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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Feb. 6 to Feb. 12, China approves use of Pfizer's drug Paxlovid

South Korea reports record 54,941 cases; WHO says pandemic not over

Pfizer's COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid.    © 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 408,049,300, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,800,329.

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


Saturday, Feb. 12 (Tokyo time)

12:31 p.m. China's drug regulator approves Pfizer's anti-viral COVID-19 medication, making it the first oral medication against coronavirus to be used in the country. The National Medical Products Administration said it would conditionally approve Paxlovid to treat adults with moderate symptoms, with the need for future research. China has yet to authorize any foreign vaccines but has given vaccines developed by domestic companies the green light. 

9:46 a.m. South Korea reports 54,941 new cases, another record high. The virus's rapid spread raises the country's total infection count to 1,294,205, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

A healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a man to test for COVID-19, at a temporary testing site set up at a railway station in Seoul on Feb. 10.    © Reuters

3:11 a.m. The World Health Organization adds its first monoclonal antibody tocilizumab to its so-called pre-qualification list, an official list of medicines used as a benchmark for procurement by developing countries, reports Reuters. The WHO recommended the drug, manufactured by Roche and typically used to treat arthritis, only for patients diagnosed with severe or critical COVID-19.

1:18 a.m. The cumulative COVID death toll in Japan tops 20,000, a Kyodo News tally shows, amid the sixth wave of infections driven by the omicron variant. The daily count has exceeded 100 since early this year. Japan confirmed its first COVID death on Feb. 13, 2020.

1:04 a.m. Ontario, Canada's largest province, declares a state of emergency amid the ongoing trucker protests against COVID mandates, Premier Doug Ford tells reporters. Ford pledges new legal action against demonstrators, including fines and potential jail time for noncompliance with the government's orders, as the protests impede the movement of goods and people along the U.S. border.

Friday, Feb. 11

6:57 p.m. Hong Kong on Friday logged another record number of cases as city officials prepare to meet with Chinese authorities to discuss the latest COVID-19 outbreak. There were 1,325 confirmed infections and 1,500 preliminary cases, putting further stress on the health system.

The Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office said on Thursday night that it was 'heavily concerned' with the surge of infections and pledged to assist the territory, which has been criticized for failing to contain the highly transmissible omicron variant. The city's second in charge, Chief Secretary John Lee, and four other ministers will meet with central and provincial authorities on Saturday.

The city also announced it would add Nepal to a list of eight countries banned from sending aircraft until March 4.

A COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong is making thousands ill and stoking deep concern about the threat posed to mainland China.     © Reuters

5:47 p.m. The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said on Friday that the world was not yet at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic as there will be more coronavirus variants, Reuters reports.

"We have seen the virus evolve, mutate ... so we know there will be more variants, more variants of concern, so we are not at the end of the pandemic," Swaminathan told reporters in South Africa, where she was visiting vaccine manufacturing facilities.

5:20 p.m. Russia reports 203,949 daily new cases, exceeding 200,000 for the first time since the pandemic began in 2021. The nation's coronavirus task force also reported 722 deaths in the last 24 hours.

1:18 p.m. Malaysia's gross domestic product expanded 3.1% in 2021, after logging 3.6% year-on-year growth in the fourth quarter, the central bank announced on Friday. The result keeps the Southeast Asian economy on a recovery path after about two years of the COVID-19 crisis, which left thousands jobless and forced businesses to close up shop.

2:09 a.m. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tested negative for COVID-19 and is expected to resume his normal schedule "very soon, even tomorrow," his doctor announces on Thursday. Erdogan had been isolating since Saturday following a positive test result for the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"The PCR tests we have done over the past two days have come back negative," says Erdogan's doctor, Serkan Topaloglu, according to Reuters.

1:21 a.m. Prince Charles has tested positive for COVID-19 again. The 73-year-old heir apparent to the British throne is now self-isolating, according to a statement by the royal residence posted on Twitter. He first tested positive in March 2020.

Thursday, Feb. 10

11:32 p.m. Japan's health ministry approves Pfizer's COVID-19 pill Paxlovid for patients with mild to moderate symptoms, making it the second such oral medication to receive the fast-track treatment.

Japan is extending its COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency covering Tokyo and 12 prefectures to March 6.   © Reuters

6:45 p.m. Japan is extending its COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency covering Tokyo and 12 prefectures by three weeks to March 6. The government is also adding Kochi in western Japan to this list, effective Saturday until March 6. This means that 36 of the nation's 47 prefectures will be under COVID measures, amid growing worries about the health care system coming under greater pressure.

The areas that will have the quasi-emergency measure extended beyond Sunday are Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, along with Gunma, Niigata, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Kagawa, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Miyazaki.

No data suggests yet that the BA.2 sub-variant of omicron in South Africa is more severe than other COVID types.   © Reuters

6:31 p.m. An omicron sub-variant, BA.2, is now the dominant COVID variant in South Africa and has been detected in multiple African countries, says John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. "We have data from South Africa that the BA.2 lineage has now become the predominant variant in South Africa," he said, adding that BA.2 has been identified in Mozambique, Senegal, Botswana, Mauritius, Kenya and Malawi. There is no data yet to suggest that BA.2 is more severe than previous variants.

6:00 p.m. Russia reports a record daily high of 197,076 cases as the omicron variant -- which accounted for 70% of the infections -- continues to spread across the country. Russia has also recorded 701 deaths in the past 24 hours.

4:35 p.m. The Paris police authority says it has decided to ban the so-called motorists' "Freedom Convoy" from holding protests in the French capital from Feb. 11 to 14. Protesters had set out from southern France on Wednesday in what they call a "freedom convoy" that will converge on Paris and Brussels to demand an end to COVID-19 restrictions, inspired by demonstrators who have blocked a Canadian border crossing.

2:54 p.m. India's central bank expects the country's economy to grow 7.8% in the next financial year beginning in April, down from the 9.2% growth forecast for the current fiscal year. "Notwithstanding the highly transmissible third wave driven by the omicron variant of COVID-19, India is charting a different course of recovery from the rest of the world," Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das said. "India is poised to grow at the fastest pace, year-on-year, among major economies."

2:50 p.m. Vietnam warns that its health care system could become overloaded after a surge in cases following the week-long Lunar New Year holiday. The country reported nearly 24,000 cases on Wednesday, compared with 15,000 per day in the week before the annual holiday, when millions traveled to rural homes and tourist hot spots. "If not better controlled, the number of serious cases will increase, putting pressure on the health care system and causing unwanted deaths," the health ministry said.

2:30 p.m. The Philippines reopens to foreign tourists, lifting a two-year ban implemented to control local infections. Easing border restrictions to fully vaccinated foreigners from 157 countries with visa-free arrangements marks the beginning of the "next chapter in the road to recovery," Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said.

12:15 p.m. The Beijing Olympics organizers say a total of 9 new COVID-19 cases were detected among games-related personnel on Wednesday. Six were found among new airport arrivals, according to a notice on the Beijing 2022 official website. Three others were among those already in the "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel from the public, and all three were classified as either athletes or team officials.

10:55 a.m. New Zealand police have arrested more than 50 people and have begun forcefully removing hundreds of protesters camped outside its parliament building for the last three days to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and tough coronavirus restrictions. Inspired by Canadian truckers' demonstrations blocking two border crossings with the United States, several thousand protesters this week blocked streets near the parliament with their trucks and cars. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday told the protesters to "move on," saying the protests are not a reflection of what the majority in the country feels.

10:22 a.m. South Korea's new daily cases top 50,000 for the first time, surging to 54,122 from 49,567 a day ago. Total infections in the country have reached 1,185,361 with 6,963 deaths. Lawmakers are trying to extend voting hours by three hours to allow COVID-19 patients to cast their ballots exclusively between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the upcoming presidential election on March 9.

10:00 a.m. Toyota Motor says it does not expect its auto plants in Ontario to produce vehicles for the rest of the week, because of supply problems stemming from protests against COVID-19 restrictions by truckers in that city, and other factors. "Due to a number of supply chain, severe weather and COVID related challenges, Toyota continues to face shortages affecting production at our North American plants, including Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada," the company said.

9:30 a.m. Japan's wholesale prices rose 8.6% in January from a year earlier, data shows, for an 11th straight month of gains, a sign that rising fuel and commodity costs continue to pinch corporate margins. The rise in the corporate goods price index, which measures the price companies charge each other for their goods and services, exceeded a median market forecast for a gain of 8.2% and followed an increase of 8.7% in December. The index, at 109.5, was the highest since September 1985.

4:10 a.m. The U.S. government is planning to roll out COVID-19 shots for children under the age of 5 as soon as Feb. 21, according to a document from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering authorizing the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the age group even though it did not meet a key target in a clinical trial of 2- to 4-year-olds.

Wednesday, Feb. 9

11:48 p.m. Hong Kong's Hospital Authority says the number of COVID patients is growing at a "shocking" speed and warns that newly infected patients will have to wait for days to be taken to the hospital due to new cases filling up medical and isolation facilities.

11:39 p.m. Japan plans to extend the COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency for Tokyo and 12 prefectures by three weeks from its scheduled end this weekend to stem the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says.

7:22 p.m. Analysts are downgrading Hong Kong's economic outlook as the city grapples with the latest omicron outbreak. Fitch Ratings halved its 2022 GDP growth forecast for the territory to 1.5% from 3%, citing social distancing restrictions and uncertainty surrounding the "dynamic COVID-zero" strategy, a measure adopted also by the mainland. The economy faced "stiff headwinds, said Bank of America. "We see further downside risks to our below-consensus growth forecast of 2.2%, as the restrictions continue to lengthen amid limited relief package," the bank wrote in a research note.

Pedestrians in Hong Kong cross a footbridge in Hong Kong on Feb 9: The territory has announced new social distancing measures, limiting public gatherings to two people.   © Reuters

5:49 p.m. COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong nearly double to 1,116, surpassing 1,000 in a day for the first time, as the city's zero-COVID strategy buckles under a record caseload. Authorities responded with tighter social distancing measures, limiting public gatherings to two people and closing hair salons and places of worship in a city that has mostly been COVID-free since the pandemic began.

Vegetable prices have skyrocketed, adding to the misery after imports of mainland produce were halted when cross-border truck drivers tested positive. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the 'dynamic COVID-zero' strategy, adding her government had the "support and encouragement" of Beijing.

3:53 p.m. A Japanese princess infected with COVID-19 has developed pneumonia, the Imperial Household Agency says. Princess Yoko, 38, the first COVID patient in the imperial family, was transferred to the University of Tokyo Hospital from a hospital on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, the agency says. The younger daughter of the late Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a cousin of former Emperor Akihito, complained of a sore throat Monday and tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, the agency said the same day.

10:51 a.m. South Korea's new daily cases hit a record high of 49,558, up from 36,719 a day ago. Total infections reach 1,131,239, with 6,943 deaths.

10:00 a.m. The Japanese government will consider extending the quasi-state of emergency for 13 prefectures past Feb. 13. The government also plans to put Kochi Prefecture under the measure. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will discuss the proposal with relevant ministers in the afternoon, and experts will be consulted on Feb. 10 before a formal decision is made by the government task force on the same day. The extension would cover the 13 prefectures of Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gunma, Niigata, Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Kagawa, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Miyazaki. The most likely plan is to extend the period to about three weeks.

A medical worker takes a sample to be tested for COVID-19 from a man in Shah Alam, Malaysia, on Feb. 8.    © Reuters

8:32 a.m. The cumulative global total of COVID-19 infections has reached 400 million, only a month after it reached 300 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. The death toll has risen to more than 5.7 million.

3:30 a.m. Pfizer expects sales of its COVID-19 vaccine and Paxlovid antiviral pill to top $54 billion this year, falling short of Wall Street estimates. CEO Albert Bourla says Paxlovid sales could be "way bigger" than the $22 billion forecast, as the company's estimate includes only contracts that have been signed or are close to it.

1:15 a.m. Johnson & Johnson suspended production late last year at the only plant making usable batches of its COVID-19 vaccine, The New York Times reports. The interruption could reduce supply of the vaccine by a few hundred million doses over the next several months. A spokesman says the company still has millions of doses in inventory and continues to deliver batches to other facilities for bottling and packaging.

12:50 a.m. Novavax has delivered only a small fraction of the 2 billion vaccine doses it plans to supply this year and has delayed first-quarter shipments to Europe and countries such as the Philippines, Reuters reports, citing public officials. The company says it has delivered 10 million doses to Indonesia and several million to Australia and New Zealand. Some shipments have been held up by regulatory processes, according to a spokesperson.

Tuesday, Feb. 8

6:46 p.m. Hong Kong says it will ramp up social distancing and other virus restrictions as it battles a record surge in infections sparked by the omicron variant while pressing on with its zero-COVID strategy. Restrictions are to be widened to further limit gatherings and eating at restaurants, while hair salons and places of worship will join venues shuttered already. Under rules set to come into effect on Feb. 24, residents will now have to show proof of vaccination to enter shopping malls, grocery stores and universities

6:00 p.m. Business sentiment in Japan in January has fallen by the biggest magnitude in nearly 11 years, as a resurgence of COVID infections worry workers. The diffusion index of confidence in January compared with three months earlier among "economy watchers," such as taxi drivers and restaurant staffers, fell for the first time in five months, down 19.6 points from December to 37.9 -- the sharpest fall since March 2011, when Japan's northeastern region was devastated by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

Restaurants and bars have been hit hard again by a resurgence of COVID-19 and following restrictions in Tokyo.

4:52 p.m. Malaysia is poised to open its international borders to all vaccinated travelers next month, with no quarantine restrictions, after a high-powered task force recommended the move. The national recovery council will advise Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to "completely" reopen the border as early as March 1 to help spur the economy, former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the council's chairman, told reporters.

3:37 p.m. China will invite more spectators to attend the Winter Olympics as the COVID-19 situation is under control within the "closed-loop" bubble, which separates all event personnel from the public, an official from the Beijing organizers say. China did not sell tickets to the public amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus but selected a number of spectators from targeted groups of people who are required to undertake strict COVID-19 prevention measures.

2:20 p.m. Australia's COVID-19 hospital cases and people admitted to intensive care continue to trend lower as authorities urge people to get their vaccine boosters. The state of New South Wales has just over 2,000 people with COVID in hospitals, the lowest tally in three weeks. The country reported more than 28,000 new cases on Tuesday, up around 5,000 from a day earlier but well below the omicron-driven pandemic peak of 150,000 last month.

1:00 p.m. The COVID-19 pandemic will not end with the omicron variant and New Zealand will have to prepare for others, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says in her first parliamentary speech for 2022. Ardern's warning came as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the parliament building, demanding an end to coronavirus restrictions and vaccine mandates. "Advice from experts is that omicron will not be the last variant we will face this year," she said.

People wearing face masks queue at a makeshift nucleic acid testing center for COVID-19 at the Central district in Hong Kong on Feb. 8.   © Reuters

12:10 p.m. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the city will stick to a "dynamic zero-COVID" strategy to contain the virus as authorities face their biggest test yet to control a record number of infections. "We should contain the spread of the virus as much and as fast as possible," she said at a weekly news briefing. "We need your support, we need your cooperation. You only need to stay at home." Lam will announce further COVID restrictions later in the day.

11:50 a.m. South Korea reports 36,719 new cases, up from 35,286 a day earlier. While the daily caseload topped the 30,000 mark for the fourth straight day, the number of seriously ill patients dropped by two to 268.

9:00 a.m. Japan's household spending fell 0.2% in December from a year earlier, an annual drop for the fifth straight month, government data shows, as consumer demand struggled to recover before a resurgence in coronavirus infections. In separate data, real wages posted their biggest monthly fall in 19 months in December as global inflationary pressures and a rise in part-time workers hurt households' purchasing power.

4:39 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against traveling to Japan, Cuba and several other countries in updated recommendations.

They are now among the 130-plus destinations with a "Level 4: Very High" level of COVID-19 -- the worst on the CDC's scale. Also raised to Level 4 with Japan and Cuba are Armenia, Congo, Libya and Oman.

"Avoid travel to these destinations," the CDC says of Level 4 countries. "If you must travel to these destinations, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel."

Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, was already at Level 4. But the language for the West Bank and Gaza has now been tightened to recommend that those who do go also be up to date with booster shots, for example -- vaccination advice that also applies to Japan and the other countries newly raised to Level 4.

Travelers push their luggage past baggage claim inside the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.   © Reuters

Monday, Feb. 7

11:30 p.m. Nigeria has received 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine from Finland, Greece and Slovenia, with more EU donations set to arrive in the coming weeks, reports Reuters, citing government officials.

5:41 p.m. Hong Kong logs a record 614 COVID infections and 600 preliminary positive cases, as health experts warn the worst is yet to come due partly to a low vaccination rate among the elderly. The government has been pursuing a "dynamic zero-COVID" strategy -- accepting that infections will happen but then moving quickly to stamp them out -- as it attempts to boost vaccination rates. The health minister told a local radio station that the situation had become extremely severe and the numbers were expected to surge after last week's Lunar New Year social celebrations. Authorities are likely to announce further tightening of restrictions including allowing only vaccinated people to visit certain venues.

Vietnam intends to buy 21.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and start vaccinating 5- to 12-year-olds.   © Reuters

3:30 p.m. More than 17 million Vietnamese students are returning to school for the first time in about a year, the health ministry says. Almost all students have been confined to online classes since early last year. Most schools in the country are due to reopen by the middle of February, according to the health ministry. Earlier, the government said it intended to buy 21.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5- to 12-year-olds.

2:00 p.m. India's daily COVID cases drop below 100,000 for the first time in a month as the country reports 83,876 new infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the total caseload to 42.27 million. Deaths rose by 895 to 502,874.

1:19 p.m. Indonesia's gross domestic product climbed 3.69% from a year earlier, government data shows, bouncing back from a 2.07% contraction in 2020. The finance ministry had previously forecast growth at 3.7%.

1:10 p.m. Australia on Feb. 21 will fully reopen its borders to all vaccinated visa holders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, nearly two years after he shut out noncitizens in an effort to mitigate the virus's spread. "If you're double vaccinated," he says, "we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia."

Manila Zoo has become a vaccination site as the Philippines moves on to vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds.   © Reuters

12:44 p.m. The Philippines starts vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds using Pfizer-BioNTech jabs, as the country expands its inoculation drive. It plans to vaccinate 15.5 million children nationwide.

12:40 p.m. Two dozen COVID-19 cases were detected among Games-related personnel on Sunday, organizers of the Beijing Winter Olympics say. Eleven of the cases were found among new arrivals, according to a notice on the Beijing 2022 official website. The thirteen others were among those already in the "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel from the public. Five athletes or team officials are among the cases.

12:00 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says the government will consider applying the "conditional early approval system" to rush Shionogi-developed antiviral pills to market. Under the system, the government can conditionally approve a medicine before clinical trials are completed. While Merck's antiviral mornupiravir is already being used and a Pfizer pill is soon to be approved in Japan, there have been calls for the early approval of domestically made drugs as supplies of overseas remedies are often constricted.

A medical worker, wearing a full body suit as protection against the coronavirus, walks to a testing station in a hotel inside the closed loop at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Feb. 1.   © Reuters

11:30 a.m. Authorities in China's southwestern city of Baise have ordered residents to stay at home from Monday and avoid unnecessary travel as the city bordering Vietnam reported 37 domestically transmitted infections for Sunday, up from six a day earlier. It has also suspended nonessential businesses, public transport and school sessions and delayed opening of ports of entry along the international border. Essential workers will need special passes for movement within Baise. The effort takes on extra urgency during the staging of the Winter Olympics, which began on Friday.

11:00 a.m. South Korea reports 35,286 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, down from the record 38,689 registered a day earlier but still topping the 30,000 mark for the third day in a row. Seriously ill patients were down by two to 270 as the omicron variant tends to show less-severe symptoms than the earlier variants.

9:30 a.m. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says the government is gearing up to administer 1 million booster shots per day as soon as possible this month -- up from 500,000 currently -- as the omicron variant rages. Kishida has directed the health minister to seek cooperation from local governments and companies to accelerate the pace of vaccinations, including at the government's reopened mass vaccination center in Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is asking local governments and companies to help accelerate the pace of vaccinations.

2:22 a.m. India gives regulatory approval to Russia's one-shot Sputnik Light COVID-19 vaccine after it authorized Russia's main vaccine -- the two-dose Sputnik V -- last year, reports Reuters, citing the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

Sunday, Feb. 6

5:15 p.m. Russia reported 180,071 COVID-19 cases on Saturday, a record daily high, according to the nation's coronavirus task force.

5:01 p.m. Tokyo tallies 17,526 daily new cases on Sunday, the country's highest figure to date for a Sunday. Over the last seven days, the average number of new cases per day is 18,128, up 23.3% compared with the previous week, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reports.

4:33 p.m. Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape tested positive for COVID-19 upon his arrival in Beijing on Thursday for the opening of the Winter Olympics and will not travel to France next week for an Indo-Pacific summit, his office says on Sunday.

While in Beijing on Saturday, Marape reportedly held a virtual meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to discuss strengthening economic cooperation. Marape was due to return to Papua New Guinea on Sunday, according to Reuters.

1:41 p.m. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the reopening of the country's borders to international tourists may not be far off, noting the parliament will debate the matter this week. In recent months Australia, which shut its borders in March 2020, has staggered its reopening, allowing in only citizens, residents, skilled migrants, international students and certain seasonal workers.

4:24 a.m. Canadian cities, including the financial hub Toronto, faced disruptions as protests against vaccine mandates spread from the capital of Ottawa, raising fears of clashes with counter protesters. The so-called "Freedom Convoy" began as a movement against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against public health measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government. Protesters have shut down downtown Ottawa for the past eight days, with some participants waving Confederate or Nazi flags and some saying they wanted to dissolve Canada's government.

Saturday, Feb. 5

10:13 p.m. The head of the World Health Organization discusses with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the need for stronger collaboration on the origins of COVID-19, a subject that has strained Beijing's relations with the West. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously pressed China to be more forthcoming with data and information related to the origin of the virus.

"Pleased to meet with Premier Li Keqiang," Tedros tweets, adding they talked about the WHO campaign for fair access to vaccines around the world. "We also discussed the need for stronger collaboration on COVID-19 virus origins, rooted in science and evidence."

9:45 p.m. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweets he has tested positive for COVID-19. "Today my wife and I tested positive for COVID-19 with mild symptoms. Thankfully, we're experiencing slight symptoms that we have learned is the omicron variant," he wrote. "We are on duty. We will continue to work at home. We look forward to your prayers."

Turkey is seeing record levels of COVID-19 cases. On Friday, it recorded 111,157 new infections in 24 hours, its highest daily figure of the pandemic.

5:43 p.m. Hong Kong records 351 coronavirus cases, a the highest daily total since the outbreak of the pandemic, further pressuring the government's "dynamic zero-COVID" strategy as other major cities opt to live with the virus. Health Secretary Sophia Chan says she expects cases to rise "exponentially" following the Lunar New Year holiday due to an increase in family and social gatherings and appealed several times for people to stay indoors.

2:00 p.m. The coronavirus pandemic reaches a grim new milestone in the United States with the nation's cumulative death toll from COVID-19 surpassing 900,000, even as the daily number of lives lost has begun to level off, according to data collected by Reuters. The latest tally marks an increase of more than 100,000 U.S. fatalities since Dec. 12, coinciding with a surge of infections and hospitalizations driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

10:30 a.m. Singapore reports a record 13,046 local coronavirus infections, triple the previous day's tally. The country has recorded 85,357 cases of the virus over the last 28 days, but 99.7% of them had no or mild symptoms. Singapore has fully vaccinated 89% of the total population against COVID-19, while 59% have received boosters shots. Authorities have previously warned that daily cases could rise to as many 15,000 due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

10:00 a.m. South Korea reports a record daily increase of 36,362 new COVID-19 cases, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says. The daily infections exceeded 30,000 for the first time, as the country faces a wave of omicron variant infections.

1:13 a.m. Japan will receive additional supplies of Merck's molnupiravir COVID-19 pill earlier than scheduled. Of a batch originally set to arrive in late February, 90,000 courses are now expected to arrive by Thursday, adding to the 250,000 the country has already received.


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

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