quite a long time, for one to three months," he says.

The quarantines would last two weeks, but if travelers test negative after three days, they would be allowed out of their rooms within the hotel area.

5:50 p.m. Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional says its operating profit fell about 60% last year to 2.9 billion ringgit ($715.34 million) from a year ago as divestment gains fell sharply amid the pandemic.

Profits slumped from a record 7.4 billion ringgit in 2019, with divestment gains falling to 2.7 billion ringgit compared with 9.9 billion ringgit in 2019. The fund says 2021 will continue to be a challenging year, with key sectors such as aviation and tourism not expected to recover until 2023.

4:00 p.m. Britain's medicines regulator says modified versions of authorized COVID-19 vaccines for variants of the coronavirus will be fast-tracked for approvals.

3:10 p.m. Tokyo confirms 279 new infections, down from 316 a day earlier, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tells a parliamentary panel he intends to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo and its three surrounding prefectures for about two weeks beyond Sunday, when the decree was to end. He cited a slower-than-expected pace of decline.

Patients stand after receiving coronavirus vaccine shots in Shanghai in January. China is now ramping up its inoculation drive.   © Reuters

2:25 p.m. India reports 17,407 cases for the past 24 hours, up from 14,989 the previous day and the highest single-day rise in five weeks, pushing total infections over 11.15 million. Fatalities increased by 89, to 157,435. Western Maharashtra and southern Kerala are among the states that continue to report daily infection upsurges.

1:20 p.m. South Korean drugmaker GC Pharma says it has been picked to import and distribute 40 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in South Korea. "We are proud to be partnering with the government and Moderna to support the distribution of crucial vaccines to the South Korean public," GC Pharma President EC Huh says in a statement.

11:40 a.m. After a slow start, China is accelerating its inoculation drive, with expectations to vaccinate 560 million people, 40% of its population, by the end of June, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times reports. Another 330 million will be vaccinated by 2021, which would mean two-thirds of all Chinese will be inoculated ahead of events such as the party's centennial celebrations, the Asia Youth Games in November and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. China had administered about 52.5 million doses as of the beginning of February.

11:30 a.m. Japan's Nikkei stock index falls more than 550 points, or 1.8%, in the morning session over growing concerns about the rise in long-term interest rates in the U.S. The benchmark index dropped below the 29,000 mark at one point.

9:57 a.m. South Korea reports 424 new cases, down from 444 a day ago. Total infections reach 91,240 with 1,619 deaths.

9:30 a.m. China reports 10 new cases for Wednesday, matching the figure from a day earlier. All of the new cases originated from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 14 from 16 cases a day earlier.

The shuttered Majestic Theatre in New York. Broadway theaters are preparing to reopen in April but will likely keep crowds to one-third capacity, or 100 people indoors, and require testing, masks and social distancing.   © Reuters

7:45 a.m. Broadway theaters will start to reopen in April for special events, according to New York officials. Venues could open at one-third capacity, or 100 people indoors, authorities say, with testing, masks and social distancing required.

New York City has begun to relax pandemic restrictions as coronavirus cases fall and the vaccine rollout progresses. Broadway theaters have been closed since last March.

4:30 a.m. U.S. President Joe Biden criticizes the governors of Texas and Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions, calling the moves "neanderthal thinking."

"I think it's a big mistake," Biden says when asked by reporters about the decision Tuesday by the governors to lift their mask mandates and all capacity limits on businesses.

3:17 a.m. Coronavirus safety measures remain essential in the U.S., White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt says, calling on states to maintain such precautions as social distancing and mask-wearing. He urges states such as Texas to reconsider recent decisions to lift mask mandates and allow businesses to open without restrictions.

"Hopefully, the country will continue to rally together on this front," says Slavitt, citing health officials across the country who consider now is not the time to lift the mask mandate.

12:28 a.m. The COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech has an efficacy of 83.5% based on final phase three trials, according to Turkish researchers, compared with the 91% from interim results announced in December. Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine was 100% effective in preventing severe illness that led to hospitalization, researchers said.

Wednesday, March 3

11:40 p.m. The organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics is considering barring spectators from overseas from attending the games in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Nikkei has learned.

10:30 p.m. India's homegrown Covaxin vaccine, developed by Hyderabad-based drugmaker Bharat Biotech in collaboration with state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, has shown an interim efficacy of 81% in preventing COVID-19 in Phase 3 trials.

Covaxin was one of the two vaccines -- the other being Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and locally manufactured by Serum Institute of India -- approved by India's drug regulator on Jan. 3 for emergency use. They made possible the country's massive inoculation drive that began on Jan. 16.

That approval had come without the availability of late-stage efficacy data on Covaxin, raising questions about the effectiveness of the country's first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine.

Indian ministers have gone on social media to say they prefer locally made Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine COVAXIN, pictured here, which had been approved without late-stage efficacy data, over AstraZeneca's.   © Reuters

9:03 p.m. The 63-year-old man who died two days after receiving China's Sinovac jab is believed to have been killed by "serious heart disease" according to an initial autopsy report, the Hong Kong government expert panel on COVID-19 vaccines says. The death has "no direct relation" to the inoculation, the panel added.

8:48 p.m. Bharat Biotech's homegrown vaccine has shown an interim vaccine efficacy of 81% in late-stage clinical trials, the Indian company says.

8:44 p.m. The decision on whether to let overseas spectators attend the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo will be made by the end of March, says Japan's Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa.

8:34 p.m. South Korean authorities are investigating the deaths of two people, both with pre-existing conditions, who died within days of receiving AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.

6:15 p.m. The Hong Kong government's expert panel on COVID-19 vaccines is holding a meeting on Wednesday afternoon to investigate the death of a 63-year-old man two days after he received China's Sinovac jab.

The man, who reportedly had chronic illnesses and suffered shortness of breath, died on Sunday. The Department of Health, however, said in a statement that the "causal relationship with the vaccination could not be ascertained" and further study is required.

Over one-third of the citizens who had booked to take the Sinovac jab did not show up at the vaccination centers on Wednesday after the news came to light on Tuesday night, local media reported.

6:04 p.m. Concerns about China using vaccines to sway other countries are "narrow-minded," a top political advisory body said, apparently dismissing a notion among rival powers that Beijing exploits the fight against COVID-19 to boost its global influence. Guo Weimin, spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said some suspect China is using COVID-19 vaccines to "expand our geopolitical influence." "This idea is extremely narrow-minded", Guo said at a news conference on Wednesday ahead of the opening of the annual meeting of CPPCC on Thursday. China's President Xi Jinping has pledged to make China's vaccines a "global public good."

4:21 p.m. Indian government ministers and officials are taking Prime Minister Narendra Modi's lead, opting for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca shot.

India's health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday. Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.

3:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 316 new cases on Tuesday, up from 232 a day earlier. Its seven-day average has edged down to 277 cases from 294 a week ago.

3:05 p.m. Exxon Mobil says it plans to cut its workforce in Singapore, home to its largest oil refining and petrochemical complex, by about 7% amid "unprecedented market conditions" resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. About 300 positions out of 4,000 jobs will be impacted by the end of 2021, the company said in a statement.

2:14 p.m. India confirms 14,989 cases in the last 24 hours, up from 12,286 the previous day, bringing its total to 11.14 million. Deaths rise by 98 to 157,346.

1:50 p.m. South Korean authorities said they are investigating the deaths of two people after a media report said the pair -- both with preexisting conditions -- died within days of receiving AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.

Taiwan's government expects to receive a total of 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the WHO-backed distribution program COVAX.   © Reuters

12:30 p.m. Taiwan receives its first round of COVID-19 vaccine, produced by AstraZeneca, from the COVAX facility, according to the island's Central News Agency. Although it is unclear how many doses were delivered, Taiwan's government earlier said it would receive 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the global COVAX initiative.

10:19 a.m. Australia's economy expanded at 3.1% in the final quarter of last year, much faster than expected, and all signs are that 2021 has started on a firm footing, helped by massive monetary and fiscal stimulus. Economists in a Reuters poll had forecast a 2.5% rise following an upwardly revised 3.4% gain in the third quarter. Despite the best-ever back-to-back quarters of growth, annual output still shrank 1.1%, underscoring the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic and suggesting that policy support will still be needed for the AU$2 trillion ($1.57 trillion) economy.

9:58 a.m. South Korea's new cases jump to 444 from 344 a day ago. Total infections reach 90,816, with 1,612 deaths.

9:16 a.m. Australia will seek the support of the defense forces in its COVID-19 immunization drive, authorities said on Wednesday, as it looks to ramp up a program that is running behind schedule. The country began mass inoculation for its 25 million people on Feb. 22, with front-line health staffers and senior citizens getting the first shots, but missed its dosage target for the first week by nearly half.

President Joe Biden speaks about efforts to combat COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House on Mar. 2.    © AP

6:00 a.m. U.S. President Joe Biden says America will have enough vaccine doses to cover the entire adult population by the end of May. He had previously said such a threshold would be crossed at the end of July.

5:19 a.m. Saudi Arabia will require COVID vaccinations for those seeking to participate in the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi newspaper Okaz reports. The article cites a circular signed by the health minister that states a vaccine is mandatory and a condition for receiving a permit.

Saudi Arabia restricted the number of pilgrims to around 1,000 last year to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.

3:55 a.m. Turkey records 11,837 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the most since Jan. 7, Health Ministry figures show. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has started to lift weekend lockdowns under what he calls "controlled normalization."

2:37 a.m. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes calls for the World Trade Organization to support a waiver of intellectual property rights aimed at speeding coronavirus vaccine production in poor countries. The business lobby supports a proposal by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that would encourage more licensing agreements.

1:18 a.m. India has plenty of COVID-19 vaccines for the country, the government says, even though it has gifted or sold shots to several nations.

"The central government has adequate stock and will provide the required vaccine doses to the states and union territories," the federal government said in a statement. India makes 60% of all vaccines worldwide.

Merck will help make rival Johnson & Johnson's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine after scrapping development of its own vaccine candidates in January.   © Reuters

Tuesday, March 2

11:42 p.m. Merck will help make rival Johnson & Johnson's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine in a partnership to be announced Tuesday by U.S. President Joe Biden, The Washington Post reports, quoting senior U.S. administration officials.

After scrapping development of its own vaccine candidates in January, Merck last month said it was working on a deal to open its manufacturing capacity to other vaccine makers. The agreement with J&J comes just days after the U.S. authorized its one-dose vaccine and as the company looks to increase production.

11:24 p.m. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is preparing to ask the Japanese government to extend the coronavirus state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area, likely by about two weeks.

The capital region has been under a second state of emergency since Jan. 7 in response to a third wave of infections in Japan. The emergency order is set to expire March 7.

8:58 p.m. Malaysia grants conditional approval for the use of vaccines made by U.K. firm AstraZeneca and China's Sinovac, just days after launching its nationwide COVID-19 inoculation program.

A medical worker receives at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.   © Reuters

8:49 p.m. Japan's health ministry says a woman in her 60s died from a brain hemorrhage three days after receiving a Pfizer coronavirus vaccination, adding there may not be a link between the two. The woman was vaccinated on Friday and is suspected to have suffered the hemorrhage on Monday. It was Japan's first reported death following a vaccination.

8:02 p.m. U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna is planning to file for the Japanese health ministry's approval of its novel coronavirus vaccine as early as Friday, several people familiar with the matter told Kyodo News. The request would be the third such application for regulatory approval in Japan and will be filed with Takeda, Moderna's partner for its vaccine's clinical study and distribution in Japan.

7:00 p.m. Iraq receives its first 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine donated by China as the country is struggling to cope with a new surge of the disease.

6:23 p.m. Thai Airways International says it will downsize its operations significantly by cutting 50% of its workforce and its aircraft in operation from 102 to 86 as part of a rehabilitation plan that it submitted to the bankruptcy court earlier in the day.

5:30 p.m. Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has commissioned a study about issuing COVID-19 vaccination certificates for international travelers, as the country seeks to revive a tourism industry battered by the pandemic. The country has been weighing the idea of "vaccine passports," but no target date has been set while tourism operators have complained about lost revenue.

3:10 p.m. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike cites an expert analysis in saying the pace at which new COVID-19 infections are falling may not be fast enough to lift the state of emergency for the greater metropolitan area as scheduled on Sunday. Tokyo reported 232 new cases on Tuesday, up from 121 a day earlier. Its seven-day average has edged down to 263 cases from 318 a week ago.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says the emergency decree asking restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. might have to stay as new infections fail to fall at a fast enough rate.   © Kyodo

2:30 p.m. Indonesia has detected two cases of the highly infectious U.K. variant, according to the country's COVID-19 task force.

2:13 p.m. India reports 12,286 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 15,510 the previous day, bringing the country total to 11.12 million. Fatalities jumped by 91 to 157,248.

2:00 p.m. COVID-19 variants are increasing in Kobe, officials in the Japanese port city say. The city conducted a random check for variants among people who tested positive for COVID-19 after Jan. 1. Between Feb. 12 and Feb. 18, about 15% of 79 samples indicated a variant. However, the percentage of new variants to total patients has increased to about 50% since Feb. 19.

1:20 p.m. The U.S. must stick to a two-dose strategy for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, U.S. disease official Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post. Fauci said that delaying a second dose to inoculate more Americans creates risks. He warned that shifting to a single-dose strategy could leave people less protected, enable variants to spread, and possibly boost skepticism among Americans already hesitant to get the shots.

Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque injects a health worker with Sinovac Biotech's Coronavac at the Lung Center of the Philippines, Quezon City, Metro Manila, on March 1.   © Reuters

11:50 a.m. The Philippines has documented six cases of the South African coronavirus variant, its health ministry says, raising concern among experts regarding current vaccines' efficacy. Of the six South African variant cases, three were local transmissions and two were among Filipinos returning from overseas. The origin of the other case is still being verified. The Philippines kicked off its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Monday.

10:00 a.m. South Korea confirms 344 new cases, down from 355 a day ago. Total infections reach 90,372 with 1,606 deaths. The government plans to submit an extra budget of 20 trillion won to the National Assembly on Thursday to pay for a fourth round of "disaster subsidies" for small business owners.

9:20 a.m. China reports 11 new cases for Monday, down from 19 a day earlier. All of the new cases reportedly originated overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to six, from 13 a day earlier.

9:10 a.m. The drug hydroxychloroquine, once touted by former U.S. President Donald Trump as a pandemic "game-changer," should not be used to prevent COVID-19 and has no meaningful effect on patients already infected, a World Health Organization expert panel wrote in the BMJ British medical journal. Exploring further research studies of the antiinflammatory's COVID-19 possibilities is "not worthwhile," the panel says.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, received vaccines at some point before their Jan. 20 departure from the White House.   © Reuters

7:00 a.m. Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, quietly received coronavirus vaccinations in January before leaving the White House, a Trump adviser tells multiple news outlets. The revelation comes the day after Trump appeared at the CPAC political conference in Orlando, Florida, where for the first time he encouraged people to go get vaccinated. A number of his supporters have expressed resistance to the vaccine, while President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have tried setting an example by receiving their first doses in public.

6:10 a.m. Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine could be cleared for use in the U.S. as soon as May if regulators authorize it based on data from the company's British trial, which could be completed "in the coming weeks," Chief Executive Stanley Erck says. Talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are ongoing, and the agency may require Novavax to submit data from its U.S. trial, which could take an additional two months to complete, pushing back U.S. clearance to mid-summer, Erck said.

2:10 a.m. The U.S. has begun distributing a single-shot coronavirus vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, with states slated to start administering it to residents starting Tuesday. About 3.9 million doses of the J&J vaccine will be distributed to states, tribes, territories, pharmacies and community health centers, according to a Biden administration official. The country's third vaccine against COVID-19 does not need to be kept frozen or to be followed by a second shot.

2:00 a.m. Apple says all 270 of its U.S. retail stores are open for the first time in almost a year after the pandemic first led it to shut locations. The company has been cautious about reopening stores, using a team that includes medical experts to make its own calls on a county-by-county basis and sometimes shuttering stores again when local rules would otherwise allow them to operate.

1:45 a.m. The number of reported COVID-19 cases rose for the first time in seven weeks in the past week, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reports. Tedros calls the rise "disappointing but not surprising" and urges countries not to let up on other measures to fight the spread of the disease.

12:50 a.m. Poland is considering buying Chinese COVID vaccines amid delays in deliveries from such producers as AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech. Polish President Andrzej Duda and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping discussed the issue, according to state-run news agency PAP. The European Union has yet to grant regulatory approval to China's Sinopharm vaccine.

Monday, March 1

10:22 p.m. More than 1,000 COVID vaccine doses went to waste in Japan due to a freezer malfunction, according to the health ministry. An ultra-cold freezer storing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine failed late Friday night at a medical facility administering shots, says a report sent to the ministry, compromising 1,032 doses.

7:49 p.m. Tokyo has requested that Beijing stops performing anal swab tests for COVID-19 on Japanese citizens as the procedure causes psychological pain, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato says. He adds that the government has yet to receive a response from Beijing that suggests it will change its testing procedures, so Japan will continue to make the request to China.

7:43 p.m. A Chinese state-backed hacking group called APT10, also known as Stone Panda, has in recent weeks targeted the IT systems of two Indian vaccine makers -- Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker -- whose coronavirus shots are being used in the country's immunization campaign, Reuters reports, citing Goldman Sachs-backed cyber intelligence firm Cyfirma.

Rivals China and India have both sold or gifted COVID-19 shots to many countries. India produces more than 60% of all vaccines sold in the world.

A hospital worker receives the first dose of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.   © Reuters

6:30 p.m. China has pledged to deliver 400,000 doses of Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine to Afghanistan in a boost for an immunization campaign that began last week, Reuters reports citing Afghan officials.

The vaccination of members of the security forces has also begun, after receiving India's COVISHIELD and AstraZeneca's vaccine.

Afghan government forces are facing intensified attacks, blamed on Taliban insurgents, since September, when the two sides entered U.S.-brokered peace talks hosted by Qatar. The Taliban has largely denied responsibility for the rash of violence. The militant group has also said it supports the vaccination campaign.

6:18 p.m. To help support its pandemic-hit economy, Indonesia until August has removed a 10% value added tax for sales of houses priced below 2 billion rupiah ($140,351) and will charge only half of such a tax for sales of homes priced between 2 billion and 5 billion rupiah, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati says in a virtual news conference.

6:00 p.m. The European Commission will present a proposal in March on creating an EU-wide digital vaccination passport, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says. "As for the question of what the digital green passport could look like: We will submit a legislative proposal in March," she says in a video conference with German conservative lawmakers.

Staff at a bar and grill in Tokyo prepare to close around 8 p.m., as requested under the state of emergency. The government will decide whether to lift the emergency this week.   © Reuters

3:06 p.m. Tokyo confirms 121 new cases, down from 329 a day earlier, the lowest daily count in four months. Japan lifted the state of emergency on Monday, except for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures -- Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. The government will decide this week whether to end the emergency for the area, which is slated to continue until March 7.

1:20 p.m. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 70, takes the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as India began inoculating people over the age of 60, along with those over 45 with existing health conditions. The country has begun the second round of a massive vaccination drive, which kicked off in January with shots for health care and frontline workers. Modi received his jab of homegrown Covaxin, one of two vaccines that received emergency use approval in January. The other approved vaccine is Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and locally manufactured by Serum Institute of India.

12:00 p.m. South Korean President Moon Jae-in says his country will work with Japan for the success of the Tokyo Olympics, a move that could help the countries recover from pandemic-related problems. Moon also says the games could provide a chance to reopen talks between North Korea and the U.S., as well as spur dialogue between North Korea and Japan, and the two Koreas.

A box of Sinovac Biotech's vaccine is unloaded at Villamor Air Base in the Philippines on Feb. 28.   © Reuters

11:30 a.m. Thailand's COVID-19 vaccination program officially begins, one day after Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and a group of health care workers received injections of a Chinese vaccine. The country has approved two vaccines so far, those from European pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and China's Sinovac Biotech. The latter is only approved for people aged 18-59, which would exclude Prayuth, who turns 67 on March 21.

11:-00 a.m. South Korea confirms 355 cases, barely changed from 356 a day ago, bringing the country total to 90,029 with 1,605 deaths.

10:49 a.m. The Philippines begins its immunization drive using Sinovac vaccines donated by the Chinese government. Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, director of state-run Philippine General Hospital, received the first jab to shore up public confidence in vaccines.

10:00 a.m. The mayor of Auckland says residents should be prioritized for vaccines after New Zealand's biggest city was thrown into its fourth lockdown over the weekend costing millions of dollars a day. The seven-day lockdown affecting nearly 2 million people was prompted by a person who had been infectious for a week but not in isolation.

9:30 a.m. China reports 19 cases for Sunday, up from six a day earlier, with all new cases originating overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 13 from six a day earlier.

8:30 a.m. Initial deliveries of Johnson & Johnson's newly approved vaccine should start on Tuesday, helping to boost vaccination rates across the country, according to administration officials, who urged everyone in the U.S. to get vaccinated as soon as it is their turn.

4:01 a.m. The U.S. has administered over 75 million shots as of Sunday morning and distributed more than 96 million doses nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers cover both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, each of which requires two shots. Nearly 50 million Americans have received at least one shot, while about 25 million have received both.

12:10 a.m. Japan lifts the state of emergency in six prefectures outside the Tokyo region amid improving infection rates. The edict was lifted in Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka a week earlier than the planned end date of March 7, as all had met exit conditions. The four remaining prefectures -- Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama -- will await further signs of improvement.

Students in Kyoto, Japan: The state of emergency was lifted in Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka a week earlier than the planned date of March 7.   © Reuters

Sunday, Feb. 28

7:57 p.m. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has received a coronavirus inoculation developed by China's Sinopharm, the leader says on his official Facebook page Sunday. "Vaccinated," he wrote, with photos of him receiving the shot and a doctor showing the vaccine's packaging.

5:27 p.m. The Philippines receives its first batch of COVID-19 vaccine in a shipment donated by China, a day before the Southeast Asian country is due to roll out its inoculation campaign. President Rodrigo Duterte attends a ceremony for the arrival of the initial 600,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac, delivered by a Chinese military aircraft. The Philippines is due to receive another 25 million doses of CoronaVac in batches this year.

1:48 p.m. Australia receives 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday, more than doubling the amount of all vaccines shipped to the country so far, allowing the government to intensify its immunization drive. Mass vaccinations for Australia's 25 million people began Monday after the arrival of the first batch of more than 142,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

9:30 a.m. The U.S. authorization of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine enables millions more Americans to be inoculated in the coming weeks and sets up the company for additional approvals around the world.

7:42 a.m. Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city, begins a second lockdown. The seven-day lockdown, announced late Saturday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, follows a three-day stay-at-home order in mid-February after a local emergence of the U.K. variant of the coronavirus. The new lockdown allows people to leave home only for essential shopping and essential work. Public venues will remain closed.

Saturday, Feb. 27

2:35 p.m. Tokyo reports 337 new infections, according to the city government. Japan said on Friday it would lift at the end of this month a state of emergency in six prefectures, a week earlier than scheduled, although the curbs would stay until early March in Tokyo and three other prefectures.

2:04 p.m. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extends partial coronavirus curbs in the capital until the end of March, as the country awaits the arrival of vaccines. The move comes after the country recorded 2,651 new virus infections on Friday, the highest daily increase in more than four months.

With Southeast Asia's second-highest tally of infections and deaths, the Philippines has suffered lengthy, strict lockdowns in Manila and provinces, hitting an economy that was among Asia's fastest growing before the pandemic.

Curbs will stay for another month in Manila, which accounts for 40% of national economic output, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says in a statement. Also under partial curbs are Duterte's southern home city of Davao, and the northern city of Baguio. The curbs limit operations of businesses and public transport.

6:03 a.m. South Korean begins a review of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine after the U.S. pharmaceutical firm submitted an application for approval.

The review comes after South Korea vaccinated more than 18,000 people with AstraZeneca's vaccine by midnight on Friday, part of its ambitious COVID-19 inoculation campaign. The country begins using Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines today.

The first to receive the shots are health care workers, staffers at assisted care facilities and other high-risk people, with a goal of vaccinating 32 million to 36 million people -- some 60% to 70% of the population -- by September.

The government hopes to reach herd immunity, defined as at least a 70% vaccine take-up, by November, as health authorities remain on alert for signs of sporadic infections.

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To catch up on earlier developments, see the last edition of latest updates.

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