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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Jan. 24 to Jan. 30, Vietnam approves AstraZeneca vaccine

Sinopharm jab wins first EU approval in Hungary; WHO team visits Wuhan hospital

Although Vietnam has had relatively few coronavirus infections, it is now facing its biggest outbreak yet.   © Reuters

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

Follow the latest updates.

Global cases have reached 102,044,576, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The worldwide death toll has hit 2,206,091.

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

UPDATES CLOSED

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Saturday, Jan. 30 (Tokyo time)

10:55 a.m. Vietnam's government says its health ministry has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for domestic inoculation. It's the first coronavirus vaccine to be approved in the country, which is battling its largest outbreak, though it has kept its cumulative tally to a low 1,739 infections and 35 deaths.

3:33 a.m. The European Commission approves the use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, the final step to allowing Europe to use it across the continent. "I expect the company to deliver the 400 million doses as agreed," Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission wrote on Twitter.

2:10 a.m. Indoor dining will resume at limited capacity in New York City restaurants next month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says.

The city's restaurants can seat customers indoors at 25% capacity from Feb. 14, more than a month after the governor banned such dining as the city battled surging infections.

The restaurants have tried to stay afloat by relying on delivery, takeout and outdoor dining, which has become increasingly difficult as the frigid winter sets in.

1:10 a.m. India's economy is expected to come roaring back with 11% growth in the financial year starting April, according to the government's latest annual economic survey.

The V-shaped economic rebound is supported by the start of a huge COVID-19 vaccination drive "with hopes of a robust recovery in the services sector and prospects for robust growth in consumption and investment," the survey says.

India has vaccinated about 2.93 million people against COVID-19 since launching the program on Jan. 16, according to the health ministry's latest update.

For the current fiscal year, the government projects a 7.7% contraction as the economy suffers the effects of the pandemic and related lockdowns.

Friday, Jan. 29

11:30 p.m. Johnson & Johnson says that its single-dose vaccine was 66% effective in preventing COVID-19 in a large global trial against multiple variants.

11:25 p.m. Hungary becomes the first European Nation to approve use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban is quoted as saying that the Chinese vaccine is "the one I trust the most.!

"It is the Chinese who have known this virus for the longest time," Orban says.

Hungary has agreed to buy 5 million doses of Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says on his Facebook page.

7:53 p.m. A World Health Organization official says the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme plans to ship enough shots to cover around 3% of the populations of low-income countries in the first half of this year.

7:45 p.m. Hanoi authorities detect communal transmission of COVID-19, putting the Vietnamese capital on high alert as the city is hosting the twice-a-decade National Congress, attended by nearly 1,600 Communist Party delegates.

A medic works at a testing station in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.   © Reuters

6:52 p.m. Malaysia reports 5,725 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. The new cases took the cumulative total of infections past the 200,000 mark

5:46 p.m. Taiwan's economic growth last year outpaced China for the first time in 30 years, while Hong Kong logged back-to-back annual contractions. Taiwan's gross domestic product expanded 2.98% in 2020, faster than the 2.3% of its neighbor across the Taiwan Strait.

5:30 p.m. A World Health Organization-led team of experts visits a Wuhan hospital that was one of the first to treat COVID-19 patients. Zhang Jixian, a director at Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, has been cited by state media as the first to report the novel coronavirus, after treating an elderly couple in late 2019. The investigative team also plans to visit the seafood market at the center of the early outbreak as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

4:30 p.m. The Philippines has extended partial COVID-19 restrictions in Manila until the end of February to slow a spike in infections after the year-end holidays. The restrictions to be prolonged include limited operations at shopping malls and dine-in eateries, as well as curbs on gatherings and public transport capacity.

3:50 p.m. The governors of Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama have agreed to consider requesting area restaurants and bars to shut down operations if the central government decides to extend the monthlong COVID-19 state of emergency beyond Feb. 7. The local governments are now asking these establishments to close by 8 p.m. The four governors also agreed to call on the central government to offer financial benefits to businesses that comply with the potential request.

3:04 p.m. Tokyo reports 868 new infections, down from 1,064 a day earlier, as the capital tries to hold off the spread of the coronavirus under a state of emergency.

2:40 p.m. Thailand's celebrated tourism industry is being rocked by an unprecedented number of business closures and job losses as it suffers through the country's second wave of COVID-19 infections and pleads with the government for aid. At least 1 million workers in the country's hospitality sector have been laid off so far, according to the Thai Hotels Association.

India's Serum Institute hopes to start a small domestic trial of a vaccine that in the U.K. was found to be 89.3% effective against COVID-19.   © Reuters

2:33 p.m. India reports 18,855 cases for the past 24 hours, up from 11,666 the previous day, bringing the country total to 10.72 million. It also reported 163 fatalities, bringing that total to 154,010. Meanwhile, India has vaccinated about 2.93 million people against COVID-19 since launching its inoculation drive on Jan. 16, according to the health ministry's latest update.

1:40 p.m. The Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine maker, has applied with local authorities for permission to conduct a small domestic trial of Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine, which was found to be 89.3% effective in a U.K. trial. Serum expects a decision on the matter soon, Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla told Reuters, hours after the U.S. company reported the efficacy data.

12:20 p.m. South Korea has delayed until Sunday any easing of social distancing measures because outbreaks involving mission schools are threatening to undermine efforts to keep new infections under control ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays. The number of cases linked to Christian schools nationwide grew further on Friday, reaching a total of 344 infections in seven facilities.

12:04 p.m. Hong Kong startup carrier Greater Bay Airlines is preparing a fallback plan to start with cargo services first in late summer if pandemic conditions make passenger flights infeasible. Greater Bay is set to take delivery of the first of three leased, secondhand Boeing 737-800 jets in mid-February, though the plane will then undergo several months' refurbishment in Guangzhou before coming to Hong Kong.

11:20 a.m. A World Health Organization-led team of experts investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic begin meeting with Chinese scientists in Wuhan. The group plans to spend two more weeks in China and will visit the seafood market at the center of the early outbreak as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology. On Thursday, the team completed two weeks of quarantine following its arrival in China.

9:40 a.m. China reports 52 new infections for Thursday, down from 54 cases a day earlier. Of the new ones, 36 were locally transmitted infections. Asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed COVID-19 cases, rose to 42 from 28 a day earlier.

9:00 a.m. A potent coronavirus variant originating in South Africa and found to be partly resistant to current vaccines and antibody treatments has been detected for the first time in the U.S. in two South Carolina patients, health officials say. The news came days after the Minnesota Department of Health identified the first known U.S. case of another highly contagious strain that originated in Brazil.

A health worker takes a swab sample from a resident in Vietnam's Hai Duong province on Jan. 28. Vietnam has reported nine new coronavirus infections in Hai Duong and three other provinces as well as in Hanoi, the country's capital.     © Reuters

8:50 a.m. Vietnam reports nine more infections as the latest outbreak spreads to Hanoi, the capital, where the ruling Communist Party is holding its key five-yearly congress. The new cases, including one in Hanoi and eight in Haiphong, Hai Duong, Quang Ninh and Bac Ninh provinces, brought the total number of cases in the country to 1,651, with 35 deaths.

7:30 a.m. Novavax says its vaccine was 89.3% effective in preventing COVID-19 in a trial conducted in the U.K. and was nearly as effective in protecting against the more highly contagious variant first discovered in the UK, according to a preliminary analysis. Meanwhile, a mid-stage trial of the vaccine in South Africa, where a troubling new variant of the virus is common, showed 60% effectiveness among people who did not have HIV.

3:40 a.m. New York state undercounted coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents by up to 50%, according to Attorney General Letitia James, whose office uncovered the irregularities through its ongoing investigation.

"Among those findings were that a larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the New York State Department of Health's (DOH) published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent," a statement from the office reads.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while praised by some for his handling of the pandemic, has also been criticized for the state's response in nursing homes.

James' office says that some homes underreported deaths to the Health Department and that "many nursing home residents died from COVID-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in DOH's published total nursing home death data."

New York state's attorney general, Letitia James, speaks at a news conference in August 2020.   © Reuters

1:10 a.m. A German panel says AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine should not be given to people 65 or older because of insufficient data on its efficacy.

The Standing Committee on Vaccination recommends that the vaccine go only to those aged 18 to 64.

"There is currently insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older," the panel of scientific experts says.

12:45 a.m. About 20% to 25% of Russians have antibodies to the virus behind COVID-19, the head of its consumer watchdog says, according to the Tass news agency. Russia has reported a cumulative total of nearly 3.8 million infections.

Thursday, Jan. 28

6:55 p.m. Asia has fared relatively poorly in Transparency International's latest report on public-sector corruption across the globe, with the civil society group drawing a link between some countries' below-par performance and questionable handling of COVID-19.

6:42 p.m. Malaysia reports 4,094 coronavirus cases, raising the cumulative total in the country to 198,208 infections. The health ministry also conforms 10 new deaths

5:30 p.m. Taiwan's Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua says she has met with Germany's de facto ambassador in Taipei and asked him for help in securing COVID-19 vaccines. In a letter from German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to Wang, Germany has asked Taiwan to persuade its manufacturers to help ease a shortage of semiconductor chips in the auto sector. Germany's BioNTech SE has jointly developed with Pfizer one of the main vaccines being rolled out worldwide.

Taiwan, which has been successful in suppressing COVID-19, is now asking Germany for help in securing vaccines.   © Reuters

4:30 p.m. A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic has left its quarantine hotel to begin fieldwork, two weeks after arriving in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late 2019. The team boarded a bus and departed the hotel shortly after 3 p.m. local time.

3:00 p.m. Australia aims to vaccinate its Olympians against COVID-19 before they head to the Tokyo Games, according to Richard Colbeck, the country's federal sports minister. Advice from the body coordinating the vaccination rollout plan suggested that athletes would likely be inoculated before the July 23 to Aug. 8 Games, Colbeck said in comments published by the Canberra Times.

2:30 p.m. South Korea will begin vaccinations for the general public in the third quarter of the year, according to Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Inoculations will begin in February with key groups, including medical workers and the elderly in nursing homes. The country aims to reach "herd immunity" levels by November.

2:15 p.m. India reports 11,666 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 12,689 the previous day, bringing the country total to 10.7 million. Deaths jumped by 123 to 153,847.

1:00 p.m. Border restrictions between Australia's three most populous states will be eased as the country recorded the 11th straight day of zero cases. States imposed quarantine and hard border restrictions for travelers from New South Wales after a late-December outbreak in Sydney. Clusters in the city have now been curbed, prompting other states to reopen borders.

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration approved AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 28, making it the second to receive approval following Pfizer and BioNTech's inoculation.    © Reuters

12:30 p.m. The Philippines' Food and Drug Administration has approved AstraZeneca 's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, the second to receive approval in the country, following Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine. The known and potential benefits of AstraZeneca's vaccine outweighed the risks to date, FDA chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said. Vaccines from Russia's Gamaleya, China's Sinovac Biotech and India's Bharat Biotech are awaiting approval.

11:20 a.m. The artistic swimming qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics has been postponed to May to ensure fairness for athletes facing difficult travel restrictions in Japan, the International Swimming Federation says. The event, originally set for March, was to be the first Olympic test after COVID countermeasures had been implemented.

11:01 a.m. The Philippines ended the pandemic year of 2020 with its worst economic performance since just after World War II in 1947 in what officials say is a consequence of policies to save lives during the COVID-19 crisis. The country's gross domestic product shrank 9.5% last year -- the first annual contraction since 1998 -- a year after the Asian financial crisis erupted.

10:00 a.m. Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine appeared to lose only a small bit of effectiveness against an engineered virus with three key mutations from the new coronavirus variant found in South Africa, according to a laboratory study conducted by the U.S. drugmaker.

9:50 a.m. China reports 54 new cases for Wednesday, down from 75 cases reported a day earlier. Of the new cases, 41 were locally transmitted infections compared with 55 a day earlier. The number of asymptomatic infections, which China does not classify as confirmed COVID-19 cases, fell to 28 from 61 a day earlier.

9:20 a.m. Vietnam's health ministry confirms the country's first two locally transmitted coronavirus cases in nearly two months. The latest patients include a support staff worker at Van Don international airport who was responsible for taking infected passengers from abroad to COVID-19 quarantine facilities, and a factory worker who came into contact with a Vietnamese national who later tested positive for the new UK variant of the virus upon arrival in Japan.

6:45 a.m. Florida has the most COVID-19 cases caused by coronavirus variants among the 50 U.S. states, with 92, followed closely by California's 90, according to new data from the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

5:00 a.m. Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest people, remains hospitalized with COVID-19, according to his spokesperson.

Slim and his family rank 21 on Forbes billionaires list, with a net worth of $58.5 billion.

3:00 a.m. The International Olympic Committee tries to tamp down speculation over the fate of the Summer Games in Tokyo as Japan fights against a wave of COVID-19 infections.

"All these speculations are hurting the athletes in their preparations," IOC President Thomas Bach tells a news conference after a regular IOC executive board meeting.

Asked whether holding the Olympics during a pandemic would be a responsible decision, Bach said: "If we think the games would not be safe, we would not go for it."

2:00 a.m. The University of Oxford expects to offer data on whether its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the U.K. variant of the coronavirus by next week, a representative is quoted as saying by Reuters.

Wednesday, Jan. 27

11:00 p.m. Indonesia logs its deadliest day of the pandemic so far, with 387 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, and reports 11,948 new cases. The country's totals stand at 1,024,298 cases, including 11,948 deaths.

Relatives of a woman who died are seen at a burial area provided by the government for the victims of COVID-19 in Bogor, Indonesia, on Jan. 26.   © Reuters

Meanwhile, President Joko Widodo and several other government officials receive their second shots of the CoronaVac vaccine produced by China's Sinovac.

10:21 p.m. Japan reports 3,970 new COVID-19 cases as of 8:10 p.m.

8:30 p.m. Israel intends to have all its athletes due to compete at the Tokyo Olympics vaccinated by May, it's National Olympic Committee says amid a global debate over whether athletes should be given priority as shots become available. Israel has already inoculated 29% of its population with at least one dose, and "By the end of May 2021, all... will be completely vaccinated against the coronavirus," a Committee spokeswoman tells Reuters in an email.

7:42 p.m. Japan is to produce 90 million AstraZeneca COVID shots, Nikkei learns. Production will be undertaken by JCR Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company.

6:13: p.m. Nepal launches its largest immunization campaign with its first coronavirus vaccinations for medical workers, following a gift of 1 million doses from India.

5:43 p.m. A vaccine developed by India's Bharat Biotech and a government research institute is likely to be effective against the U.K. strain, according to a study of 26 participants shared by the company. The findings regard COVAXIN, which has been in use in India since receiving emergency-use authorization early this month.

4:26 p.m. Many Northeast Asians are reluctant to receive COVID-19 vaccinations even as the pandemic drags on into year two, a survey conducted for this week's World Economic Forum virtual meetings indicates. The poll, conducted by Paris-based market researcher Ipsos, found the least sense of urgency for inoculations in South Korea. Only 14% of respondents there said they wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

4:11 p.m. Myanmar launched a COVID-19 vaccination program on Wednesday, with health care staff and volunteer medical workers the first to receive shots of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine donated by neighboring India.

The Southeast Asian country managed to contain the number of COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic, but is now fighting a second wave, recording more than 138,000 cases and 3,082 deaths.

Last week, Myanmar received 1.5 million doses of the vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, amid a diplomatic drive by New Delhi to supply neighboring countries just as regional rival China has also pledged vaccine consignments.

3:22 p.m. Tokyo reports 973 new infections, down from 1,026 a day earlier, with the number of patients in serious condition rising by 11 to 159.

2:23 p.m. India reports 12,689 cases in the last 24 hours, up from the eight-month low of 9,102 recorded the previous day, bringing the country's total to 10.69 million. Fatalities jumped by 137 to 153,724. Meanwhile, the country's COVID vaccinations launched on Jan. 16 have crossed the two million mark, according to the health ministry.

People fill out forms before receiving coronavirus vaccine injections at a vaccination site in Shanghai on Jan. 19.   © Reuters

1:48 p.m. COVID-19 vaccination programs in China and India will stretch until late 2022 due to the sheer size of their populations and more than 85 poor countries will not have widespread access to vaccines before 2023, a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research division of the Economist Group, shows.

1:42 p.m. Thailand reports 819 new coronavirus cases, taking total infections to 15,465. One additional death was reported, bringing total fatalities to 76. More than 700 of the new infections were in Samut Sakhon province, the epicenter of the most recent outbreak, the COVID-19 taskforce said at a briefing.

1:26 p.m. China has administered about 22.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, a health official says, as the country steps up its campaign to vaccinate 50 million people ahead of next month's Lunar New Year holidays and the accompanying flurry of travel.

2:23 p.m. A volunteer in a Peruvian trial of a vaccine from China's Sinopharm has died from COVID-related pneumonia, according to Cayetano Heredia University, which is performing the trial. But the local health regulator determined the person had received a placebo rather than the vaccine.

12:22 p.m. Mexico is close to signing a contract for Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. The first shipment of 200,000 doses could arrive next week, a Mexican official said on Tuesday.

12:15 p.m. Hong Kong home prices -- among the highest in the world -- gained slightly in 2020 amid the pandemic data shows, extending a run of increases dating back to 2009 when prices were only a third of their current level. According to preliminary data, prices grew by only a fraction last year, resulting in a December index reading of 379.3 versus 379.2 for 2019.

11:12 a.m. Australia is on track for the 10th consecutive day of no new local cases, allowing its most populous state of New South Wales to relax coronavirus restrictions.

10:01 a.m. South Korea reports 554 cases from 354 a day earlier, bringing the country total to 76,429 with 1,378 deaths. A dormitory at a religious institution in the city of Gwangju emerged as a COVID-19 epicenter.

9:26 a.m. China reports 75 cases on Jan. 26, down from 82 a day earlier, marking its lowest daily increase in more than two weeks. The National Health Commission said in a statement that 55 of the cases were local infections, down from 69 a day earlier. New asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, hit 61 on the day from 57 the previous day.

5:46 a.m. Florida offers to replace Tokyo as host of the Summer Olympics, asking the International Olympic Committee to consider the option. A coronavirus outbreak in Japan has raised speculation that Tokyo organizers may back out.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, sees how a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is prepared with a nurse on Jan. 25.   © Reuters

5:34 a.m. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Tuesday the British drugmaker is working with Oxford University on a vaccine that will target the South African variant of COVID-19, according to a media report quoted by Reuters.

4:54 a.m. Pfizer said on Tuesday that it and partner BioNTech were developing a booster shot targeting COVID-19 variants, Reuters reports. "We are already laying the groundwork to respond quickly if a variant of SARS-CoV-2 shows evidence of escaping immunity by our vaccine," Pfizer said in an email to Reuters. However, the company added that studies needed to evaluate the booster shot are yet to be determined with regulators.

4:44 a.m. The coronavirus pandemic reaches another grim milestone, infecting more than 100 million people worldwide -- or roughly 1.3% of the global population -- according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Global infections have doubled in the two-and-a-half months since November 2020.

3:15 a.m. Delays in Chinese exports of COVID-19 vaccine ingredients to Brazil result from technical obstacles, not political, according to China's ambassador to the South American country. Yang Wanming says China is committed to helping Brazil, where a vaccine developed by Sinovac was late-stage tested in the state of Sao Paulo.

Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been at odds with China over the years, leading to speculation that the export delays were political retribution. Brazil needs ingredients from China to produce two vaccines locally -- one from Sinovac and another from AstraZeneca.

2:27 a.m. The U.K.'s COVID-19 death toll passes 100,000. "It's hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic," Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a news conference. Taking full responsibility for the government response, he said that "we truly did everything we could."

Tuesday, Jan. 26

9:30 p.m. Israel's health minister says there have been no serious COVID-19 cases among the roughly 6% of the population who have received the full set of two Pfizer shots, Reuters notes, suggesting the vaccine is working as advertised. He told a parliamentary panel that just 0.014% had contracted milder infections.

9:00 p.m. Iran has approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for domestic use. Reuters reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif informed his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in a meeting on Tuesday.

8:30 p.m. The World Health Organization has updated its clinical advice for treating COVID-19 patients, including the use of low-dose anti-coagulants to prevent blood clots, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris says independent experts visiting the Chinese city of Wuhan are due to leave quarantine in the next two days to start looking into the origins of the virus.

8:15 p.m. In other news out of Malaysia, the Health Ministry says it has signed deals to procure 6.4 million vaccine doses made by Russia's Gamaleya Research Institute and 12 million produced by China's Sinovac through two domestic companies, according to Reuters. The Russian shots are due to be released in stages starting in March, while the Chinese ones would be rolled out from April.

7:45 p.m. Malaysia logs another 3,585 new coronavirus cases, despite renewed lockdown measures, along with 11 new deaths, Reuters reports. This brings the total number of infections to 190,434, with a death toll of 700.

6:30 p.m. Saudi Arabia's finance minister tells the World Economic Forum being hosted online this year in Davos, Switzerland, that his country is talking to manufacturers to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries, including Yemen and African states. Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthi group in Yemen since early 2015, in a war that has pushed Yemen into a humanitarian crisis.

6:20 p.m. An expert with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that if China's COVID-19 inactivated vaccines need upgrading for mutated virus variants, the upgrade could be completed in about two months, according to Reuters, citing Global Times reports on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

A nurse assists a patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Bogor, Indonesia on Jan. 26. The country has surpassed one million coronavirus infections.   © Reuters

6:00 p.m. Indonesia surpasses one million coronavirus cases as it reports 13,094 new infections. The total number of cases found in the country was 1,012,350. The country also reported 336 new COVID-19 related deaths, taking the total to 28,468.

4:30 p.m. Britain's unemployment rate rose to 5.0%, its highest since early 2016, in the three months to November as the pandemic continued to take its toll on the economy, official figures show. Separate data shows the number of employees on company payrolls in December was down 2.7% from a year earlier and 828,000 lower than at the start of the pandemic in February.

4:00 p.m. Japanese drugmaker Shionogi sells development and marketing rights of a COVID-19 drug to U.S.-based BioAge Labs. The drug was originally meant to treat allergic rhinitis. BioAge will hold exclusive rights for its use in treating COVID-19 in the U.S. and Europe in exchange for cash as well as milestones and royalties. The company plans to start a Phase 2 trial in the first half of the year.

3:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 1,026 new infections with the daily count exceeding 1,000 for the first time in three days. Concern over the strain on the medical system persists, with the number of serious cases hovering around 150 and a notable increase in cases of people dying at home.

2:30 p.m. Thailand reports a daily record of 959 cases due to what authorities say was increased testing at the center of its most recent outbreak. The new infections -- the highest daily rise since 745 cases on Jan. 7 -- bring the country total to 14,646 with deaths remaining at 75.

2:10 p.m. New Zealand will keep its border closed for most of the year, but will pursue travel arrangements with Australia and other Pacific nations, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says. Authorities, meanwhile, may approve a vaccine as early as next week, she added.

China wants to speed exports of its COVID-19 vaccines, like the one from Sinovac shown above.   © Reuters

1:00 p.m. China's customs offices should prioritize exports of COVID-19 vaccines and ease clearance procedures, the country's transport ministry said in a document. Sinovac Biotech's vaccine is being shipped to Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil, while Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other countries have received doses from China National Pharmaceutical Group, or Sinopharm. The document also said that local transport authorities should set up channels to prioritize vaccine shipments.

12:00 p.m. Chocolatier Godiva will close all 128 of its brick-and-mortar locations in North America by the end of March as demand for in-person shopping dropped sharply during the pandemic. Godiva sweets will still be available online and inside partnering retail and grocery stores.

10:30 a.m. Japanese airline ANA Holdings says it will suspend 16 international routes and reduce service on three other routes during summer as the pandemic restricts travel. Routes to be suspended include Narita/New York and Narita/Jakarta. ANA's new flight schedule runs from March 28 to Oct. 30. ANA added it would adjust schedules as needed on a monthly basis.

9:50 a.m. China reports 82 cases for Monday, down from 124 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 69 were local infections. The number of asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 57 from 45 a day earlier.

9:30 a.m. Tests by the Minnesota Department of Health have confirmed the first known COVID-19 case in the U.S. associated with a more contagious variant originally seen in Brazil, the agency says. The announcement came as President Joe Biden signed an order extending a ban barring nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently been to Brazil, South Africa, the U.K., Ireland and 26 other European countries from entering the United States.

9:00 a.m. South Korea's GDP grew at a faster-than-expected pace -- a seasonally adjusted 1.1% -- in the December quarter from the third quarter thanks to surging exports, the Bank of Korea says.

5:10 a.m. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro thanks China on Twitter for quickly approving the export of 5,400 liters of inputs for local production of the Sinovac vaccine. Shipments of supplies for the AstraZeneca vaccine are being fast-tracked as well, he says.

1:58 a.m. China vaccinates delegates to the National People's Congress so that they will be protected from the virus in time for the country's annual parliamentary session in early March. The country's vaccination program is ramping up, with about 15 million doses distributed nationwide as of last Wednesday, according to Chinese media.

12:31 a.m. Moderna prepares an altered COVID-19 vaccine booster for the South African variant of the virus, with plans to start clinical trials. The company says its two-dose regimen is expected to protect against the variants detected so far, but tests indicate that the vaccine may produce a diminished antibody response to the South African strain.

Monday, Jan. 25

9:33 p.m. The EU will require pharmaceutical companies producing COVID-19 vaccines inside the bloc to register in advance any exports of doses to third countries, an EU official says. The move comes after AstraZeneca on Friday unexpectedly announced a large cut in vaccine supplies to the bloc for the first quarter of the year.

8:50 p.m. Thailand says it will start inoculations next month by administering 50,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine to people in high-risk groups. "We will start with medical personnel and high-risk individuals and areas," senior health official Sopon Mekton says.

Meanwhile, the country welcomed 6,556 foreign tourists in December, a 99.8% drop from the 3.95 million arrivals for December 2019, the last month before headlines of the coronavirus began rocking the world.

8:45 p.m. Drugmaker Merck & Co says it will end development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus its pandemic research on treatments, with initial efficacy data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March. In early trials, its vaccines generated immune responses that were inferior to those seen in people who had recovered from COVID-19 as well as those reported for other COVID-19 vaccines.

7:26 p.m. Malaysian health authorities report 3,048 new cases for Monday, raising the country total to 186,849. It also recorded 11 new fatalities, bringing the cumulative death toll to 689.

5:30 p.m. Drugmaker Pfizer has submitted an application seeking approval for its coronavirus vaccines to be used in South Korea, authorities say. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety says it aims to reach a decision within 40 days after cutting its previous deliberation period of up to 180 days to fast-track the approval and speed up the vaccination process.

3:38 p.m. Japanese motor maker Nidec reports a 24% year-on-year increase in operating profit for the nine months through December on the back of strong demand for home appliances and personal computers as well as a global shift to electric vehicles. Amid the pandemic, the company's nine-month operating profit came to 115.5 billion yen ($1.1 billion) as sales rose 2.2% to 1.18 trillion yen.

Workers at a Tokyo exhibition center await visitors. The capital's daily cases have been falling since a state of emergency was declared.   © Reuters

3:20 p.m. Japan is not likely to reach 75% inoculation, a benchmark for herd immunity to COVID-19 through mass immunization, until around October, about two months after the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to close, according to London-based forecaster Airfinity, Reuters reports. "Japan looks to be quite late," Rasmus Bech Hansen, the founder of the British research firm, said. "America needs 100 million more Pfizer vaccines to be on the safe side to reach their goals, and a lot of those 100 million would come from the Japan pile."

3:10 p.m. Tokyo reports 618 new infections, down from 986 a day earlier, as Japan's capital battles the pandemic under a state of emergency. The daily tally marks the first time for Tokyo to come in under 700 since Dec. 28.

2:18 p.m. India reports 13,203 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 14,849 the previous day, bringing the country total to 10.67 million. Deaths jumped by 131 to 153,417.

1:50 p.m. Turkey receives an additional 6.5 million doses of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine, according to media reports. The shipment, part of a second consignment that will total 10 million doses, arrived in Istanbul early this morning, according to state broadcaster TRT Haber. An initial 3 million doses previously arrived in Turkey, and the country has so far vaccinated about 1.25 million people, mostly health workers and the elderly.

1:45 p.m. Thailand reports 187 cases and two deaths, bringing the country total to 13,687 cases and 75 deaths. The latest cases include 10 imported infections.

12:30 p.m. Tata Medical & Diagnostics is said to be discussing with Moderna the co-launch of the U.S. company's vaccine in India, the Economic Times reports. Tata could team up with India's Council of Scientific & Industrial Research to carry out clinical trials of Moderna's vaccine candidate.

Health workers stand inside a locked-down residential area in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong on Jan. 23.   © Reuters

12:00 p.m. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he has tested positive for COVID-19 amid an intense second wave of the pandemic that has nearly overwhelmed the country's health care system. The 67-year-old president, who has resisted wearing a face mask, said in a tweet that his symptoms were light and he was receiving treatment.

10:10 a.m. Hong Kong lifted a lockdown in the Kowloon district early Monday morning after testing about 7,000 people to curb an outbreak in the densely populated area. The government set up 51 temporary testing stations on Saturday and found 13 confirmed cases in the restricted area, which contains many old, subdivided flats in which the disease could spread quickly.

10:00 a.m. South Korea confirms 437 new cases, up from 392 a day ago. Total infections reach 75,521 with 1,360 deaths.

9:40 a.m. China reports 124 cases for Sunday, up from 80 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 117 were local infections. Jilin Province in the northeast accounted for 67 cases, all but three of which were previously asymptomatic but were later reclassified as confirmed. Heilongjiang Province reported 35 cases and Hebei Province 11. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 45 from 92 a day earlier.

9:30 a.m. New Zealand confirms it is investigating one case reported on Sunday, the first domestic case in months. The infection in a 56-year-old woman who returned to New Zealand on Dec. 30 was of the South African variant, according to Chris Hipkins, the country's COVID-19 response minister.

Australia is expected to begin inoculating priority groups against COVID-19 in late February.   © Reuters

8:40 a.m. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the country's medical regulator has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine had been provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration's for Australians aged 16 years and over, Morrison told reporters. He noted it has been a year since the first coronavirus case was detected in the country. Vaccination of priority groups is expected to begin in late February, at 80,000 doses per week, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters.

6:05 a.m. Greece detects 32 cases of the British variant of COVID-19, health authorities said Sunday, with 17 of the positive samples coming from Athens. The country reports 334 new COVID-19 cases overall and 24 related deaths Sunday, bringing Greece's cumulative totals to 151,980 infections and 5,646 fatalities.

5:43 a.m. President Joe Biden will reimpose an entry ban Monday on nearly all non-U.S. travelers who have been in Brazil, the U.K., Ireland and 26 European countries that allow travel across open borders. South Africa was added to the restricted list Saturday to contain the spread of a new COVID-19 variant, a senior U.S. health official told Reuters.

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will sign a separate order Monday requiring masks on all airplanes, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles for travelers 2 and older. New CDC rules take effect Tuesday requiring all international air travelers 2 and older to present a negative coronavirus test taken within three calendar days of travel or proof of recovery from COVID-19 to enter the U.S.

5:40 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has administered 21,848,655 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Sunday morning. The tally covers both Moderna's shot and one by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech. The agency says 18.5 million people have received at least one dose, while 3.2 million have gotten the second dose.

Sunday, Jan. 24

9:26 p.m. Taiwan will more than double the number of people who must quarantine at home to over 5,000 as it seeks to contain a rare domestic cluster of COVID-19 connected to a hospital, the health minister says. The island has kept the pandemic under control thanks to early and effective prevention, with the large majority of its 890 infections being imported cases. But since Jan. 12, Taiwan has dealt with a small number of domestic transmissions at a hospital.

People in Taiwan shop ahead of the Chinese New Year in Taipei on Jan. 20.   © Reuters

2:24 p.m. Australia reports no new local coronavirus cases on Sunday. The country's first batch of the Pfizer vaccine is due to arrive in February.

"We have the virus under control here in Australia, but we want to roll out the vaccine," federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tells reporters. Residents can apply to get the vaccine starting Monday.

1:41 p.m. Thailand reports 198 new coronavirus cases Sunday, taking total confirmed infections to 13,500.

10:30 a.m. Mainland China reports 80 new COVID-19 cases for Saturday, down from 107 a day earlier, the National Health Commission says Sunday. The commission says 65 of the new cases are local infections. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, falls to 92, from 99 a day earlier.

9:52 a.m. New Zealand health officials investigate a probable community coronavirus case. The country last recorded a community transmission Nov. 18. New Zealand has had only a total of 1,927 confirmed cases so far. On Sunday, there were eight new infections, all returning travelers who are being quarantined at the border.

4:19 a.m. Egypt starts coronavirus vaccinations Sunday, beginning with medical staff, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says in recorded comments. On Friday, Egypt recorded 748 new cases and 52 deaths. But health officials say the real numbers are likely far higher because of the relatively low rate of coronavirus testing and the exclusion of private test results.

Egypt received its first shipment of vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm in December. Egypt will get 40 million vials via the Gavi vaccine alliance for 20 million people, or 20% of its 100 million population, the health minister said last week.

3:44 a.m. COVID-19 vaccinations in Iran will begin in the coming weeks, President Hassan Rouhani says. "Foreign vaccines are a necessity until local vaccines are available," he says in televised remarks, without giving details of what foreign vaccines would be used.

Cuba said this month that it signed an accord with Tehran to transfer the technology for its most advanced vaccine candidate and carry out last-stage clinical trials of the shot in Iran. Iran is also participating in the COVAX scheme, which aims to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries.

Iran has recorded nearly 1.37 million cases and about 57,300 deaths.

Saturday, Jan. 23

7:23 p.m. Malaysian health authorities report 4,275 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily total so far, raising the total number of confirmed infections to 180,455. Seven new fatalities are reported, bringing the total number of deaths to 667.

4:24 p.m. The death toll from the novel coronavirus in Japan surpasses 5,000 as the country struggles to curb a third wave of infections, health authorities say.

11:08 a.m. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden plan to meet next month, the prime minister's office said on Friday, following a call between the two leaders in which they agreed to join forces to combat coronavirus in North America.

10:36 a.m. Hong Kong's government locked down an area of the Kowloon peninsula on Saturday, saying people there must stay home until all residents have been tested for the new coronavirus and results largely determined.

9:00 a.m. More than 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in over 50 countries and regions, according to an independent tally by Nikkei and the Financial Times. Find out more from the charts here.

6:00 a.m. The World Health Organization says it has reached a deal with U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for 40 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine, much of which will go to low-income countries. Vaccinations under the WHO's COVAX program are expected to begin by the end of February, according to the health body. Rich countries' direct deals with drugmakers have been blamed for delaying the flow of COVID-19 vaccines to poor nations.

New U.S. President Joe Biden has said the U.S. will join the COVAX effort, something his predecessor Donald Trump did not do.

2:30 a.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces findings that the so-called U.K. variant of the coronavirus may lead to higher deaths from COVID-19 compared with the main form.

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

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