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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Feb. 29 to March 5: Japan extends quasi-state of emergency

China sets annual economic growth target at 'around 5.5%'

The government's working group on basic measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic meets on March 4 in Tokyo. The group recommended the extension of the quasi-state of emergency in some prefectures.

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 443,777,392, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,989,857.

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, March 5 (Tokyo time)

11:30 a.m. China reports 281 new confirmed cases for Friday, compared with 294 a day earlier. Of the new confirmed cases, 102 were locally transmitted, up from 61 a day earlier. The remaining 179 were detected among international travelers. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China counts separately, stood at 166 versus 150 a day earlier.

10:10 a.m. China's legislature begins its annual session by targeting "around 5.5%" growth in gross domestic product for 2022. The GDP goal, delivered by Premier Li Keqiang to the National People's Congress, compares with the "over 6%" target Li presented last year.

Friday, March 4

11:45 p.m. Japan decides to extend its COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency covering 18 prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, until March 21 and to lift it in 13 prefectures on Sunday.

Under the quasi-state of emergency, restaurants are asked to shorten their hours and restrictions are placed on the maximum number of people at events.

Along with Tokyo and Osaka, the extension applies to Hokkaido, Aomori, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Ishikawa, Gifu, Shizuoka, Aichi, Kyoto, Hyogo, Kagawa and Kumamoto prefectures. The quasi-state of emergency will be lifted in Fukushima, Niigata, Nagano, Mie, Wakayama, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kochi, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures.

The daily cap on foreigners entering the country will rise to 7,000 from 5,000 on March 14. The government plans to give priority to students as the April start of the academic year approaches. Tourists will remain barred from entering.

7:33 p.m. Hong Kong supermarkets and pharmacies begin limiting purchases amid a panic-buying frenzy. Grocery store chain ParkNShop says it will impose restrictions on the amount of canned food, instant noodles and rice shoppers can buy, while pharmaceutical company Watsons says each person will only be able to buy five boxes of medication for cold, flu, fever and pain relievers. Both Park N Shop and Watsons chains belong to CK Hutchison Holdings. Several grocery stores have already shortened their opening hours, citing the worsening outbreak.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong courts have announced all cases between March 7 and April 11 will be adjourned to a later date and the courts will be closed during that period, except for urgent bail proceedings.

2:24 p.m. India reports 6,396 new cases for the past 24 hours, down from 6,561 a day earlier. The tally marks the fifth consecutive day of fewer than 10,000 infections and brings the country's total caseload to 42.95 million. Fatalities rose by 201, to 514,589.

10:30 a.m. Japan's jobless rate rose to 2.8% in January, as the surge in coronavirus infections and mobility curbs hit service sector activity. However, a gauge of job availability climbed to a 21-month-high, government data shows. The mixed numbers come as companies in Japan conclude annual labor talks, while downside pressure from record coronavirus deaths and the Ukraine crisis overshadow the outlook for recovery.

10:05 a.m. China reports 294 new confirmed cases for Thursday, up from 214 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 61 were locally transmitted, compared with 54 a day earlier. Twenty-two of the new local cases were in the southern province of Guangdong. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 150 compared with 143 a day earlier.

South Korea's daily new COVID-19 cases hit a record, surging to 266,853 from 198,788 the previous day, as the country began two days of early voting on March 4 for the presidential election.   © AP

9:55 a.m. South Korea's daily new COVID-19 cases hit a record high, surging to 266,853 from 198,788 one day ago, as the country began two days of early voting on Friday for the presidential election on March 9. The daily death toll also reached a record, jumping to 186 from 128 the previous day. Total infections in the country have reached 3.96 million, with 8,580 deaths. Despite the worsening infection numbers, the government extended business hours for cafes, restaurants and bars, among others, by one hour to 11 p.m., starting Saturday, to help small business owners hit by economic losses from the pandemic.

Thursday, March 3

5:57 p.m. Lawyers and family will not be allowed to see prisoners in Hong Kong for the next two weeks after around 1,000 people tested positive for COVID-19. Jailed pro-democracy activists, including Albert Chan and Lee Cheuk-yan were among those infected, according to local media. The government ordered a lockdown last week across the city's prisons to stop cross infection, delaying trials and hearings. The city recorded 56,827 cases and 144 deaths on Thursday.

4:30 p.m. South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum has tested positive for coronavirus, his office says, as daily COVID-19 infections hit unprecedented levels this week, driven by the spread of the omicron variant. Kim has steered the country's anti-virus efforts, holding regular meetings with officials and experts, and visiting medical and educational facilities to check quarantine work and promote vaccination.

3:40 p.m. Russian capital Moscow will no longer require locals to use QR codes to prove they are vaccinated or immune to COVID-19 and is dropping all restrictions at entertainment and sport venues, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin says. The situation in the city is gradually normalizing with fewer infections and hospitalizations reported, Sobyanin wrote on his blog.

Narita airport near Tokyo: The Japanese government will further ease its COVID-19 border curbs by raising the daily cap on new entrants to 7,000 from the current 5,000. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

2:20 p.m. The Japanese government will further ease its COVID-19 border curbs by raising the daily cap on new entrants to 7,000 from the current 5,000, sources tell Nikkei. Within the daily cap, foreign nationals will be able to enter Japan for purposes other than tourism. Japan just raised the daily cap to 5,000 from the previous 3,500 on March 1, as calls for easing grew both in Japan and overseas. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to explain the easing plan later in the day.

South Koreans line up at a makeshift coronavirus testing site in Seoul on March 2: COVID-linked deaths rose by 128, a record high, the following day.   © AP

12:30 p.m. South Korea reports 198,803 new coronavirus infections, down from 219,240 a day earlier. However, COVID-linked deaths rose by 128, a record high, as the number of seriously ill patients remains above 700 for a fourth straight day, according to Yonhap news.

11:50 a.m. India reports 6,561 new cases, down from 7,554 a day earlier and bringing the cumulative total to 42.95 million. Deaths rose by 142, pushing the overall toll to 514,388.

8:10 a.m. A World Health Organization panel backs the use of Merck's MRK.N COVID-19 antiviral pill for high-risk patients. The conditional recommendation is for patients with non-severe disease who are at high risk of hospitalization, such as the immunocompromised, the unvaccinated, older people and those with chronic diseases. The recommendation was based on new data from six clinical trials involving 4,796 patients.

A WHO panel recommendation for Merck's antiviral treatment is based on new data from six clinical trials involving 4,796 patients.   © Reuters

2:55 a.m. Top U.S. health officials have laid out a blueprint to manage COVID-19 going forward, vowing to prepare for any new variant outbreaks without shutting down schools and businesses, and calling for additional funding from Congress. The plan will help "move America from crisis to a time when COVID-19 does not disrupt our daily lives," the White House says, one day after President Joe Biden acknowledged the nation's fight against the coronavirus had entered a new phase.

Wednesday, March 2

2:20 p.m. The U.S. is starting a scheme for people to get tested for COVID-19 at pharmacies and immediately receive free pills if needed. "We're launching the 'Test to Treat' initiative so people can get tested at a pharmacy, and if they're positive, receive antiviral pills on the spot, at no cost," Biden said during his State of the Union speech.

1:13 p.m. Japanese firms increased spending on plant and equipment for the third consecutive quarter in October-December, as corporate sentiment got a boost from falling coronavirus cases and helped lift broader economic activity. Ministry of Finance data on Wednesday showed capital expenditure in the final quarter of 2021 rose 4.3% from the same period the year before, marking the third straight quarter of year-on-year gains.

12:02 p.m. Ele.me, a food delivery service backed by Alibaba Group Holding, says it will cut or waive commission fees for businesses in 87 areas affected by COVID-19 in China. Ele.me says it will commit an initial sum of 20 million yuan ($3.17 million) to the effort.

A South Korean is tested for COVID-19 in Seoul. The country on March 2 reported a daily record of 219,241 cases.   © Reuters

9:58 a.m. South Korea's new daily cases surpass 200,000 for the first time, surging to 219,241 from 138,989 a day ago. Total infections reach 3.49 million, with 8,266 deaths. However, the government suspended enforcement of the vaccine passport system in cafes and restaurants to focus on treating severely ill patients.

9:55 a.m. Australia's economy expanded by 3.4% in the three months to December, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows. Economists had forecast a 3.5% rise following the lockdown-driven 1.9% decline in the quarter. The economy grew 4.2% over the 12 months to December.

Tuesday, March 1

10:30 p.m. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he has tested positive for COVID-19.

"I am experiencing flu-like symptoms and will be recovering over the next week," Morrison says in a statement, adding that he is isolating at home in Sydney and following health guidelines.

5:54 p.m. Hong Kong reports 32,597 coronavirus cases and 172 COVID-related deaths, raising the city's death rate to one of the highest in the world. There are eight COVID deaths for every 1 million people in the financial hub, mostly among unvaccinated residents. Government officials have backtracked on ruling out a lockdown, saying the most effective way to conduct mass testing is for residents to "stop moving around," after local reports said a citywide lockdown could happen in mid-March.

4:00 p.m. Bahrain has granted emergency use authorization to the COVID-19 vaccine developed by France's Valneva VLS.PA, the company says. Valneva expects to deliver the first shipments of its VLA2001 vaccine to the kingdom at the end of March, after it signed an advance purchase deal for one million doses in December last year.

1:00 p.m. Japan eases COVID-19 border controls, allowing up to 5,000 new entrants per day, up from 3,500, and reducing or exempting quarantine periods for Japanese and foreign nationals. Within the daily cap, which was relaxed for the first time in three months, foreign nationals will be able to enter Japan for purposes other than tourism.

The omicron variant is ripping through South Korea as medical workers swab people at a makeshift testing site in Seoul.   © AP

12:40 a.m. South Korea reports 138,993 new cases for Monday, down by 633 from the previous day but about 40% more than a week earlier, according to Yonhap news. Deaths rose by 112, the second-highest toll since the pandemic began.

8:00 a.m. Australian home prices extended their long ascent in February, though Sydney saw the first dip in 17 months as new supply, rising mortgage rates and stretched affordability cooled the market. Figures from property consultant CoreLogic show national home prices rose 0.6% in February from January, when they increased 1.1%. Prices in major cities edged up 0.3%, while those in less-populated regions gained 1.6% amid a pandemic-induced rush to greener pastures.

Amazon is telling its warehouse employees that it is OK to come to work without masks.   © Reuters

5:00 a.m. Several major U.S. companies are dropping their mask requirements for customers and employees who are fully vaccinated as the pace of infections slows. Amazon on Tuesday will drop its mask mandate for all U.S. warehouse staff. At retail giant Walmart, workers will no longer be required to wear masks in company facilities. And Goldman Sachs will no longer require masks to be worn at its U.S. offices. A few months ago, U.S. companies were forced to reimpose mask mandates due to a steep rise in infections.

Monday, Feb. 28

7:25 p.m. The Philippines will report coronavirus cases on a weekly basis, instead of daily, starting next week, its health department says. The move comes as Metro Manila and many parts of the country shift to Alert Level 1, the most relaxed set of pandemic-related restrictions beginning March.

"Daily reporting of COVID-19 cumulative case counts will not help us during the new normal," Health Secretary Francisco Duque said. "Rather, it just instills fear among Filipinos on the increasing COVID case counts." On Monday, the Philippines recorded 951 new cases, the lowest daily tally this year.

6:26 p.m. More than 34,400 infections were recorded in Hong Kong on Monday as the city's public health system teeters on the brink of collapse. Morgues are filling up and hospitals are reportedly considering using refrigerators to store bodies after 87 more people died in the last 24 hours. The city has logged more than 600 coronavirus-related deaths, the majority among unvaccinated residents. Mandatory COVID testing of all residents will be completed in March the city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, said in a prerecorded video announcement.

South Korea will suspend requirements for vaccine passes or negative COVID-19 tests at a number of businesses to ease the strain on testing centers, Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said on Feb. 28.

6:00 p.m. South Korea will suspend requirements for vaccine passes or negative COVID-19 tests at a number of businesses to ease the strain on testing centers, authorities say. The move will allow public testing and health facilities to devote more resources to battling the wave of new infections, Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol says. The government will also shelve plans to require vaccine passes for children aged 12-18, due to disputes and court cases over the measures, according to Yonhap news.

5:11 p.m. Hong Kong's international schools will be exempt from a government mandate to move summer holidays forward, the government says. Public schools will go on break from 7 March until the end of the Easter holiday and be converted into COVID testing venues. Private schools offering their own curriculums will be permitted to continue classes online.

1:33 p.m. Thailand will ease requirements for its quarantine-free entry program from March 1, even as the country fights its largest infection rate since the pandemic began due to surging cases caused by the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Employees of a Hong Kong funeral home move a body outside a makeshift COVID-19 treatment area on Feb. 27.   © Reuters

1:00 p.m. Facilities for storing dead bodies at hospitals and public mortuaries in Hong Kong are struggling to keep pace with a record number of infections and deaths. Dozens of bodies are waiting in hospital emergency rooms across the city to be transported to mortuaries, said Tony Ling, head of the city's Public Doctors Association. "These bodies now need extra time to wait for collection because resources are just so tight," he said. Hong Kong reported a record 26,026 infections on Sunday and a record 83 deaths. Around 300 deaths have been recorded in the past week.

11:50 a.m. Thailand's unemployment rate in the fourth quarter fell to 1.64% from 2.25% in the previous quarter, the state planning agency says, following an easing of coronavirus restrictions. The jobless rate in the December quarter was the lowest since the pandemic.

A view from Sydney on Feb. 15. January retail sales in the country easily beat forecasts.   © Reuters

9:45 a.m. Australian retail sales were surprisingly strong in January as shoppers weathered a surge in omicron cases, suggesting the economy has maintained considerable momentum into the new year. Government data shows retail sales climbed 1.8% in January to 32.5 billion Australian dollars ($23.3 billion), the second-highest level on record and easily beating forecasts of a 0.4% gain.

9:25 a.m. Japan's factory output shrank for the second straight month in January as the auto sector grappled with production suspensions due to the pandemic and global supply shortages, raising the likelihood of an economic contraction. Factory output fell 1.3% in January from the previous month after slipping 1.0% in December, and came in weaker than a 0.7% loss forecast in a Reuters poll of economists.

Sunday, Feb. 27

5:40 p.m. Hong Kong reports a record 26,026 daily infections as an outbreak of the omicron variant overwhelms health care facilities.

2:03 p.m. The United Arab Emirates -- the tourism and commercial hub of the Middle East -- ended over the weekend a requirement to wear face masks outdoors and obligatory quarantine for COVID contact cases.

2:11 a.m. France reports 109,928 coronavirus deaths in hospital, up by 91.

1:17 a.m. The origin of the coronavirus pandemic can be traced to a wet market in Wuhan, China, The New York Times reports, citing a pair of studies released by scientists that have yet to be published in journals. Researchers crunched data from copious sources, concluding the coronavirus was present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019.

Saturday, Feb. 26

11:50 p.m. Warren Buffett is bringing back the annual extravaganza for shareholders of his Berkshire Hathaway this year in what he calls "Woodstock for Capitalists." But the 91-year-old billionaire has a cautionary message: If you want to attend, get vaccinated against COVID-19. Proof of vaccination will be required to attend Berkshire's annual meeting in a downtown Omaha, Nebraska arena on April 30, and to shop from Berkshire-owned businesses in an adjacent exhibit hall. The meeting is the centerpiece of three days of events across Omaha including shopping discounts, an outdoor picnic, and a 5 km run that typically attract some 40,000 people from around the world, including large numbers from China.

8:00 p.m. Hong Kong health authorities will adjust COVID testing procedures to allow some people to test from home to ease long queues at designated testing centers, as the city's outbreak proves increasingly hard to control. Health Secretary Sophia Chan says a record 17,063 new daily cases are recorded, and 66 deaths in the past 24 hours in the city of 7.4 million.

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

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