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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Jan. 23 to Jan. 29, South Korea reports record 17,542 cases

Delhi lifts weekend curfew as cases drop; Philippines to accept fully vaxxed tourists

A medical worker runs to guide people as they wait to be tested at a makeshift site in Seoul on Jan. 28.    © AP

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 369,375,323, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,648,426.

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

-- Global coronavirus tracker charts

-- Status of vaccinations around the world

UPDATES CLOSED

Saturday, Jan. 29 (Tokyo time)

10:37 a.m. South Korea reports 17,542 new cases, another record high. The virus's rapid spread raises the country's total infection count to 811,122, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

6:36 a.m. The U.S. government has procured more than 100 million additional COVID-19 tests from testmaker iHealth Lab as part of the White House's plan to distribute 500 million free at-home tests across the country, the Department of Defense says.

Friday, Jan. 28

6:13 p.m. The Philippines says it will start accepting fully vaccinated tourists from Feb. 10, as the country seeks to accelerate economic recovery from the pandemic. Foreign leisure travelers will not have to quarantine, the Department of Tourism says. But the visitors, from one of more than 150 countries that don't need visas to enter the Philippines, must present a negative result from a RT-PCR coronavirus test taken prior to departure from point of origin.

5:57 p.m. Hong Kong's economy grew 6.4% last year, marking its first annual rise after two years of recession, according to government estimates, reflecting a rebound in household spending and other activity amid a long spell of COVID-19 calm. Gross domestic product expanded by 4.8% last quarter from a year earlier, largely due to weaker pandemic-related headwinds and government subsidies to consumers worth 30 billion Hong Kong dollars ($3.85 billion).

5:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 17,631 cases, setting a record for the fourth consecutive day as the omicron variant wreaks havoc across Japan. The tally eclipsed the previous record high of 16,538 recorded on Thursday. Currently, 34 out of the country's 47 prefectures -- Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto included -- have been placed under a quasi-state of emergency that allows local authorities to ask restaurants and bars to shorten business hours and limit or stop serving alcohol.

4:00 p.m. Delhi lifts a weekend curfew, allowing restaurants and marketplaces to reopen on Friday, following a sharp drop in new infections. A nighttime curfew, however, will remain in place, and schools will stay closed. Restaurants, bars and cinemas will be allowed to operate at up to 50% capacity, and the number of people at weddings will be restricted to 200.

Laborers hang out around a bonfire at the deserted wholesale Sadar Bazar during a weekend lockdown in New Delhi, India, on Jan. 15, 2022.   © AP

2:44 p.m. India logs 251,209 new infections in the last 24 hours, down 12% from the previous day, bringing the country's total caseload to 40.62 million. Deaths rose by 627 to 492,327.

2:40 p.m. Australia suffers its deadliest day of the pandemic with nearly 100 deaths, but several large states say they expect hospital admissions to fall amid hopes that the latest wave of infections would begin to subside. A total of 98 pandemic-related deaths have been registered by late afternoon on Friday, exceeding the previous high of 87 two days ago, while just over 40,000 new infections have been reported, the lowest daily tally in nearly a month.

2:30 p.m. The World Health Organisation is looking into allegations a regional director in Asia bullied staff, used racist language and leaked sensitive vaccine data to Japan, accusations the official denies. In a statement provided by the WHO, Takeshi Kasai, the Manila-based director of the Western Pacific region, acknowledged being "hard on staff" but rejected charges of racism or that he shared confidential information with Japan.

12:00 p.m. China's Walvax Biotechnology has recruited most of the 28,000 participants needed for a large clinical trial of its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate, a senior company official says. China has yet to approve a Chinese vaccine that uses the novel messenger RNA (mRNA) technology and has yet to import a foreign mRNA vaccine. The issue has become more urgent as studies have shown China's most frequently used shots, from Sinovac and Sinopharm, are less effective against the highly contagious omicron than against some previous variants.

South Koreans line up for coronavirus tests at a temporary clinic in Seoul on Jan. 27, 2022.   © AP

11:30 a.m. South Korea reports 16,096 new coronavirus cases for Thursday, up from 14,515 a day earlier and marking a record high for the fourth straight day as the omicron variant rampages on. Meanwhile, the number of patients in serious condition dropped by 34, to 316, with the highly transmissive variant causing fewer severe illnesses than earlier waves.

6:30 a.m. Visa reports a rise in fiscal first quarter profit as consumer spending surged during the holiday season and the continued roll-out of vaccines globally helped ease COVID-19 restrictions. Quarterly net revenues rose to $7.1 billion in the three months ended Dec. 31, an increase of 24% over the prior year. Visa reported profit of $3.9 billion, or $1.81 per share. Its rivals Mastercard and American Express also beat quarterly profit estimates.

5:00 a.m. The European Union's drug regulator gives the green light to Pfizer's antiviral COVID-19 pill for treating adults at risk of severe illness, as the region scrambles to boost its arsenal to fight the omicron variant. The endorsement by the European Medicines Agency for a conditional approval, if followed as usual by the European Commission, allows EU member states to deploy the drug after the regulator gave guidance for its emergency use late last year. Italy, Germany and Belgium are among a handful of EU countries that have bought the drug, branded as Paxlovid.

1:00 a.m. McDonald's misses revenue and profit expectations as pandemic-triggered curbs led to higher costs and tepid sales at its over 4,500 restaurants in Australia and China, eating into gains from growth in the United States in the fourth quarter. Operating costs rose 14% to $3.61 billion as supply chain bottlenecks led the world's largest burger chain to spend more for chicken, beef and packaging material. U.S. food and paper costs rose 4% in 2021, a level the company expects to roughly double in 2022.

Thursday, Jan. 27

11:42 p.m. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau goes into isolation for five days after being exposed to someone with COVID-19, though he adds that a rapid test result has come back negative.

10:30 p.m. Japan is preparing to shorten its recommended quarantine to seven days from 10 for people deemed close contacts of those infected by COVID-19. The number of close contacts has surged with the spread of the omicron variant, making it difficult to staff workplaces such as city halls, nursery schools and banks.

A lion statue in a Tokyo shopping district wears a mask as Japan prepares to shorten its recommended quarantine to seven days for close contacts of COVID-19 carriers.   © Reuters

The health ministry proposed the seven-day quarantine to the government on Thursday. The original 14-day period was shortened this month to 10 in response to omicron.

7:10 p.m. Travelers to Hong Kong will have to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel as the government shortens its three-week requirement. After leaving quarantine, travelers will still have to monitor their temperature for seven days and undergo two compulsory tests.

The government extended a ban on flights from eight countries, including Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the United States to Feb. 18, and will continue to enforce measures such as the ban on dining in eateries after 6 p.m. and the closure of some venues until after the Lunar New Year. The city is on high alert after it logged a record high of 164 cases on Thursday with dozens that cannot be traced.

5:00 p.m. Tokyo reports 16,538 new coronavirus cases, marking a record high for the third straight day. The number of patients in serious condition remains low at 18, unchanged from a day ago. Japan's capital has been placed under a quasi-state of emergency since last week, along with many other prefectures. The decree enables governors to take measures such as asking restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours and to stop or limit the serving of alcohol, but the omicron variant shows no sign of receding nationwide.

3:00 p.m. Japan's blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average erased its early morning gains and closed down over 800 points, or 3.1%, on Thursday, its lowest level since November 2020. The benchmark recorded its biggest percentage drop since June 2021 after the U.S. Federal Reserve gave a clear timeline for its rate hike. Benchmarks in South Korea, Hong Kong, mainland China and Australia also weakened.

The main media center of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Jan. 27. The local government is ordering more people not to leave their residential compounds.   © Reuters

2:30 p.m. Beijing limits the movement of people in more parts of the Chinese capital even as fewer COVID cases emerge, a bid to lower the risk of further spread now that the Winter Olympics open in fewer than 10 days. Beijing's Fengtai district said late on Wednesday that residents in more areas should not leave their living compounds for unnecessary reasons and must take daily COVID tests. The district, which has reported more local transmissions than other Beijing districts during the current outbreak, had already locked down some residential compounds, impacting tens of thousands of people.

12:30 p.m. Twenty-three new cases of COVID-19 were detected among Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Games-related personnel, organizers say. Of the 23 cases, 15 were detected among new arrivals at the airport. The other eight were found among those already in the organizers' closed-loop COVID-19 management bubble.

11:05 a.m. The Philippine economy expanded by 7.7% on the year in the fourth quarter of 2021, as loosened pandemic-related restrictions buoyed business activity, government data shows. The economy grew 5.6% for the full year, slightly above an adjusted target range of 5% to 5.5%. The latest GDP figures follow an 8.3% contraction in the fourth quarter of 2020.

10:28 a.m. Most coronavirus restrictions including mandatory face masks have been lifted in England, after Britain's government said its vaccine booster rollout successfully reduced serious illness and COVID-19 hospitalizations. Beginning Thursday, face coverings no longer will be required by law anywhere in England, and a legal requirement for COVID passes for entry into nightclubs and other large venues has been scrapped.

10:10 a.m. China reports 63 new cases for Wednesday, up from 44 a day earlier. The National Health Commission says 25 of the new cases were local transmissions and the rest imported.

9:12 a.m. Samsung Electronics' fourth-quarter profit rose 53%, helped by brisk sales of memory chips and higher margins in chip contract manufacturing, the world's top maker of memory chips and smartphones says. Operating profit rose to 13.9 trillion won ($11.6 billion) for the October-December quarter, from 9 trillion won a year earlier.

Moderna's Phase 2 trial will test an omicron-specific booster in adults 18 and older.   © Reuters

8:30 a.m. Moderna says it has dosed the first participant in a mid-stage study testing a booster shot of its vaccine specifically tailored to the fast-spreading omicron variant. The company also reports data showing that neutralizing antibodies against the variant declined six months after a third dose of its original vaccine but remained detectable. Moderna's Phase 2 trial will test the omicron-specific booster in adults 18 and older.

5:50 a.m. Israel broadens eligibility for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to include adults under 60 with underlying medical conditions, their caretakers, and others over 18 at significant risk of exposure to the coronavirus, reports Reuters.

4:04 a.m. The BA.2 subvariant of the omicron coronavirus variant, which is dominant in Denmark, appears more contagious than the more common BA.1 sub-lineage, Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke says in a national address.

2:15 a.m. The U.S. has shipped 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as part of its earlier pledge to donate about 1.2 billion doses to low-income countries, the White House says.

Wednesday, Jan. 26

5:41 p.m. Russia reports 74,692 new infections on Wednesday, a jump from the 67,809 reported a day earlier, Reuters says. The country also reports 657 deaths in the last 24 hours.

COVID infections surge in Tokyo as the highly contagious omicron variant sweeps through Japan.   © AP

5:01 p.m. Tokyo reports its highest ever daily COVID count on Wednesday, with 14,086 cases, as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads rapidly across Japan. The tally eclipsed the previous record high of 12,813 logged the previous day. Osaka also records a fresh high of 9,813 cases. Japan on Tuesday expanded its COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency to 34 out of 47 prefectures with the addition of 18 more areas including Osaka, effective from Thursday to Feb. 20.

3:37 p.m. Swiss contract drug manufacturer Lonza says core earnings gained 20.7% in 2021, shored up by demand for the substances it supplies for new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. The company, a key supplier to vaccine maker Moderna, is stepping up investments as it banks on long-term growth in the biopharmaceuticals sector well beyond the pandemic.

3:31 p.m. Researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University found a rise in astigmatism in primary school pupils after schools switched to online teaching last year. The study, which used vision screening results from October 2018 to June 2020 from more than 100 children ages 8 and 10, showed blurred vision among students increased from 21% to 57%. Dr. Jeffrey Leung, one of the lead researchers, said astigmatism was not historically very common in young children and urged parents and teachers to ensure children are not straining their eyes when looking at screens for digital devices.

The Nikkei Stock Average ended at 27,011.33 on Jan. 26, down 0.44% from the previous day. (Photo by Keisuke Imamura)

3:10 p.m. Japan's blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average ended at its lowest level in nearly 13 months as caution grew ahead of the conclusion later in the day of a two-day U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting. The average ended down 120.01 points, or 0.44%, from Tuesday at 27,011.33, its lowest closing level since Dec. 28, 2020.

1:30 p.m. Global passenger flight traffic demand for 2021 was down by 58.4% compared to 2019, the International Air Transport Association says -- an improvement compared to 2020, when demand was down 65.8%. International passenger demand in 2021 was 75.5% below 2019 levels, while domestic demand was down 28.2%.

12:57 p.m. Bank of Japan board members say core consumer inflation will likely move toward the bank's target of 2%, and they believe the trend can continue if wages grow, a summary of opinions at a January monetary policy meeting shows.

12:12 p.m. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee says 13 new COVID-19 cases were detected among Games-related personnel on Jan. 25. Nine were found among new airport arrivals, according to a notice on the Beijing 2022 official website. Four were among those already in the "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel from the public, the notice said. None of the new cases were athletes or team officials.

10:08 a.m. China reports 44 new COVID-19 cases on the mainland for Tuesday, down from 45 a day earlier. The National Health Commission says 24 of the new cases are locally transmitted and the rest imported. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rises to 64 from 43 a day earlier.

An educational coronavirus poster at a subway station in Seoul. South Korea has recorded about 13,000 new coronavirus infections in a single day for the first time, a surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.   © AP

9:52 a.m. South Korea's daily new cases jump to another record high with 13,012, up from 8,571, surpassing 10,000 for the first time. Cumulative infections reach 762,983, with 6,620 deaths.

7:15 a.m. The Biden administration withdraws its requirement for companies employing 100 or more to ensure workers are either vaccinated or taking regular COVID-19 tests.

The U.S. Supreme Court had blocked the mandate earlier this month, arguing that the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration overstepped its authority.

The withdrawal takes effect Wednesday. "OSHA strongly encourages vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by COVID-19 in the workplace," according to an agency statement.

4:21 a.m. Elton John postpones two concerts in his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour after testing positive for COVID-19.

The singer "is fully vaccinated and boosted, and is experiencing only mild symptoms," according to a statement from American Airlines Center in Dallas, the venue of the postponed shows.

3:55 a.m. Japan officially decides to extend its COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency to a total of 34 out of 47 prefectures amid a surge in omicron cases.

From Thursday to Feb. 20, governors in 18 additional prefectures, including Hokkaido, Osaka and Kyoto, will be able to ask restaurants to close early and limit the serving of alcohol. Such curbs, designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, are already in effect in 16 prefectures, including Tokyo, Hiroshima and Okinawa.

Tuesday, Jan. 25

10:15 p.m. Pfizer says it has started a clinical trial of a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine specifically designed to target the omicron variant. The 1,420 people participating are being split into three groups based on whether they have already received the vaccine and the number of does that have been administered.

5:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 12,813 new coronavirus cases, a record high since the pandemic began, as the omicron variant continues its rapid spread. Japan's capital has been placed under a quasi-state of emergency since Friday, along with other prefectures. The government is expected to expand emergency restrictions to 34 prefectures, including Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.

Tonga has appealed for aid after being hit by an earthquake and tsunami. (Tonga Red Cross Society/Handout via Reuters)   © Reuters

4:00 p.m. About two dozen crew members of an Australian warship expected to arrive in coronavirus-free Tonga on Wednesday to deliver humanitarian aid have been found to be infected with COVID-19, Australian authorities say. Hit by a volcanic eruption and a tsunami, Tonga has asked for aid to be delivered without human contact amid concerns a COVID outbreak would be devastating for the tiny Pacific island nation. The ship left Brisbane on Friday carrying large quantities of humanitarian aid and medical supplies, helicopters and water purification equipment.

2:46 p.m. India's daily cases dip below 300,000 for the first time in six days, with the country reporting 255,874 new infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the total caseload to 39.8 million. Fatalities rose by 614 to 490,462, according to the health ministry.

A park in Seoul on Jan. 24, 2022. The South Korean government is asking people not to travel during the Lunar New Year holidays and risk bringing the omicron variant to their hometowns.   © AP

11:30 a.m. South Korea's new daily cases hit a record 8,571, up from 7,512 a day ago as the omicron variant takes hold. Total infections are now at 749,979, with deaths at 6,588. The government is asking people to stay at home during the Lunar New Year holidays, which start on Saturday.

11:00 a.m. Japan is expected to expand a COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency to 34 of its 47 prefectures as Osaka, Kyoto and 16 other regions come under the decree meant to curb the rapid-fire spread of the omicron wave. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to make a final decision later in the day. Effective Thursday to Feb. 20, the measure is intended to reduce the strain on the health care system and prevent a shortage of essential workers. Governors will be able to request restaurants and bars to shorten their business hours and stop or limit the serving of alcohol.

10:00 a.m. Japan's blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average falls over 500 points, or 1.9%, on Tuesday morning after a volatile day on Wall Street. Investors are moving toward selling riskier assets as concerns linger over the interest rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve. Intensifying U.S.-Russia tensions, especially in regard to Ukraine, have also unnerved investors.

The Food and Drug Administration says two antibody drugs are unlikely to work against the omicron variant.   © Reuters

9:00 a.m. The U.S. health regulator revises emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly, limiting their use, as the drugs are unlikely to work against the omicron variant. The Food and Drug Administration says the treatments are currently not cleared for use in any U.S. state or territory but may be authorized in certain regions if they work against potential new variants. The agency highlighted other therapies that are expected to be effective against omicron, including a rival antibody drug from GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology as well as recently authorized antiviral pills from Pfizer and Merck & Co.

8:00 a.m. South Korea's economic growth hit an 11-year high last year on the back of strong exports and corporate investments, the Bank of Korea says. The country's economy expanded 4% in 2021, turning around from a 0.9% contraction a year earlier and meeting the government's target. Exports grew 9.7%, and corporate capital investment expanded 8.3%.

1:45 a.m. A booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson increases antibody levels in those who previously received two doses of China-based Sinovac's CoronaVac shot, researchers from Brazil and Oxford University say. A third dose of CoronaVac also increased antibodies, the study finds, but the vaccine received the strongest boost from those viral vector or mRNA shots, including against the delta and omicron variants.

1:38 a.m. Fully vaccinated travelers arriving in Britain no longer will have to take a COVID-19 test, the U.K. transport minister says, as the country sets out plans to live with the virus. Starting Feb. 11, fully vaccinated inbound passengers only need to verify their status on a passenger locator form. Individuals without a booster jab and those younger than 18 will be treated as fully vaccinated.

This approach was on display Friday as U.K. British Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng urged a return to the office for many workers. "People working in the office do get benefits from working with colleagues, being able to interact directly with them, and I want to get back to a sense that, you know, that the pandemic is turning from a pandemic into an endemic," he said.

Monday, Jan. 24

A notice about COVID-19 safety measures hangs in a departure hall at Narita International Airport on the first day of closed borders to prevent the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, on Nov. 30, 2021.   © Reuters

5:00 p.m. Japan's business lobby head Masakazu Tokura says it is "unrealistic" for the government to ban the entry of foreigners, with the new omicron coronavirus variant having become prevalent within the country. Tokura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, says in a regular news conference that Japan will likely expand a quasi-state of emergency to over 30 of the country's 47 prefectures to curb the rapid spread of omicron after 18 prefectures asked to be included under the measure, government officials say.

4:30 p.m. Indonesia has opened up two islands close to Singapore to visitors from the city-state, officials say, as part of calibrated moves to reboot its tourism sector while controlling the spread of COVID-19. Singaporeans can visit Batam and Bintan islands, approximately 15 km and 30 km away respectively, providing they are vaccinated against COVID-19, undergo tests and have insurance coverage.

3:50 p.m. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics has adjusted its COVID-19 countermeasures, a statement from the International Olympic Committee says. The changes include the threshold for being classed as positive for COVID-19 being eased and the time period for which a person is deemed a close contact being reduced from 14 to seven days. The changes are effective immediately and apply retroactively.

Toyota has resumed operations at a factory near Beijing that could again be hit by restrictions as the Chinese government seeks blue skies for the Winter Olympics. A car made at the factory, which is jointly operated with China FAW Group.  (Photo by Shunsuke Tabeta)

3:00 p.m. A Toyota Motor joint-venture factory in China's northeastern city of Tianjin is operating again after a suspension that began on Jan. 10, when all 14 million city residents were required to take COVID-19 tests. With the Beijing Winter Olympics approaching, however, uncertainty remains. The Chinese government is restricting operations at some factories as well as logistics in and around Beijing, including Tianjin. The goal is to have blue skies for the Games, and if air pollution becomes serious, the restrictions may be tightened. Toyota's joint venture is with China FAW Group.

2:15 p.m. India logs 306,064 new infections for the past 24 hours, marking the fifth consecutive day with over 300,000 cases and bringing the country's cumulative total to 39.54 million. Fatalities jumped by 439 to 489,848.

2:00 p.m. Hong Kong will take steps from Tuesday to cut the number of civil servants working at offices as it battles a spate of infections. Daily cases hit an 18-month high of 140 on Sunday, as a weekend surge in infections linked to a congested public housing estate sent authorities scrambling to rein in the virus. Some employees will "work from home as much as possible," the government said in a statement, adding that individual departments might temporarily reduce services.

In Taipei on Saturday, Jan. 22, residents use masks to shield themselves from the virus. In the northern city of Taoyuan, more than 30 companies have had to suspend operations so employees can be tested.   © AP

12:26 p.m. A free trade zone in the northern Taiwanese city of Taoyuan over the weekend confirmed more than 100 cases, with some of the carriers working at Foxconn server and networking subsidiary Ingrasys Technology and others at Asustek subsidiary Askey Computer. Taoyuan's local government ordered more than 30 companies within the zone to suspend operations so thorough PCR testing on all employees and others who have recently visited it can be conducted. The halt will further aggravate strained supply chain logistics.

12:02 p.m. China and Vietnam are urging millions of workers to forgo trips home during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday due to fears of sparking outbreaks that could shutter factories in two key manufacturing bases. The omicron variant's surge has led governments and companies in both countries to press workers to stay put over the holidays from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, though the travel season starts earlier and ends later.

11:20 a.m. Mainland China reports 57 new COVID-19 cases for Sunday, up from 56 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 18 were locally transmitted, down from 19 a day earlier. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 27 from 34 a day earlier.

10:50 a.m. Australia reports 56 deaths, slightly down from the previous day's count of 58 but still among the highest of the pandemic. Most were in the three most populous states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. At 37,754, the total number of new cases was well below peaks three times that amount earlier this month, although four other states and territories had yet to report figures.

Israel has had success in raising resistance in people 60 and older by giving them a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.   © Reuters

5:30 a.m. A fourth dose of Pfizer/BioNtech's COVID-19 vaccine given to people over 60 in Israel made them three times more resistant to serious illness than thrice-vaccinated people in the same age group. Israel's Health Ministry says the fourth dose, or second booster, made people over 60 twice as resistant to infection as those in the age group who received three shots. A preliminary study published by Israel's Sheba medical center on Jan. 17 found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but "probably" not to the point that it could completely fend off the highly transmissible omicron variant.

12:38 a.m. Police in Brussels fire water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters near the European Commission's headquarters Sunday after a protest involving 50,000 people opposing COVID-19 restrictions turns violent. Though Belgium announced an easing of coronavirus restrictions Friday -- despite record infections -- the government also said people must have booster shots after five months to maintain the COVID-19 passes that allow them to access bars or cinemas.

Sunday, Jan. 23

11:00 p.m. People in a Beijing district with some 2 million residents have been ordered to undergo mass coronavirus testing following a series of infections as China tightened anti-disease controls ahead of the Winter Olympics. The government told people in areas of the Chinese capital deemed at high risk for infection not to leave the city after 25 cases were found in the Fengtai district and 14 elsewhere.

10:15 p.m. Beijing Winter Olympics organizers confirm 72 cases of COVID-19 among 2,586 personnel arriving Jan. 4-22 in China, Reuters reports. But no cases are found among the 171 athletes and team officials arriving during that period. Of the confirmed cases, 39 are found in testing at the airport and 33 inside the "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel from the public. Participants in the bubble are subject to daily testing.

8:45 p.m. Japan's confirmed daily coronavirus cases top 50,000, the second largest on record after roughly 54,500 logged Saturday. In Tokyo, daily infections total 9,468, down from Saturday's all-time high of over 11,000 but still the largest for any Sunday.

10:16 a.m. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cancels her wedding to longtime partner and fishing-show host Clarke Gayford as the nation imposes new COVID-19 restrictions. Reuters reports earlier that New Zealand is imposing mask rules and limiting gatherings from Sunday.

The decision follows a cluster of nine cases of the omicron variant showing community transmission from the North to South islands. The nation moves to a red setting under its COVID-19 protection framework, with more mask wearing, social distancing and a cap of 100 customers indoors in hospitality settings.

4:46 a.m. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says an annual vaccine would be preferable to more frequent booster shots in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. With cases soaring from the highly contagious omicron variant, some countries have expanded booster programs or shortened the gap between shots. In an interview with Israel's N12 News, Bourla was asked whether he sees booster shots being administered every four to five months on a regular basis.

"This will not be a good scenario. What I'm hoping [is] that we will have a vaccine that you will have to do once a year," Bourla says. "Once a year -- it is easier to convince people to do it. It is easier for people to remember."

2:24 a.m. Thousands of people in European capitals protest vaccine passports and other requirements enacted by governments in hopes of ending the pandemic. Demonstrations take place in Athens, Helsinki, London, Paris and Stockholm.

Marches in Paris draw hundreds of demonstrators protesting the introduction from Monday of a new COVID-19 pass. It will ban those who refuse to get vaccinated from domestic flights, sports events, bars, cinemas and other leisure venues.

Saturday, Jan. 22

11:38 p.m. The tiny Pacific island nation of Samoa begins a 48-hour lockdown after 15 passengers on a flight from Australia test positive for COVID-19. The infected passengers were among 73 who arrived from Brisbane on Wednesday. Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa says the government may cancel further flights from Australia. Samoa, population 200,000, has reported 18 active cases.

8:51 p.m. Infections in Hong Kong could be growing exponentially in a congested residential area of the city, city leader Carrie Lam warns, adding overall cases are also spreading due to an outbreak in pet hamsters. Chief Executive Lam urges Hong Kong people to avoid gatherings ahead of next week's Lunar New Year as officials grappled with an outbreak of the highly-infectious omicron variant in Kwai Chung, north of the city's Kowloon peninsula.

"We are worried that the exponential growth of cases that we have seen in other parts of the world is now happening in Kwai Chung," she says. The situation is testing Hong Kong's "zero COVID" strategy focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and gyms already shut, restaurants closing at 6 p.m. and air travel with many major hubs severed or severely disrupted.

7:13 p.m. The first commercial airline flights in one month take off from Xi'an in western China as the government eases travel curbs imposed after an outbreak of cases ahead of next month's Winter Olympics in Beijing. Seven planes take off, according to the website of Xi'an Xianyang International Airport. It says four were due to arrive Sunday. Access to Xi'an, a city of 13 million people about 1,000 km southwest of Beijing, was suspended on Dec. 22 following an outbreak attributed to the delta variant.

4:47 p.m. Tokyo's daily cases top 10,000 for the first time, as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to spread across Japan quickly, the metropolitan government says. The daily count of 11,227 marked a record high for the fourth straight day, eclipsing the previous high of 9,699 on Friday. With the infection count surging rapidly nationwide, the government placed Tokyo and 12 other prefectures under a quasi-state of emergency Friday, allowing their governors to ask restaurants and bars to close early and stop or limit the serving of alcohol.

4:04 p.m. Taiwan's government orders a tightening of controls after a rare spike in domestic transmission of the omicron variant, saying it needed to act now to prevent being overwhelmed even though overall numbers remain quite low. The infections have gradually spread although numbers remain comparatively low with a dozen or so new cases a day, but on Friday evening the government announced 60 new cases at a factory near the airport after testing 1,000 workers.

Renan Lodi, in the famous yellow shirt of Brazil's national soccer team, takes on Argentina's Lionel Messi in July last year. Now Brazil coach Tite says the Atletico Madrid defender won't be included in upcoming World Cup qualifiers as he was not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.   © Reuters

12:28 p.m. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) says players must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to take part in the country's league championship. The CBF says it is in constant contact with health bodies and has sent an updated list of requirements to member clubs.

"One of these is the obligation to present a full vaccination certificate against COVID-19 to the CBF's Medical Commission," it says in a statement. The top four national divisions kick off in the second week of April. Meanwhile, Brazil coach Tite has said Atletico Madrid defender Renan Lodi will not be included in upcoming World Cup qualifiers as he was not fully vaccinated.

10:17 a.m. Mainland China reports 63 new COVID-19 cases for Friday, down from 73 a day earlier. The National Health Commission says in a statement that 23 of the new infections were locally transmitted, the same as the previous day, with the rest imported. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed infections, rose to 43 from 31 the day before. There were no new fatalities, leaving the death toll at 4,636.

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

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