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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Feb.14 to Feb. 20, Pfizer jabs can be stored in normal medical freezers

Vietnam to receive 30m vaccine doses via COVAX; Thai Airways cuts about 240 top jobs

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are stored in an ultra-low temperature freezer at a hospital in Gonesse, France.   © Reuters

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

Global cases have reached 110,687,323, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The worldwide death toll has hit 2,450,499.

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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Saturday, Feb. 20 (Tokyo time)

11:04 a.m. New Zealand begins its rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, while Australia has finalized plans to begin inoculations on Monday, a new phase in tackling the virus that both countries have kept largely contained.

10:40 a.m. King Mswati III of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) said he has recovered from COVID-19 after Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen sent him antiviral medication. The small country in southern Africa is Taipei's only remaining diplomatic ally on the continent.

9:45 a.m. U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to nonessential travel until at least March 21, the one-year anniversary of the restrictions, to address COVID-19 transmission concerns, the U.S. government said Friday.

9:36 a.m. Argentinia's health minister, Gines Gonzalez Garcia, resigned Friday after claims surfaced over improper allocation of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

6:28 a.m. Pfizer plans to double the weekly supply of its COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. in the next few weeks from the current average of about 5 million doses, according to the drugmaker's CEO.

Albert Bourla cited increased batch size and yield, as well as more efficient lab test methods, in reducing the time required to make the vaccine from 110 days to 60.

4:42 a.m. Major American airlines will adopt a voluntary international contact-tracing program, with data from passengers traveling into the U.S. to be relayed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has long sought to mandate the collection and reporting of tracing information from international passengers, efforts that had been rejected under the Trump administration.

12:11 a.m. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can be stored at normal medical freezer temperatures for up to two weeks, according to data the companies submitted to U.S. regulators, rather than the previously required conditions of minus 60 C to minus 80 C.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin says the company continues to develop new formulations to make the vaccine "even easier to transport and use," the Financial Times reports.

Friday, Feb. 19

11:31 p.m. The European Union doubles its contribution to the World Health Organization-led COVAX initiative to supply COVID-19 vaccine to developing nations, providing an additional 500 million euros.

10:09 p.m. Hong Kong Disneyland reopens as the pandemic eases, following three closings last year lasting a combined nine months. The government relaxed social distancing measures on Thursday, with new coronavirus cases dropping to the low double digits in recent weeks.

9:30 p.m. Johnson & Johnson says it has applied to the World Health Organization to list its COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, Reuters reports.

8:30 p.m. South Korea's prime minister has given AstraZeneca's vaccine a vote of confidence ahead of a scheduled rollout in the country next week, Reuters reports.

The shot, developed with Britain's Oxford University, was the first to win Seoul's approval. But questions have been raised over efficacy among older individuals and potential side effects.

"The vaccine was granted approval in around 50 countries and recently got emergency approval from the World Health Organization," said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun. "I repeat, there is no issue with safety."

6:10 p.m. Vietnam will receive 60 million COVID-19 vaccines this year, including 30 million under the WHO-led COVAX scheme, the country's health minister says. The new outbreak of the more contagious U.K. variant of the disease detected in the northern province of Hai Duong last month is Vietnam's biggest pandemic challenge yet. The country has recorded 755 infections since the beginning of the current outbreak, accounting for a third of the country's total cases since the start of the pandemic.

Vietnam is facing its biggest challenge so far in the pandemic after an outbreak of the more contagious U.K. variant was discovered in Hai Duong province.   © Reuters

4:00 p.m. Japan will receive its second shipment of Pfizer's vaccine on Sunday, vaccine program chief Taro Kono says. About 453,000 doses are set to arrive after the European Union approved the shipment. Japan, which received its first shipment of 400,000 doses last week, launched its vaccination campaign on Wednesday, starting with 40,000 health workers.

3:07 p.m. Tokyo reports 353 new infections, down from 445 a day earlier. Daily numbers in the capital have been dropping, with the latest seven-day average falling to 361 cases, compared with 426 a week earlier.

2:40 p.m. Thai Airways says it has cut about 240 executive positions as part of its bankruptcy restructuring. "The number of executive positions has been reduced from 740 to about 500," the airline said in a statement, adding that the move would increase efficiency by going from eight supervisory levels to five.

1:51 p.m. Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals has started its late-stage clinical trials in the Philippines, according to Science and Technology Undersecretary Rowena Guevara. The trials, the first in the Philippines, are taking place in Metropolitan Manila, said Guevara, who declined to provide more details, citing confidentiality. Site preparations for the clinical trials of Sinovac Biotech and Clover Biopharmaceuticals are ongoing, the official also said.

1:14 p.m. Indonesia's largest pharmaceuticals manufacturer, Kalbe Farma, has struck a deal with South Korea's Genexine to develop and commercialize a drug candidate for both COVID-19 and cancer treatments. Kalbe Farma said its licensing agreement with the biotechnology group was worth $1.1 billion, including costs for clinical trials, registration and commercialization as well as royalty payments that will be made in stages to Genexine.

The apparent high success rate for a single dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine will potentially fuel a debate over the recommended two-dose schedule as governments try to stretch out supplies.    © Reuters

12:00 p.m. The first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is 85% effective, a study of health care workers at an Israeli hospital has found, potentially fueling a debate over the recommended two-dose schedule as governments try to stretch out supplies. The Sheba Medical Center's findings compare with overall efficacy of around 95% in a two-dose regimen 21 days apart for the vaccine, developed with Germany's BioNTech.

11:30 a.m. Japanese health authorities have found more than 90 cases of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato says. The mutant variant, known as E484K, has been found in 91 cases in the Kanto area of eastern Japan and in two cases at airports. The variant is believed to have come from overseas but is different from those that originated in Britain and South Africa, according to Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

11:00 a.m. A top Pfizer scientist says the company is in intensive discussions with regulators to test a booster shot version of its coronavirus vaccine specifically targeted for a highly contagious variant that is spreading widely in South Africa and elsewhere.

10:00 a.m. South Korea confirms 561 new cases, down from 621 a day ago. Total infections reach 86,128 with 1,550 deaths.

9:30 a.m. China reports 10 new cases for Thursday, down from 11 a day earlier. All were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to eight from 20 a day earlier.

8:50 a.m. Japan's core consumer prices fell 0.6% in January from a year earlier, the sixth straight month of annual declines, as the pandemic keeps the economy under deflationary pressure. The drop in the core consumer price index, which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food prices, was slightly less than the median market forecast of a 0.7% fall and followed a 1.0% decline in December.

The U.S. races to vaccinate its population. Life expectancy in the country dropped by one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths.   © Reuters

3:20 a.m. Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by a full year in the first six months of 2020, the government reports, the largest drop since World War II and a grim measure of the deadly consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The expected American life span dropped to 77.8 years from 78.8 years in 2019, according to preliminary estimates Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics nearly two years.

"This is a huge decline," said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. "You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this."

2:30 a.m. The two coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna appear to be highly effective against the more transmissible variant first detected in Britain, according to newly published studies in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The vaccines, however, showed a decreased ability to neutralize the strain now dominant in South Africa, worrying some researchers and prompting Pfizer and BioNTech to announce they were taking steps to develop a booster shot or updated vaccine.

Thursday, Feb. 18

11:30 p.m. China will donate 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Namibia.

China already has donated vaccines to a number of African nations as they struggle to obtain doses, including Zimbabwe and the Republic of Congo.

Ambassador Zhang Yiming told Namibia's first lady, Monica Geingos, during an event at the Chinese Embassy that Beijing will give priority to 53 developing countries including Namibia to acquire Chinese vaccines.

"This fully reflects the high-level bilateral relations between our two countries," he said, adding that the two countries were coordinating to deliver the vaccine to Namibia as early as possible.

People queue to receive a dose of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine at the Tanah Abang textile market in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday.   © Reuters

8:29 p.m. Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, is threatening residents with fines of up to 5 million rupiah ($356.89) for refusing COVID-19 vaccines. Deputy Jakarta Gov. Ahmad Riza Patria says such sanctions were a last resort.

Indonesia announced a presidential order earlier this month stipulating anyone who refuses vaccines could be denied social assistance or government services or made to pay a fine.

7:22 p.m. Malaysia reports a new daily high of 25 coronavirus deaths, taking the total number of fatalities to 1,030. The health ministry also confirms 2,712 new coronavirus infections.

6:20 p.m. Thailand's second domestically developed vaccine will soon undergo human trials, officials say. The vaccine, developed by Chulalongkorn University, had success in trials in mice and monkeys and is due to be tested on humans in late April or early May, Kiat Ruxrungtham of the Chula Vaccine Research Center said.

"By year-end we should have a production capacity of 1 to 5 million doses annually," Kiat said, adding this could later rise to about 20 million doses per year.

4:35 p.m. Indonesia's central bank cuts its benchmark interest rate for the first time in three months as it seeks to shore up an economy battered by the pandemic. Bank Indonesia lowered the seven-day reverse repo rate to 3.50% from the previous 3.75%, bringing the rate to its lowest point since at least 2016, when the central bank began using the rate as its benchmark.

A sign for Sinovac Biotech at the China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing in September. The Hong Kong government approved the emergency use of Sinovac's coronavirus vaccine on Thursday.   © Reuters

4:31 p.m. Hong Kong will kick off a six-month mass vaccination program next week, as 1 million doses of China's Sinovac coronavirus vaccine are set to arrive on Friday. Health sector employees, citizens aged 60 or older and cross-border transport workers will be given priority for inoculation. Online bookings will begin Tuesday.

4:17 p.m. The Tokyo 2020 executive board has appointed Seiko Hashimoto, 56, president of the beleaguered Olympic organizing committee. Hashimoto succeeds Yoshiro Mori, who resigned over sexist comments. Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian, takes the helm only five months before the postponed Summer Games are scheduled to begin.

2:09 p.m. India reports 12,881 cases in the last 24 hours, up from 11,610 the previous day, pushing the cumulative tally to 10.95 million. Fatalities jumped by 101 to 156,014. The total of COVID-19 vaccinations has crossed 9.42 million since the inoculation drive started on Jan. 16.

1:59 p.m. The first batch of China's Sinovac coronavirus vaccine will arrive in Hong Kong on a Cathay Pacific cargo flight on Friday at 5:30 p.m. The Hong Kong government approved the emergency use of the vaccine on Thursday despite the lack of endorsement from the World Health Organization, citing satisfactory clinical trial findings.

11:20 a.m. Japanese Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto intends to accept the job of head of the organizing committee for Tokyo 2020, sources tell Nikkei, replacing Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after making sexist remarks.

11:00 a.m. Australian employment rose a net 29,100 in January, on top of a 50,000 gain in December, government data shows. The jobless rate dropped to 6.4%, from 6.6%, better than market forecasts of 6.5% and down from a peak of 7.5% in July.

10:20 a.m. China reports 11 new cases for Wednesday, up from seven a day earlier. All were imported infections that originated from overseas. New asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed COVID-19 cases, rose to 20 from six a day earlier.

10:04 a.m. South Korea confirms 621 new cases, the same as a day earlier. Total infections reach 85,567, with 1,544 deaths. The country will start vaccinations on Feb. 26, becoming the last OECD member to do so.

A laboratory study suggests that the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine is reduced by two-thirds against the South African variant of the coronavirus but it is still able to neutralize the virus.   © Reuters

7:30 a.m. A laboratory study suggests that the South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce antibody protection from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by two-thirds, the companies say. The study found the vaccine was still able to neutralize the virus, and trials in people have so far provided no evidence that the variant reduces vaccine protection. Because there is no established benchmark yet to determine what level of antibodies are needed to protect against the virus, it is unclear whether that two-thirds reduction will render the vaccine ineffective against the variant, which is spreading around the world.

4:42 a.m. Johnson & Johnson has only a few million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in inventory, according to White House officials, even with authorization by U.S. regulators expected in a few weeks.

J&J plans to begin distributing doses upon U.S. authorization and expects to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. in the first half of 2021, the company says.

J&J's deliveries are likely to be "back-end loaded," Jeffrey Zients, the White House's COVID-19 response coordinator, says during a press call.

1:47 a.m. India offers COVID-19 vaccinations for all United Nations peacekeepers, covering nearly 95,000 troops worldwide. "We would like to announce today a gift of 200,000 doses," Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tells a U.N. Security Council meeting, citing the difficult circumstances faced by the peacekeepers.

UN peacekeepers mark the end of their deployment at a Beirut port in October 2020.

12:16 a.m. Pfizer has not delivered about 10 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union due in December, Reuters reports, resulting in supplies from the U.S. drugmaker falling about one-third short of the amount expected by now.

The company has committed to delivering the missing doses by the end of March, according to an EU official.

Wednesday, Feb. 17

10:58 p.m. The head of the United Nations calls for a global vaccination plan, urging the Group of 20 nations to lead the effort.

"The world urgently needs a global vaccination plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tells the Security Council.

9:23 p.m. The European Commission says it has struck a deal for an extra 150 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine this year, nearly doubling the number of shots secured from the U.S. biotech firm for 2021. Under the deal, the European Union also has the option to buy another 150 million doses next year.

The EU has already booked 160 million doses of the Moderna shot for this year. Deliveries began in January, with a target to supply 10 million doses by the end of March, although there have been some delays.

A doctor administers a Moderna vaccination at a new COVID-19 vaccination center in Berlin.   © Reuters

7:40 p.m. Germany expects to receive 10 million doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of next week, meaning the pace of vaccination is set to pick up significantly, says Health Minister Jens Spahn.

7:28 p.m. Bahrain has launched a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport, one of the first countries to do so, the Gulf state's media office says. Bahrain's "BeAware" app displays a green shield alongside an official certificate detailing the person's name, date of birth, nationality and the type of vaccine received.

7:13 p.m. Uzbekistan will purchase 1 million doses of the Russian-developed Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, the Central Asian nation's government says. Tashkent also says it will set up a joint venture for the domestic production of a vaccine developed by China's Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical.

7:12 p.m. Malaysia reports 2,998 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded infections to 272,163.

5:50 p.m. The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have narrowed their search for a new leader to Seiko Hashimoto, the government's incumbent Olympics minister and a former athlete herself.

5:45 p.m. South Africa will administer its first Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot on Wednesday at Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde says. The injections will be rolled out to healthcare workers as part of a research study. South Africa this month paused the rollout of AstraZeneca doses after preliminary trial data showed they offer minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the country's dominant coronavirus variant.

5:41 p.m. Britain says China must cooperate with the World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. The U.S. and U.K. have expressed concern over the access given to a WHO mission to China, where the virus emerged in late 2019. "We want to see full cooperation," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tells BBC radio, adding that the results can help the world "learn the lessons."

3:06 p.m. A deal for Taiwan to buy 5 million doses of a vaccine developed by Germany's BioNTech is on hold, allegedly due to Chinese interference, according to Reuters. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said Taiwan was on the verge of announcing the deal in December when BioNTech pulled the plug. While not directly blaming Beijing, Chen had been worried about "outside forces," hence his caution in discussing the planned deal. "Certain people don't want Taiwan to be too happy," he said in a radio interview.

A Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine vial. Taiwan avoids directly blaming Beijing for scuttling a deal for 5 million doses of the vaccine.   © Reuters

3:04 p.m. Tokyo reports 378 cases, up from 350 a day earlier. The latest seven-day average is 353 cases, down from 508 a week earlier.

2:37 p.m. South Korea's drug ministry says it granted final approval for a shipment of 1.57 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to arrive next week.

2:32 p.m. Chinese cinemas racked up record revenues during the Lunar New Year holiday, as travel curbs forced millions to stay close to home during what is usually the world's biggest annual domestic migration, Reuters reports. Revenues touched 6.96 billion yuan ($1.08 billion) over the six days to Wednesday, according to ticketing agency Maoyan Entertainment, with higher prices padding the total and Chinese productions dominating screens. This topped the 2019 record of 5.9 billion yuan, sending year-to-date revenues over 10 billion yuan, state media said.

Women linger outside Jakarta's Tanah Abang textile market in November 2020.   © Reuters

12:01 a.m. Indonesia kicks off the second phase of its vaccination program with inoculations in Tanah Abang, the country's largest textile market. President Joko Widodo said this phase targets 16.9 million public sector workers as well as 21.5 million adults aged 60 or older.

11:33 a.m. Thailand's economic outlook remained uncertain, so future monetary policy will be kept in reserve while fiscal policy should continue to aid the economy, according to Wednesday's policy meeting of the country's central bank. The Bank of Thailand voted unanimously to keep the one-day repurchase rate unchanged at 0.50% for a sixth straight meeting, after three cuts in the first half of 2020.

11:25 a.m. Japan shows a gradual recovery from the deep coronavirus slump. Exports rose in January, led by a jump in Chinese demand. Core machinery orders unexpectedly rose for the third straight month in December.

10:52 a.m. The Australian Open will be open to fans for the last four days of the tennis tournament after the state of Victoria announced the lifting of the latest lockdown.

10:21 a.m. Japan's Shimane Prefecture may cancel its Olympic torch relay events, Gov. Tatsuya Maruyama says in the latest sign of skepticism over whether the games can be staged safely this summer.

10:15 a.m. South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun warned against loosening social distancing rules after new cases hit their highest levels in nearly 40 days. The government relaxed distancing curbs on Saturday, to take effect this week, after controlling a third wave of outbreaks that peaked at around 1,200 daily cases in late December. But numbers shot up in three days, topping 600 on Tuesday after a ban on nighttime entertainment was lifted and a restaurant curfew extended by one hour to 10 p.m.

9:30 a.m. Singapore's non-oil domestic exports in January increased 12.8% from a low base last year, driven by shipments of specialized machinery, non-monetary gold, petrochemicals and electronics. This marked the quickest growth since June and beat the 5.4% rise initially forecast by experts in a Reuters poll. Exports climbed 6.8% in December.

9:18 a.m. Japan kicks off vaccinations, starting with a group of 40,000 health workers before expanding to the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. The first shots were administered at a government-run hospital in Tokyo. Vaccinations will be offered at 100 medical facilities across Japan by next week. The country has been relatively slow to start its vaccination drive, lagging behind at least 70 other countries.

6:00 a.m. The first generation of vaccines is akin to a modern miracle. In little over a year since the virus surfaced, mass inoculations using safe, effective and tested vaccines have begun in dozens of countries. But now comes the hard part: Who gets them, and where? While countries work overtime to vaccinate populations, a bigger issue looms. Namely, the longer the disease is allowed to thrive, the more likely it is to mutate into variants resistant to existing vaccines. Read more on this week's The Big Story.

The Fearless Girl Statue in Melbourne, Australia: The lockdown imposed on the city along with the entire state of Victoria was eased on Feb. 17.   © Reuters

8:48 a.m. Australia's state of Victoria will ease restrictions from midnight on Wednesday, state Premier Daniel Andrews says, after reporting no new cases on the final day of a five-day lockdown.

8:27 a.m. New Zealand has detected two locally transmitted cases, broadcaster TVNZ reports, ahead of a decision by authorities on whether to extend the lockdown of its biggest city, Auckland.

3:45 a.m. South Africa plans to share 1 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses with other African countries, after preliminary trial data showed minimal protection against moderate cases of the country's dominant coronavirus variant. The rollout was paused this month.

"The doses are going to be shared with countries on the continent" through the African Union, Anban Pillay, a senior health department official, told Reuters.

The country plans to switch to Johnson & Johnson's alternative, with an initial 80,000 doses arriving soon.

12:13 a.m. Moderna moves forward the supply target for the second 100 million of its COVID-19 vaccine doses to the U.S. by one month to the end of May. The U.S. has ordered 300 million Moderna doses, with the final 100 million doses slated for delivery by the end of July.

Medical workers in Japan continue to gear up as the country readies to start mass vaccinations.   © Reuters

Tuesday, Feb. 16

9:25 p.m. As Japan prepares to start its vaccination drive on Wednesday, the minister in charge, Taro Kono, is aiming first and foremost for efficient inoculations of older citizens. "I was focusing first on how to smoothly start off the vaccination of older adults, and there is no strategy for what comes after, to be honest," Kono says.

Here are five things to know about Japan's vaccine rollout.

8:20 p.m. Russia extends its ban on flights to and from the U.K. until March 16, Reuters reports, citing Moscow's coronavirus task force. The ban was imposed Dec. 22 in response to the discovery of a more infectious variant in Britain.

7:45 p.m. Hungary's first 550,000 doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine have arrived in Budapest, according to Reuters. The European Union member in January became the first state in the bloc to approve and purchase the Chinese option, ordering 5 million doses.

6:08 p.m. Japan will begin COVID-19 inoculations on Wednesday starting with 40,000 medical workers, the country's vaccination chief Taro Kono says at a news conference. The European Union has approved the second shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Japan, which is expected to arrive next week, he added. The country is the last of the Group of Seven nations to start its vaccination program. The government approved Pfizer's vaccine on Sunday.

5:10 p.m. Singapore will set aside a further 11 billion Singapore dollars ($8.3 billion) in a COVID-19 support package in the upcoming fiscal year's budget, extending last year's unprecedented fiscal response to the pandemic. The government committed nearly SG$100 billion last year to alleviate fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

3:06 p.m. Tokyo reports 350 new infections, up from 266 a day earlier. The number of daily cases in the Japanese capital has been trending downward under the state of emergency, with the latest seven-day average falling to 369 cases, down from 534 a week earlier.

12:50 p.m. South Africa has asked the Serum Institute of India to take back the one million vaccine doses the company had sent in early February, The Economic Times reports, a week after the country said it will put on hold use of AstraZeneca's shot in its vaccination program.

A nurse in Madrid fills a syringe with Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine. Malaysia will receive its first batch of Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines on Feb. 21.   © Reuters

11:10 a.m. Malaysia will receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from U.S. and German drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech on Feb. 21, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says. Muhyiddin will be the first to receive a vaccine, he says, when the country's national COVID-19 vaccination program begins on Feb. 26.

11:00 a.m. South Korea has arranged to buy coronavirus vaccines for 23 million more people, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun says. The deals include Novavax vaccines for 20 million people and Pfizer products for 3 million. On Monday authorities said they will not use AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine on people aged 65 and older, reversing an earlier decision, and they scaled back initial vaccination targets because of delayed shipments from the global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX.

10:45 a.m. China reported 16 new cases on Monday, compared with nine a day earlier. All the cases were imported infections originating overseas. There were 11 new asymptomatic infections, which China does not classify as confirmed COVID-19 cases, versus 10 a day earlier.

10:30 a.m. Australia's medical regulator has granted provisional approval for AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, making it the second to receive regulatory approval in the country. The regulator last month approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use, and inoculations for Australia's 25 million people will begin Feb. 22.

9:58 a.m. Japan's equity benchmark Nikkei Stock Average surges Tuesday morning, at one point jumping nearly 400 points, or 1.3%, to a fresh 30-year high, buoyed by optimism over COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.

7:00 a.m. The European Union will this week kick off a new program to study mutations in the COVID-19 virus to prepare for the next generation of vaccines that might be needed, the European Commission's president Les Echos. The program, dubbed "HERA incubator," will bring together health authorities and laboratories and have its own funding, Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview with the French financial newspaper.

5:50 a.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says world powers should clinch a global treaty on pandemics to ensure proper transparency after the novel coronavirus outbreak that originated in China. Johnson says he would be keen to agree a global treaty on pandemics where countries agreed to share data, amid British and U.S. concern over access given to a World Health Organization mission to China.

WHO investigators found evidence that Wuhan was experiencing a much wider coronavirus outbreak than previously thought in December 2019.   © Reuters

4:30 a.m. An estimated 1,000 people might have been infected with the coronavirus in Wuhan during December 2019, suggesting a much larger early outbreak in the city than previously thought, according to an World Health Organization investigator.

The lead investigator for the WHO mission, Peter Ben Embarek, has told CNN that the mission found signs of a more wide-ranging 2019 spread, including evidence that over a dozen strains of the virus were in Wuhan already in December.

Embarek added that Chinese scientists presented the team with 174 coronavirus cases in and around Wuhan in December 2019. This larger number of likely severe cases that had been noticed by Chinese doctors early on meant the disease could have hit 1,000 or more people in Wuhan that December, he said.

1:50 a.m. The World Health Organization approves AstraZeneca and Oxford University's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, widening access to the relatively inexpensive shot in the developing world. The WHO says it has approved the vaccine as produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India.

1:00 a.m. The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro will halt COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesday due to a lack of shots. Vaccinations will resume when new doses arrive, with delivery not expected until next week, according to the city. The halt to vaccinations illustrates the patchy nature of Brazil's vaccine rollout, which has been blighted by delays and a lack of supplies.

Monday, Feb. 15

11:10 p.m. India could approve Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 in the next few weeks, the RIA news agency cites India's ambassador to Moscow as saying. Small human trials of the Russian vaccine have been ongoing in India, with the support of the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

9:23 p.m. India's Serum Institute will ship COVID-19 vaccines to Canada within a month, its chief executive says, a sign that a diplomatic row is cooling. India earlier took umbrage after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said months-long protests by farmers on the outskirts of Delhi were concerning. Last week, Trudeau and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi discussed the two countries' commitment to democracy.

9:21 p.m. Cambodia reports its first cases of the highly contagious U.K. variant, after three foreigners who arrived from overseas tested positive while in quarantine. The Southeast Asian nation of about 16 million people has been mostly spared from the pandemic, recording fewer than 500 infections and no deaths.

8:27 p.m. Indonesia again increases the budget for its National Economic Recovery program, which includes its mass vaccination campaign. The budget is now at 688.33 trillion rupiah ($49.48 billion), its finance minister says, up from the initial 372.3 trillion rupiah. Earlier this month, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati had put the value at 619 trillion rupiah.

7:01 p.m. Cash remittances from Filipinos working overseas last year dropped 0.8% to $29.9 billion, defying expectations of a sharper fall due to the pandemic, the country's central bank says.

6:44 p.m. Malaysia reports 2,176 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 266,445. The health ministry also records 10 new deaths, bringing total fatalities to 975.

A medical worker prepares an injection of Sinovac's vaccine before giving it to a healthcare worker at an emergency hospital in the Athletes Village in Jakarta, Indonesia, on January 27.   © Reuters

5:02 p.m. Indonesia says it has inoculated 73% of its 1.48 million health workers in the first stage of its vaccination program. The second stage starts this week and lasts through May, targeting over 38 million older adults, wet market merchants, teachers and civil servants. The health ministry says there are about 18 million ready doses of the Sinovac vaccine, enough for 9 million recipients through mid-March. Of the doses, 70% will be distributed on Java and Bali islands.

4:30 p.m. South Africa's drug regulator says it has approved an implementation study of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine but is still reviewing its full market application. The implementation study will target inoculating between 350,000 to 500,000 health care workers, with the first batch of 80,000 doses expected to arrive this week. J&J has not yet submitted an application for emergency use authorization of its vaccine, the regulator said.

3:10 p.m. Tokyo reports 266 infections, down from 371 a day earlier. While figures on Monday tend to be lower than other days, it was the ninth consecutive day for the capital to register fewer than 500 cases. The number of patients in serious condition also fell by six to 97, raising hopes that the stress on the health system would ease further.

2;43 p.m. South Korea decides not to use the AstraZeneca vaccine on people 65 and older until it can confirm the vaccine's effectiveness on patients in the age group. As a result, more than 500,000 older adults will be excluded from the current inoculation schedule. In the next stage of the country's vaccination drive, which begins on March 8, 354,000 medics will receive injections, followed by 78,000 government health officials later in the month.

2:30 p.m. The first shipment of 142,000 doses of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has arrived in Australia, the first delivery for the country, the health minister says. Australia plans to start vaccinations from Feb. 22. The country has a lockdown in place after a cluster emerged from a quarantine hotel in Melbourne.

A nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.   © Reuters

2:20 p.m. India reports 11,649 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 12,194 the previous day, pushing its total to over 10.91 million. Deaths rose by 90 to 155,732. The country has vaccinated over 8.28 million health care and front-line workers since launching the inoculation drive on Jan. 16, according to the Health Ministry.

2:00 p.m. The number of poor people in Indonesia rose by 2.76 million in the year to September 2020 to 27.55 million, or 10.19% of the population, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the statistics bureau says. The data defined a poor person as someone spending below 458,947 rupiah ($33.01) a month.

11:48 a.m. Thailand's economy contracted at its fastest pace in more than two decades, reflecting a lack of tourists and exports due to COVID-19, according to government data. Real GDP shrank 6.1% in 2020 compared with the previous year.

11:00 a.m. Japan plans to launch its vaccination campaign on Wednesday, starting with health workers, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says. On Sunday, the country approved Pfizer's vaccine, the first for domestic use. Japan received a shipment of around 400,000 doses from Pfizer's factory in Belgium on Friday. In addition, Japan has agreements with AstraZeneca and Moderna to receive enough doses for its population of 126 million.

Australia has again severely restricted travel with neighboring New Zealand over new cases reported in Auckland.   © Reuters

10:50 a.m. China reports nine new cases for Sunday, compared to seven a day earlier. Of the cases, eight were imported infections originating overseas, while one case was recorded in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing. New asymptomatic infections, which China does not classify as confirmed COVID-19 cases, fell to 10 from 17 a day earlier.

10:40 a.m. Australia suspends quarantine-free travel with New Zealand after three community cases were detected in Auckland over the weekend. The outbreak involved the more transmissible U.K. variant, New Zealand health officials confirm -- the first time the strain has been detected locally.

10:29 a.m. South Korea confirms 344 cases, up from 326 a day ago, bringing the country total to 83,869 with 1,527 deaths. The government eased social distancing rules from today, lifting business curfews at cinemas, private institutions and amusement parks.

9:30 a.m. Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock index rises in early morning trade, hitting the 30,000 mark for the first time since August 1990. The surge was fueled by strong corporate earnings and optimism that progress in COVID-19 vaccine development will lift the global economy, prompting investors to flock to risk assets.

 Strong corporate earnings and vaccine optimism helped propel Japanese shares to their highest level in three decades. (Photo by Yo Inoue) 

9:14 a.m. Singapore maintains a GDP growth forecast of 4% to 6% for 2021, unchanged from its estimate in November. The city-state is coming off a record 5.4% annual contraction, according to updated data. Singapore has the coronavirus largely under control and aims to vaccinate all adults by September.

9:00 a.m. Japan's economy in the October-December period grew an annualized real 12.7% from the previous quarter, continuing to recover from a coronavirus pandemic-induced slump, government data shows. The expansion in real gross domestic product corresponds to a 3.0% increase on a seasonally-adjusted quarterly basis.

Sunday, Feb. 14

11:30 p.m. Mexico receives a shipment of 870,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine from India.

7:30 p.m. The Thai government defends its decision not to join the WHO-sponsored vaccine program COVAX, saying to do so would risk the country paying more for shots and face uncertain delivery times. "Buying vaccines directly from manufacturers is the appropriate choice ... as it's more flexible," a government spokesperson said.

5:47 p.m. Japan formally approves Pfizer's vaccine, the first such for domestic use, clearing the way to start inoculating health workers in a matter of days. The fast-track approval by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare marks a major step forward in the country's efforts to stem the pandemic.

3:22 p.m. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces a three-day lockdown in the country's biggest city Auckland after three local cases were reported.

A nurse displays a vial of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India at a medical center in Mumbai.   © Reuters

9:19 a.m. The Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. says the U.S. damaged multilateral cooperation and the World Health Organization in recent years, and should not be "pointing fingers" at China and other countries that supported the WHO during the pandemic. The statement comes in response to remarks by U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

2:23 a.m. Iran's health minister warns of a fourth COVID-19 surge with the possible spread of a mutated virus in the worst-hit country in the Middle East.

President Hassan Rouhani tells state television "alarm bells were ringing for a fourth coronavirus wave" as at least nine cities and towns in Iran's southwest were declared high-risk "red" zones after a rise in cases on Friday.

"Hard days are beginning for us and you must prepare to fight the most uncontrollable mutated virus which is unfortunately infecting the country," health minister Saeed Namaki tells heads of medical colleges in a meeting.

12:02 a.m. The White House calls on China to make available data from the earliest days of the outbreak, saying it has "deep concerns" about the way the findings of the World Health Organization's COVID-19 report were communicated.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan says in a statement that it is imperative that the report be independent and free from "alteration by the Chinese government," echoing concerns raised by the administration of former President Donald Trump, who moved to quit the WHO over the issue.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus maintains all hypotheses are still open about the origins of COVID-19, after Washington said it wanted to review data from a WHO-led mission to China, where the virus first emerged.

A WHO-led mission, which spent four weeks in China looking into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak, said last week that it was not looking further into the question of whether the virus escaped from a lab, which it considered highly unlikely.

The Trump administration had said it suspected the virus may have escaped from a Chinese lab, which Beijing strongly denies.

Saturday, Feb. 13

6:39 p.m. Malaysia reports 3,499 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded infections to 261,805. The health ministry also reports five new deaths, raising total fatalities from the pandemic to 958.

12:20 p.m. The sixth day of the Australian Open is usually one of the best attended of the Grand Slam fortnight but there is an eerie quiet around the Melbourne Park precinct as play gets underway on Saturday. A snap five-day lockdown to try to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 came into effect just before midnight on Friday, restricting Victoria's 6 million residents to their homes and shutting fans out of the tennis venue.

2:52 a.m. China refuses to give the World Health Organization raw data on its early COVID-19 cases, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing WHO investigators who described heated exchanges over lack of detail.

1:01 a.m. All hypotheses are still open in the World Health Organization's search for the origins of COVID-19, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells a briefing.

A WHO-led mission in China said this week that it was not looking further into the question of whether the virus escaped from a lab, which it considered highly unlikely. The U.S. has said it will review the mission's findings.

"Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded. Having spoken with some members of the team, I wish to confirm that all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis and study," Tedros says.

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

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