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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Feb.13 to Feb. 19, Hong Kong daily COVID tally expected to hit another record

African nations to receive mRNA vaccine tech; Hong Kong elections delayed by outbreak

Broadcaster TVB, citing an unidentified source, says Hong Kong expects to report at least 7,000 new daily COVID-19 infections on Feb. 19, compared with the previous day's 3,629.   © 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 421,565,993, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,873,162.

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. 19 (Tokyo time)

1:48 p.m. Hong Kong health authorities are expected to confirm at least 7,000 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, broadcaster TVB reported, setting a fresh record as the city braces for a long fight to bring a worsening outbreak under control. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Friday that it would take up to three months to stabilize a surge in infections that has overwhelmed health facilities and forced the postponement of an upcoming leadership election.

Friday, Feb. 18

8:00 p.m. Hong Kong will postpone the election of its chief executive because of the health risk posed by a COVID-19 outbreak raging across the city. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would invoke emergency powers to push back the voting day from March 27 to May 8. The move comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted in pro-Beijing newspapers as saying that Hong Kong's "overriding mission" is to control the epidemic.

Hong Kong has delayed its chief executive election until May after President Xi Jinping said containing a major COVID-19 outbreak was the top priority.    © Reuters

6:30 p.m. Hong Kong's main slaughterhouse has been shut down for deep cleaning after COVID-19 was detected. Pork prices are expected to jump as traders anticipate a shortage of fresh meat, adding to concerns over rising food prices. A shortage of produce from the mainland after truck drivers had to be quarantined has already caused vegetable prices to rise. Reduced air freight into the city has also pushed up the cost of imported food.

6:30 p.m. Singaporean Finance Minister Lawrence Wong announces a SG$500 million ($372 million) package to support jobs and businesses as part of his budget proposals, adding that the government will extend separate targeted help for the struggling aviation sector. Singapore's government has committed close to SG$100 billion over the past two years to cushion its people, businesses and the economy from the impact of the pandemic.

5:50 p.m. Hong Kong reports 3,629 new daily COVID-19 infections, with an additional 7,600 preliminary positive cases, as it battles to control a worsening outbreak.

5:36 p.m. The World Health Organization says that six African countries -- Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia -- will be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines. The technology transfer project, launched last year, aims to help low- and middle-income countries manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards.

Health care workers attend to patients outside a hospital in Hong Kong on Feb. 18.   © Reuters

1:30 p.m. Hong Kong has identified more than 20,000 hotel rooms that can be used for quarantines, says city Chief Executive Carrie Lam amid surging cases. Lam says 21 hotels have expressed interest in turning their facilities into isolation venues, exceeding "by a large margin the government's original target of 7,000 to 10,000 rooms." Quarantine facilities in Hong Kong have reached capacity and hospital beds are more than 90% full as cases spiral, with some patients forced onto outdoor beds.

1:20 p.m. Indonesia booked a current-account surplus in 2021 -- its first in a decade. Southeast Asia's largest economy recorded a $3.3 billion current-account surplus for the whole of 2021, equivalent to 0.3% of gross domestic product, helped by a boom in commodity prices and strong demand from trade partners.

10:46 a.m. South Korea's daily new cases top 100,000 for the first time, surging to 109,831. Total infections reach 1.75 million, with 7,283 deaths. However, the government has loosened social distancing rules, letting cafes and restaurants open for one more hour -- until 10 p.m. -- from next week.

10:00 a.m. Japan's core consumer prices inched up 0.2% in January from a year earlier, as inflationary pressures from surging energy prices and a weak yen persisted, government data shows. With energy costs rising at the fastest pace in over four decades, the nationwide core consumer price index excluding volatile fresh food items gained for the fifth straight month.

6:04 a.m. Top-ranked men's tennis player Novak Djokovic can compete in the Italian Open this May even if he does not get vaccinated, Italy's sports undersecretary says.

Such an outdoor event does not require vaccination, Valentina Vezzali explains. Djokovic confirmed to the BBC recently that he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. He said he would rather miss more tournaments than take something with yet-unknown possible effects on his body and his game, shortly after insisting that "I was never against vaccination" generally.

6:00 a.m. More than 10 cities in Hunan, Guangdong and Fujian provinces are offering cash rewards ranging from 5,000 to 500,000 yuan to individuals who report people illegally entering into mainland China after Chinese authorities said 15 people sneaked into the mainland by boat from Hong Kong to get around daily immigration limits.

Twelve of them were found in the three provinces, while the whereabouts of the remaining three were not known. Thousands of residents have sought to escape the outbreak by crossing into the mainland amid Hong Kong's worst COVID-19 outbreak so far.

2:30 a.m. Recommended quarantines for those in close contact with infected people can be shortened from 14 days under certain conditions in high-incidence areas, the World Health Organization says, as the omicron variant's rapid spread may make full contact tracing and quarantines impractical or impossible.

The period can be cut to seven days for contacts who test negative and show no symptoms, or reduced to 10 days for asymptomatic contacts if testing is not possible, for example. The contacts should still take other precautions, such as wearing well-fitted medical masks and practicing social distancing, for the remainder of the 14 days.

The World Health Organization says that to help places where essential services are under pressure, the quarantine period for COVID-19 can be shortened.   © Reuters

1:26 a.m. The government of Hong Kong is considering having mandatory coronavirus tests for all residents, after Chinese President Xi Jinping told the financial hub to take "all necessary measures" to curb the soaring case count. The compulsory testing would start in March and Hong Kong's entire population, which currently stands at roughly 7.4 million, would be screened over a week, according to local media reports.

12:55 a.m. Canada's health regulator has approved Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine for use in people aged 18 years and older.

Thursday, Feb. 17

8:45 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announces his government will allow a limited number of foreign students and business travelers to enter the country from March, following pressure from business groups and academic circles. The move, which will mark the first major reopening of Japan's borders in more than a year, comes as other parts of the world have relaxed COVID-19 restrictions amid growing indication the omicron variant is less likely to cause severe illness than earlier strains.

Private consumption in Japan remains weak as the omicron COVID-19 variant continues to plague the economy.   © Reuters

6:30 p.m. Japan's government has downgraded its economic outlook for the first time in five months, due to weakness in private consumption as the omicron variant rages on. The Japanese economy "continues to show movements of picking up, although some weaknesses are seen as a severe situation (of economic activities) due to the novel coronavirus remains," the Cabinet Office said in its monthly assessment report for February. The report last month said the economy was picking up as "the novel coronavirus is gradually easing."

5:50 p.m. Hong Kong authorities report a record 6,116 confirmed cases, up from 4,285 the previous day, with a further 6,300 preliminary positive cases. That takes the total since January to more than 16,600. There were another 24 new deaths. The jump in cases is the biggest test yet of the city's "dynamic zero-COVID" policy, but leader Carrie Lam said this week the city "cannot surrender to the virus."

2:50 p.m. Europe's Airbus predicts 720 plane deliveries and higher profits in 2022 after core operating profit almost trebled last year on a partial recovery in jet deliveries and higher defense and helicopter earnings during the pandemic. Europe's largest aerospace group has restarted its dividend for the first time in two years after swinging to a record net profit of 4.213 billion euros ($4.8 billion), boosted by the halting of its A380 superjumbo and a reversal of some COVID-19 charges.

11:45 a.m. A Hong Kong resident filed a judicial review on Wednesday against the government's "vaccine pass" mandate, saying it was a system of discrimination and infringement on rights. The applicant said the restriction on freedom of movement is "institutional discrimination." The city's Chief Executive Carrie Lam expanded a list of venues that will require at least one jab for entry in a bid to boost vaccination rates among the elderly. These include restaurants, shopping malls and supermarkets.

Medical workers assist people waiting for coronavirus tests at a makeshift site in Seoul on Feb. 16.   © AP

11:18 a.m. South Korea's daily cases hit a new record high of 93,135 -- up from the previous high of 90,435 only a day ago -- bringing total infections to 1.64 million with 7,238 deaths. The government plans to announce new social distancing rules on Friday, three weeks ahead of the presidential election.

11:00 a.m. Singapore maintains its forecast for the economy to grow 3% to 5% this year as it continues to recover from the pandemic, though officials flagged downside risks to global growth and rising inflation. Gross domestic product grew 6.1% year on year in the fourth quarter, slightly higher than the 5.9% expected by the government. The country plans to push its economic reopening in the coming weeks to accelerate its recovery.

9:50 a.m. Australian employment rose modestly by 12,900 in January. The unemployment rate held at 4.2%, remaining the lowest since August 2008, when it bottomed out at 4.0%. The omicron wave caused a steep 8.8% slide in hours worked as employees stayed home sick or were forced to isolate.

Japanese manufacturers face slowing overseas demand for cars as well as global supply constraints.   © Reuters

9:30 a.m. Japan's exports in January grew less than expected as manufacturers faced pressure from slowing overseas demand for cars and struggled with global supply constraints, government data shows. Japan ran its biggest monthly trade deficit in eight years as persistent rises in fuel and raw material costs swelled imports. Exports rose 9.6% year-on-year, below a median market forecast for a 16.5% increase in a Reuters poll.

5:02 a.m. The Disney World resort in Florida makes masks optional for fully vaccinated guests, reversing a policy introduced in mid-2021. The resort says it expects guests who are not fully vaccinated to wear face coverings in all indoor locations, including theaters.

An update on Disneyland California's website shows masks are required for unvaccinated guests in all indoor locations, while face coverings are optional outdoors. Disney World and Disneyland both say masks still will be required in certain indoor settings, including transportation.

Disney had eased its mask requirement for theme park guests last year. (Orlando Sentinel via AP)

3:03 a.m. Travelers to Japan from March will face one of three quarantine scenarios, depending on their vaccination status and country of departure, as the government eases entry requirements.

2:13 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is weighing new COVID-19 guidance, including on when to wear face masks, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky tells reporters, adding that hospital capacity will be a key metric.

"Our highest, first priority is fighting omicron," White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients says. "At the same time, we are preparing for the future."

Singapore is expanding quarantine-free travel to Hong Kong, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this month.   © Reuters

Wednesday, Feb. 16

11:31 p.m. Switzerland will lift almost all its coronavirus pandemic restrictions from midnight, the government says, as fears waned that a spike in infections fueled by the omicron variant would overwhelm the health care system. Only the requirement to wear masks on public transport and while visiting health care facilities would remain in force temporarily after the changes.

10:30 p.m. BioNTech co-founder and CEO Ugur Sahin says the vaccine maker has no plans to enforce its intellectual property rights should organizations in Africa strike out on their own to produce unauthorized versions of the company's coronavirus shot.

8:16 p.m. The Hong Kong government said that food supplies from mainland China, which had diminished due to a COVID outbreak among cross-border truck drivers, "remained steady" and that wholesale prices had fallen. Vegetable imports reached 70% of normal volumes while meat imports were at 60%.

6:50 p.m. Singapore will expand quarantine-free travel to Hong Kong, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this month and will progressively add more destinations under the program, its health ministry says. It will also restore and increase quotas under its vaccinated travel program, which had been reduced in December to deal with the omicron variant. Singapore will also streamline border measures for travelers from most countries and remove an entry approval requirement for eligible long-term passholders, making it easier for expatriates to travel.

Hong Kong hit a record 4,285 new COVID-19 infections on Feb. 16, leading Chinese President Xi Jinping to call on the territory to take "all necessary measures" to stem the outbreak.   © AP

5:40 p.m. Hong Kong reports 4,285 new COVID-19 infections, a new daily record, with another 7,000 preliminary positive cases, authorities say, as they battle to control a worsening outbreak. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is under heavy pressure as Chinese President Xi Jinping told local newspapers that the Hong Kong government needs to use "all necessary measures" to control the case surge.

4:30 p.m. The waiting list to enter Japan continues to grow, with about 400,000 foreign nationals unable to enter as of Jan. 4 despite receiving prior approval for their status of residence, according to Japan's Immigration Services Agency (ISA). Due to prolonged entry restrictions, that is 30,000 more than the 370,000 who had not been able to enter as of October.

3:00 p.m. A Japanese princess who was infected with the new coronavirus has been discharged after a week at a Tokyo hospital, the Imperial Household Agency says. Princess Yoko, 38, the first royal member infected by the virus, had been diagnosed with moderate pneumonia, after complaining of fever and a sore throat. The second daughter of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a cousin of former Emperor Akihito, tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 8.

2:19 p.m. COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna will expand into Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia this year to better serve the Asian market, where its shots continue to be used to battle the pandemic. Moderna says it will target scientific and commercial collaborations with local organizations in those markets, as well as engage governments on the use of its products.

11:38 a.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on the Hong Kong government to prioritize controlling the coronavirus outbreak. "Authorities must mobilize all forces and resources that can be mobilized, take all necessary measures, and protect Hong Kong people's lives and health, as well as ensure Hong Kong's social stability," Xi was quoted in reports by Chinese Communist Party news outlets Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Po. Hong Kong is grappling with a fifth COVID wave as daily cases hit the thousands. About 12,000 patients were reportedly waiting to be admitted to hospitals. The Hong Kong government met with Chinese officials over the weekend to set up a task force aimed at boosting test and quarantine facilities.

11:14 a.m. South Korea's daily cases top 90,000 for the first time, surging to 90,443 on Tuesday. The tally was significantly up from 57,164 a day ago as the omicron variant caused cases to skyrocket. Total infections have now reached 1.55 million with 7,202 deaths.

9:21 a.m. South Korea's unemployment rate fell in January, with the number of employed rising at the sharpest pace in nearly 22 years. The increase was attributed to a low base and was supported by government spending. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slid to 3.6% in January versus 3.8% in December while 1,135,000 jobs were added -- the most since March 2000.

Singapore has seen COVID cases rise to record highs, but most are asymptomatic or mild.   © Reuters

9:16 a.m. Singapore reports a record daily high of 19,179 local cases for Tuesday. The city-state has recorded 191,882 cases over the last 28 days, but 99.7% were asymptomatic or mild. Of Tuesday's local cases, 16,102 were detected through antigen rapid tests and assessed as asymptomatic or mild with low risk.

8:29 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has lowered warnings for cruise ships by a notch from the highest level, seven weeks after it advised Americans against going on cruises. The health agency made the decision to reduce the warning in response to a decline in onboard COVID-19 cases but still recommends that people who are not up to date with vaccines to avoid cruises.

6:37 a.m. Citing a declining number of COVID-19 cases, Canada will ease entry for fully vaccinated international travelers effective Feb. 28.

The announcement Tuesday "reflects our collective progress" in the fight against the coronavirus, tweets Jean-Yves Duclos, the Canadian health minister. About 80% of Canadians are fully vaccinated and more than 40% have also had a booster dose, according to the health ministry.

The move comes amid protests by cross-border trucks opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

2:18 a.m. Turkey records its highest daily death toll from COVID-19 in more than nine months, surging to 309 on Tuesday. Health ministry data shows new cases over that period total 94,730.

Tuesday, Feb. 15

11:02 p.m. Japan is considering ending quarantine and self-isolation requirements next month for fully vaccinated and boosted travelers arriving from countries where coronavirus cases are not rising rapidly, Nikkei has learned. Read more.

8:03 p.m. Indonesia logs its highest daily infection count since the start of the pandemic, with 57,049 new cases in the past 24 hours, breaking the record reported during the peak in mid-July driven by the delta variant. The country reports 134 new deaths, far lower than daily deaths during the delta outbreak. Indonesia has confirmed 4.9 million cases and 145,455 deaths from the coronavirus.

Novak Djokovic holds the Wimbledon trophy after winning the tennis tournament in London last July. He has told the BBC he will not be getting vaccinated against COVID-19 for now, even if that means being unable to compete in big competitions.   © Reuters

6:30 p.m. Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic says he is prepared to miss the French Open and Wimbledon if COVID-19 vaccination becomes mandatory at the Grand Slams. Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, was barred from competing in this year's Australian Open. "I understand the consequences of my decision," Djokovic told the BBC. "I understand that not being vaccinated today, I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment. Yes, that is the price that I'm willing to pay."

4:00 p.m. Japan allowed only 2,015 foreigners to newly enter the country in January, down 28% from a year earlier, as the government employed a stringent entry policy due to a surge in the omicron variant, government data shows. As criticism against Japan's entry ban grows both overseas and at home, Japan had previously begun allowing a handful of government-sponsored foreign students into the country. The government now plans to start letting in some more students and business travelers this month before the entry curbs expire March 1.

Narita Airport in November. Japan's government has employed a stringent entry policy due to a surge in the omicron variant. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

1:39 p.m. India logs 27,409 new infections in the last 24 hours, the third consecutive day with fewer than 50,000 cases and the lowest daily count since Jan. 1, bringing the country's total to 42.7 million. Deaths rose by 347 to 509,358.

11:53 a.m. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says there are no plans for a citywide lockdown in the global financial hub but "surrendering to the virus" is not an option as authorities battle a surge of COVID-19 infections. Lam said she cannot "preclude" the possibility of postponing the city's election for chief executive, due to be held in March. Lam doubled down on her "dynamic zero" coronavirus strategy, similar to mainland China's, of seeking to curb outbreaks as soon as they occur.

10:30 a.m. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has activated rarely used emergency powers in an effort to end protests that have shut some U.S. border crossings and paralyzed parts of the capital. Under the Emergencies Act, the government introduced measures intended to cut off protesters' funding and took steps to reinforce provincial and local law enforcement with federal police. "The blockades are harming our economy and endangering public safety," Trudeau told a news conference. "We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue."

The "Freedom Convoy" protests, started by Canadian truckers opposing a COVID-19 vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, have drawn people opposed to Trudeau's policies on everything from pandemic restrictions to a carbon tax. Copycat trucker protests have also sprung up in Israel, France, Australia and New Zealand.

A woman is tested for COVID-19 at a railway station in Seoul on Feb. 10. South Korea's new daily cases have been over 50,000 for six days in a row.   © Reuters

9:48 a.m. South Korea's new daily cases hit a record high of 57,177, up from 54,617 a day ago, marking over 50,000 for six consecutive days. Total infections reach 1.46 million, with 7,163 deaths.

9:04 a.m. Japan's economic growth rebounded 1.3% in the October-December period from the preceding quarter, or an annualized rate of 5.4%, data from the Cabinet Office shows, recovering from a slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For 2021, the world's third-largest economy grew 1.7%, marking the first expansion in three years.

6:30 a.m. Novavax says it has received interim authorization from the Singapore Health Sciences Authority for its COVID-19 vaccine in adults.

1:27 a.m. Toyota Motor says it has not yet resumed production at its three manufacturing lines in Ontario even after a key U.S.-Canadian bridge reopened. The Japanese automaker's plants in Ontario, where it builds its bestselling RAV4 sport utility vehicle, have halted production since Thursday because of parts shortages stemming from the border disruption from a protest by Canadian truckers.

Monday, Feb. 14

Hong Kong has asked Beijing for help in expanding its testing and quarantining capacities as the city faces rising COVID infection rates.   © Reuters

6:26 p.m. Hong Kong records for the first time a daily count of more than 2,000 coronavirus cases as the city's medical facilities become overloaded. Health officials say 2,071 people have been confirmed to be infected with the virus while 4,500 have preliminary positive tests. The fifth wave of infections has dealt a blow to the city's health care system, prompting the government to request help from Beijing.

Over the weekend, Hong Kong ministers met with mainland officials to set up special task forces to help the territory in expanding testing and quarantining capacities. The city's Hospital Authority estimated thousands of people were waiting to be admitted to hospital and that it would reserve wards for children, elderly and patients with serious symptoms. Officials also approved the use of Sinovac for children as young as three starting from Tuesday.

5:57 p.m. Indonesia will ease its quarantine policy for both Indonesians and foreigners entering the country. Starting next week, those who have received booster shots will only have to undergo a three-day quarantine, down from the current five. Nonessential sectors are allowed to have 50% of their employees work in the office daily, from a previous 25%. Despite soaring cases in the past few weeks, the government said infections from the omicron variant show much milder symptoms and hospital occupancy is much lower than during the delta-driven peak last year.

5:06 p.m. Japan's government has agreed to buy an additional 10 million does of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer to be delivered in March. Japan already has a contract to purchase 120 million doses from Pfizer this year. Including the extra shots and acceleration of shipments, Japan will import 46 million Pfizer doses in March for its booster program, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters.

Quarantine information at Songshan Airport in Taipei in November 2020. Since the pandemic began, Taiwan has enforced a two-week quarantine for all arrivals.   © Reuters

3:42 p.m. Taiwan aims to ease its strict quarantine policy from next month, as the government says it needs to gradually resume normal life and reopen to the world. Speaking at a meeting with senior health officials, Premier Su Tseng-chang said that even though there could be more domestic infections, the government was "quite confident" in its pandemic measures. "The government must also take into account livelihoods and economic development, gradually return to normal life, and step out into the world," he said.

2:29 p.m. Taiwan's United Microelectronics says its wafer fab subsidiary in Suzhou, China has temporarily halted production after an employee was suspected of being infected, adding that the suspension will have no material impact on finances.

South Korea will begin administering fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of February, with high-risk groups the first to get the booster shot.   © Reuters

1:42 p.m. South Korea will begin administering fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of February and supply millions of additional home testing kits to ease shortages amid a surge in omicron infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol says. The surge has pushed daily cases to records, but widespread vaccination, with first booster shots received by more than 57% of the population of 52 million, has helped limit deaths and serious infections. High-risk groups will be the first to get the fourth dose, in effect a second booster shot, the minister told a COVID-19 response meeting.

1:28 p.m. Hong Kong is overwhelmed by an "onslaught" of COVID-19 infections, the territory's leader says, although deaths in the global financial hub remain far less than similar size cities since the pandemic erupted two years ago. Daily infections have jumped 13 times over the past two weeks, from about 100 cases at the start of February to over 1,300 on Feb. 13, with authorities scrambling to control the worsening outbreak.

12:09 p.m. China detected three new cases of COVID-19 among Olympic-related personnel on Feb. 13, the same number as a day earlier, the organizing committee of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games says. All three infections were among new airport arrivals, including one athlete or team official.

11:59 a.m. Tokyo stocks plunged Monday morning, with the benchmark Nikkei down over 2% as it followed a tumble on Wall Street late last week on increased concerns over a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average fell 725.74 points, or 2.62%, from Thursday to 26,970.34. Japanese markets were closed Friday for a national holiday. The broader Topix index of all first section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange was down 39.61 points, or 2.02%, at 1,923.00.

11:37 a.m. The Japanese unit of Merck & Co says it will accelerate imports of its oral COVID-19 treatment to help with a surge in cases caused by the omicron variant. The company will deliver 800,000 courses of the antiviral molnupiravir to Japan by March, up from an earlier scheduled 600,000. Japan agreed last year to pay Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics about $1.2 billion for 1.6 million courses of molnupiravir. The drug was approved by regulators in late December.

11:00 a.m. Hong Kong health authorities are expected to report at least 1,530 cases today, setting a new record for daily infections, broadcaster TVB said, citing an unidentified source.

A protester is detained by Canadian police for trespassing at a gas station along a road to the Ambassador Bridge, which connects the country to the U.S, on Feb. 13.   © Reuters

4:00 a.m. North America's busiest trade link will reopen for traffic, ending a six-day blockade, a top U.S. official says. Canadian police cleared protesters fighting to end COVID restrictions, making several arrests on Sunday and removing vehicles that blocked the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario. The move followed a court order on Friday.

Sunday, Feb. 13

10:00 p.m. Hong Kong reports 1,347 infections, down from the previous day's record. The spread, with 2,000 more suspected cases, threatens the city's health care system, authorities said. The surge in cases -- the biggest test yet for Hong Kong's "dynamic zero-COVID" strategy -- comes a day after the government said China would help with testing, treatment and quarantine.

5:32 p.m. Vietnam will remove restrictions on international passenger flights to all destinations starting Feb. 15, with no limits on the number of flights, according to Reuters that cited reports by Vietnam's state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper on Sunday. "The frequency of flights will be restored to the pre-pandemic level," said Dinh Viet Son, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam.

1:08 p.m. Australian police have given thousands of protesters until the end of Sunday to leave occupied areas of the country's capital as dayslong rallies continue against vaccine mandates, Reuters reports.

9:30 a.m. South Korea reports that cases on the previous day reached a daily record of 56,431, bringing the country total to 1,350,630 with 7,081 deaths.

3:50 a.m. Canadian police begin clearing protesters who had blocked a bridge to the United States, snarling international trade and prompting President Joe Biden to call for an end to the siege. The Ambassador Bridge, North America's busiest land border crossing, had no traffic flowing for the fifth straight day. About 15 trucks, cars and vans blocked traffic in both directions, choking the supply chain for Detroit's carmakers. The "Freedom Convoy" protests, started in the capital Ottawa by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, are in their 16th day.

Saturday, Feb. 12

10:21 p.m. French police fire tear gas at demonstrators on the Champs-Elysees avenue and other places in Paris after a "Freedom Convoy" protesting against COVID-19 restrictions made it into the capital. Vehicles carrying protesters managed to get through police checkpoints in central Paris to snarl traffic around the Arc de Triomphe monument.

9:30 p.m. China will help Hong Kong to cope with an expanding COVID-19 outbreak by providing testing, treatment and quarantine capacity, Chief Secretary John Lee says. Hong Kong and mainland China are among few places in the world still aiming to suppress every COVID-19 outbreak, but the omicron variant has proved tough to keep under control. Lee says there were no plans for a mainland-style lockdown for now.

9:11 p.m. Norway says it is lifting almost all remaining restrictions as it doesn't see a major health threat to citizens any more, even though the omicron variant is still spreading in the Nordic nation. "This is the day we have been waiting for," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere tells a news conference. "We are removing almost all coronavirus measures."

8:20 p.m. Hong Kong reports a daily record of 1,514 confirmed cases. The new high comes as the city struggles with the worst outbreak of the pandemic as it tries to implement China's zero-tolerance strategy using a mandatory quarantine for all travelers and mass testing.

12:31 p.m. China's drug regulator approves Pfizer's antiviral 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).

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

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