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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, Capital of Hebei Province in China halts subway

Possible 'US variant' fueling spread, report says; Brazil asks India to speed vaccine shipment

A medical worker in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang near Beijing collects a swab from a resident during mass testing following a recent surge of COVID-19 cases.   © Reuters

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

Global cases have reached 88,589,250, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 1,907,608.

To see how the disease has spread, view our virus tracker charts:

UPDATES CLOSED

Saturday, Jan. 9 (Tokyo time)

12:50 p.m. China reports 33 cases for Friday, down from 53 a day earlier. Of the 17 locally transmitted infections, 14 were in Hebei Province, which surrounds Beijing and which is in "wartime mode" as it battles rising infections. Meanwhile, Hebei's capital of Shijiazhuang announces the suspension of subway service. Earlier this week, authorities banned people from leaving the city to help curb spread of the disease.

9:30 a.m. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has sent a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking to expedite a shipment of 2 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, the presidential press office says.

6:04 a.m. The White House coronavirus task force is watching a possible new variant of the coronavirus that is thought to have emerged in the U.S. and may be contributing to the disease's unabated spread, NBC reports, citing a government document.

The variant is different from a U.K.-originated type already spreading in the U.S. and may be 50% more transmissible than other variations, according to the report.

The report comes a day after the U.S. logged its deadliest day in the pandemic, with more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths for the first time, authorities say. The toll amounts to one person dying every 21 seconds.

A woman walks past a hospital emergency department in New York City.   © Reuters

4:32 a.m. Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the Saudi Press Agency reports.

2:00 a.m. The latest U.S. jobs report shows the first decline in nonfarm payrolls since April, suggesting the coronavirus has once again slammed the brakes on American employment.

People in jobs fell 145,000 on the month, defying market forecasts for an increase of 100,000.

1:30 a.m. President-elect Joe Biden will seek to release every available dose of coronavirus vaccine after taking office rather than keep some in reserve for second doses, a spokesman for the Biden transition tells CNN.

Biden "believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans' arms now," T.J. Ducklo says.

Separately, the Biden transition team announces that biologist Elizabeth Cameron will serve on the president's national security team as senior director for global health security and biodefense.

Holding a PhD in biology from Johns Hopkins University, Cameron previously served on the White House National Security Council staff, according to the Biden team statement.

A healthcare worker prepares a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination in Los Angeles.   © Reuters

1:04 a.m. The governors of the greater Osaka area will urge Japan's national government to expand its coronavirus state of emergency to include their prefectures, as the localities set daily records for the spread of infections.

A state of emergency declared Thursday covered Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures. Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo will submit a formal request as early as Friday to be added to that list.

Aichi Prefecture, which is home to the city of Nagoya, and neighboring Gifu Prefecture also plan to make a similar request. Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, is also considering a similar request.

"Cases have surged in the past two days, and we need to take the same restrictions as the capital region immediately," Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura says at a Thursday meeting.

Friday, Jan. 8

11:51 p.m. Olympic-medal-winning wrestler Saori Yoshida of Japan has tested positive for COVID-19, her representative reports.

Yoshida is feeling well and self-isolating at home, according to her representative.

The freestyle wrestler won Olympic gold medals in Athens, Beijing and London, and silver in Rio de Janeiro, in addition to numerous world championships, according to her website. She announced her retirement in 2019.

Three-time Olympic gold medalists Tadahiro Nomura, right, and Saori Yoshida hold the Olympic Flame during the Olympic Flame arrival ceremony at Japan Air Self-Defense Force Matsushima Base in Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan on March 20.    © Reuters

10:40 p.m. Hong Kong will cancel its annual Lunar New Year fair scheduled for February as the city grapples with a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. A total of 15 New Year markets will be called off.

9:30 p.m. Britain's medical regulator on Friday approved Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for use, the health ministry said, adding that it had agreed to purchase an additional 10 million doses of the shot. Britain now has 17 million doses of Moderna's vaccine on order, and supplies will begin to be delivered to the UK from spring.

9:04 p.m. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will announce new measures such as targeted lockdowns next Monday to curb a surge in coronavirus cases, security minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told reporters. The country has seen a spike in infections, with daily cases climbing to record highs on two days this week. Friday's death toll of 16 took total fatalities to 537. The health ministry also reported 2,643 new infections raising the total number of cases to 131,108.

People wait in line to be tested for the coronavirus in Shah Alam, Malaysia, Jan. 7. The country is tightening measures to control the virus amid growing infection numbers.   © Reuters

7:30 p.m. The Indonesian Ulema Council, the country's top Islamic body, announces that China's Sinovac vaccine is permissible under Islamic law, giving a boost to the government as it prepares to start a mass vaccination program next week. The council, known as MUI, said the vaccine is "holy and halal" after a meeting of its Halal Certification Commission.

6:10 p.m. Indonesia's daily coronavirus cases reach a new record high for the second consecutive day, passing 10,000 for the first time with 10,617 new infections in the past 24 hours, and 233 new deaths. The country's totals are now at 808,340 cases, with 23,753 fatalities. Indonesia's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency is preparing to issue an emergency use authorization for the Sinovac vaccine -- in time for a national rollout due to start with the vaccination of President Joko Widodo on Wednesday.

4:55 p.m. The first shots of the Moderna vaccine should arrive in France in the coming days, Alain Fischer, the immunologist coordinating the country's vaccination strategy, says, Reuters reports. Fischer also tells BFM television that uncertainties still hover over Astrazeneca's vaccine.

Commuters wearing protective masks board a subway train in Tokyo. The capital's daily coronavirus infections topped 2,000 for the second day in a row on Friday.   © Reuters

3:11 p.m. Tokyo reports 2,392 new infections -- marking the second consecutive day of more than 2,000 cases -- on the first day of a monthlong state of emergency in Japan's capital and surrounding prefectures. In addition, there have been increasing calls from health experts and regional authorities such as in Osaka to expand the area under the emergency.

2:00 p.m. India reports 18,139 cases for the past 24 hours, down from 20,346 the previous day, bringing the country total to 10.41 million. Deaths jumped by 234 and now total 150,570. Also, the country carried out a second nationwide mock drill to test a digital platform and other mechanisms for a vaccination drive expected to start by Jan. 13.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, shown giving a televised address about COVID-19 on Dec. 14, 2020, has been vaccinated against the virus.   © Reuters

1:50 p.m. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, receives a shot of the Pfizer vaccine as the country plans to roll out inoculations to every adult resident by the end of the year. A video posted on his Facebook page shows the prime minister being injected in the right upper arm. "It was quite painless," he wrote, adding that "I feel fine and have no side effects."

1:30 p.m. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in new variants of the coronavirus discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, according to a study by Pfizer and scientists prior to peer review. The study indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralizing new variants of the virus.

12:50 p.m. Japan's Nikkei stock index rises above the 28,000 mark for the first time in over 30 years, riding on the overnight advance of U.S. markets as President-elect Joe Biden has been officially certified to assume his post. Investors looked for economically sensitive stocks such as semiconductors and non-ferrous metals.

11:45 a.m. Australia will require all international travelers to test negative for the coronavirus before boarding flights to the country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, as it tightens travel rules to stop the spread of the U.K. COVID-19 variant.

A coronavirus advisory sign hangs on a building in Osaka.   © Kyodo

11:30 a.m. Osaka and neighboring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures are preparing to jointly ask the Japanese government to declare a state of emergency for their region as they all reported record-high daily infections on Thursday. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has already declared a monthlong state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures effective Friday.

9:56 a.m. South Korea reports 674 new cases, down from 868 a day ago. Total infections reach 67,358 with 1,081 deaths.

9:40 a.m. Australia's third-largest city Brisbane will enter a three-day lockdown beginning late on Friday as authorities seek to prevent the spread of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 first detected in Britain. Brisbane's 2 million residents will be barred from leaving their homes for anything but essential business after a worker at a quarantine hotel in the city tested positive for the new strain.

9:20 a.m. China reports 53 new cases for Thursday, down from 63 a day earlier. Of the 37 locally transmitted infections, 33 were in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing that entered a "wartime mode" earlier this week. Shijiazhuang, Hebei's capital, banned people from leaving the city in the latest step to curb the spread of the virus.

A volunteer receives Sinovac's Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccine in a trial in Sao Paulo.   © Reuters

7:40 a.m. Brazil's government will buy the full output this year of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine produced by Sao Paulo's Butantan Institute, the health minister said on Thursday, after the biomedical center announced strong efficacy trial data.

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said the government is closing a deal for up to 100 million doses of the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, called CoronaVac, for use in the national immunization program.

5:53 a.m. As Britain works to roll out COVID-19 vaccines faster, the manager of a football club has an idea for rationing health care resources: let teams have their jabs.

"You look at the amount spent on testing in the Premier League, then that money could be channeled back into the [National Health Service] and into the vaccination system, surely that's a better place to be than just continually testing footballers two, three times a week," Burnley's Sean Dyche tells reporters, according to Reuters.

5:30 a.m. Japan's COVID-19 state of emergency for the Tokyo area begins today.

The declaration is the first stage of a three-part plan for containing COVID-19, with legislative steps for enforcement and a vaccination campaign slated to follow, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says.

"It will take up to two weeks before we can see the effects of our countermeasures," the prime minister explains, citing the previous state of emergency declared last April.

Containing the pandemic is crucial as Japan looks to host the Summer Olympics in July. "I am determined to hold safe Olympic games by implementing all possible preventive measures," Suga says.

Meanwhile, Osaka area governors are in late-stage discussions on requesting an emergency declaration for their region, which constitutes a second hotbed for new infections in Japan. A decision could come Friday.

"We need to look at Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures as a whole" with Osaka, the government's coronavirus point man, Yasutoshi Nishimura, tells reporters Thursday.

4:30 a.m. In Brazil, members of an indigenous people leaving in the Amazon say a concoction made from vines relieves the effects of COVID-19 -- but they won't reveal the name of the plant, Reuters reports.

"The medicine is very strong," 23-year-old Po Yre is quoted as saying.

"When you take it, you get weak, sometimes with red eyes and a headache," Po Yre adds. "But, the next day, it works. You wake up well."

2:57 a.m. Japan's Shimizu, one of the country's biggest builders, will begin a consulting service this month grades office buildings on their ability to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, Nikkei reports.

The company will then offer proposals for upgrades, looking to help buildings prepare for the next pandemic

One example of the grading process is doors. Automatic doors with motion sensors receive the top score of 5 points. Touch-activated automatic doors score 2 points, while fully manual doors receive only 1 point.

1:17 a.m. Brazil's Instituto Butantan, which is overseeing production of the Chinese-developed Coronavac in the South American country, confirms the jab has shown a 78% efficacy in trials.

In a Twitter post, the institute says it expects to apply on Thursday local time for emergency use approval of the vaccine developed by Sinovac.

"Butantan's vaccine is ready to immunize Brazilians," the institute tweets.

Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria reiterates plans to start vaccinations on Jan. 25, Reuters reports.

12:01 a.m. Japan's month-long state of emergency for the Tokyo area is now in effect. For more information, read Nikkei Asia's Five Things to Know.

Thursday, Jan. 7

11:48 p.m. A COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech has shown 78% effectiveness in late-stage trials in Brazil, Reuters reports, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo also reports a 78% effectiveness for the so-called Coronavac.

This follows a report last month from Turkish officials that the Sinovac vaccine had shown an efficacy of 91.25% in trials in Turkey.

9:22 p.m. Japan reports 7,525 new COVID-19 cases as of 7:30 p.m., marking the highest daily tally to date.

The worst region for new infections remains Tokyo at 2,447, followed by neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture -- home to Yokohama -- at 679.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says a state of emergency will take effect at midnight Jan. 8 and asks residents of Greater Tokyo to stay home at night and telecommute if possible.   © Reuters

8:18 p.m. Malaysia reports its biggest daily case rise as the government considers imposing restrictions in some areas. The health ministry reported a record 3,027 new infections, raising the total so far to 128,465 cases, including 521 deaths.

6:30 p.m. With daily infection numbers soaring in Greater Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tells reporters he will endeavor to "improve the situation in one month," when a state of emergency is to end. He says the government will pay subsidies to restaurants in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures that abide with the emergency request to close at 8 p.m., adding that it is the government's responsibility to "protect jobs." The state of emergency begins at midnight.

5:47 p.m. Indonesia's daily infections cross the 9,000 mark for the first time, with 9,321 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, and 224 more deaths. These bring the country's totals to 797,723 cases with 23,520 deaths.

5:42 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declares a coronavirus state of emergency, asking Tokyo-area bars and restaurants to close early, residents to stay home at night and workers to telecommute. Tokyo posted a record high of 2,447 infections on Thursday.

5:30 p.m. U.S. drugmaker Moderna is on track to deliver between 600 million and 1 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, CEO Stephane Bancel says. Bancel said Moderna had orders for 500 million doses of its vaccine and could comfortably make at least 600 million doses. He added that the group was working to meet or even exceed a target of 1 billion doses.

3:32 p.m. Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japanese minister in charge of the response to COVID-19, explains in parliament the government's decision to declare a monthlong state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to declare an emergency later in the day.

3:00 p.m. China should give access to World Health Organization officials investigating the origins of COVID-19 "without delay," Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne says. Earlier this week, the head of the WHO said he was "very disappointed" that China had still not authorized the entry of a team of international experts to study the causes of the outbreak.

2:40 p.m. Tokyo posted a record high of more than 2,400 infections for the first time on Thursday as the central government is set to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and neighboring prefectures, Nikkei has learned. The previous daily high for the capital was 1,591 infections on Wednesday.

1:54 p.m. India reports 20,346 cases in the last 24 hours, up from 18,088 the previous day and breaking a five-day streak of fewer than 20,000 cases, bringing the country's total COVID-19 infections to nearly 10.4 million. Deaths climbed by 222 to 150,336.

12:10 p.m. Australia is on course to begin administering the first COVID-19 vaccines in February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says. The country's drug regulator is expected to approve use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January, with the first doses issued within weeks. "We are now in a position where believe we will be able to commence vaccinations in mid-to-late February," Morrison told reporters.

10:40 a.m. China reports the biggest rise in daily cases in more than five months on Thursday, driven by rising infections in Hebei Province surrounding the capital Beijing. Hebei accounted for 51 of the 52 local cases, compared with 20 cases reported in the province a day earlier. Total new cases in China stood at 63, compared with 32 reported a day earlier, marking the biggest rise in daily cases since 127 cases were reported on July 30.

10:05 a.m. South Korea reports 870 new cases, up from 838 a day ago. Total infections have reached 66,686 with 1,046 deaths.

9:36 a.m. The Japanese government proposes a declaration of a state of emergency for Tokyo, plus Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures, at an advisory expert panel. A declaration for the capital and surrounding areas is expected to take effect at midnight and run through Feb. 7. This will mark Japan's second "soft lockdown," after the first emergency was declared last April.

Hebei Province, which surrounds Beijing, accounted for 51 of the 52 local cases reported Jan. 7. This compared with 20 cases reported in the province a day earlier.   © Reuters

5:00 a.m. France is unlikely to avoid the new and more contagious "U.K. variant" of the coronavirus, and may have to consider more restrictions on people's movements next week, the government's chief scientific adviser on the epidemic said on Wednesday. Professor Jean-Francois Delfraissy, who heads the scientific council that advises the French government on the epidemic, said France already had about 22 confirmed cases of the UK variant.

3:45 a.m. Peru has negotiated a deal with China's Sinopharm to receive 1 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine by January, Reuters reports, citing President Francisco Sagasti.

3:20 a.m. At least five U.S. states have detected a a roughly 70% more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread rapidly in the U.K., the director of the National Institutes of Health tells the Washington Post.

"I would be surprised if that number doesn't grow pretty rapidly," Francis Collins says in an interview.

"Fortunately, [the variant] doesn't seem to be more severe for people who get infected, but it just means there's more risk of more people getting infected," Collins adds.

1:59 a.m. The Chinese automobile market shrank by only 1.9% last year, with economic stimulus softening the blow of the coronavirus, new estimates show.

About 25 million new vehicles were sold in 2020 in the world's largest auto market, led by commercial vehicles, according to preliminary numbers from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

This marks the third straight annual decline, but sales have beaten year-earlier numbers for nine straight months through December, the estimates show.

Japanese automakers have been among the biggest winners in China's post-COVID recovery, with Honda Motor notching its second consecutive annual sales record.

1:15 a.m. Need more information about Japan's impending state of emergency? Read Nikkei Asia's updated Five Things to Know.

Wednesday, Jan. 6

11:45 p.m. The Europe Union's drug regulator has approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, making it the second shot against the coronavirus cleared for use in the bloc.

The move comes as Europe faces the spread of new, more infectious variants of the virus.

A Spanish genetics laboratory has found a more highly transmissible variant in patients with no known travel to the U.K., where it was first detected, the Financial Times reports.

twitter:https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1346794649944530944

9:10 p.m. Japan's daily case count, reported earlier to have surpassed 5,000 for the first time, has in fact exceeded 6,000 on Wednesday -- underscoring the severity of the situation as the government prepares to declare a state of emergency.

8:00 p.m. China plays down an apparent delay in authorizing a visit by World Health Organization inspectors, Reuters reports, saying there was no need to "overinterpret" the situation. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says there was a "misunderstanding" that dates in January had been agreed upon, and that the two sides "remain in close communication." On Tuesday, WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said he was "very disappointed" that China had yet to authorize the probe into the origins of COVID-19.

7:30 p.m. Indonesia's highest Muslim clerical council aims to rule on whether COVID-19 vaccines are halal, before inoculations with a Chinese shot start on Jan. 13, Reuters reports. The question of whether vaccines are permissible under Islamic law has been controversial in the past. According to the report, the Indonesian Ulema Council declared a measles vaccine forbidden in 2018.

6:33 p.m. Indonesia's daily coronavirus cases reach a new high of 8,854, with 187 new deaths. The country's totals now stand at 788,402 cases with 23,296 deaths. A government official on Wednesday says total deaths include over 500 health workers.

6:15 p.m. Japan's stock market is heading toward a repeat performance of last spring as the country prepares for another COVID-triggered state of emergency, expected to be announced on Thursday, nine months to the day since the central government issued its initial "soft lockdown."

Investors have spent the week rushing to sell stocks in sectors like transportation, retail, food and beverage, likely to be negatively impacted by the state of emergency, which is initially expected to last a month, covering Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama.

6:10 p.m. Daily cases in Japan reach a record of at least 5,000. Tokyo and Osaka recorded daily highs of 1,591 and 560 respectively. The spread of the infection is seen to be accelerating.

5:20 p.m. Pharmaceutical maker AstraZeneca has applied to health regulators for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine in the Philppines, the drug agency chief says. AstraZeneca's application is the second the Philippine Food and Drug Administration has received; Pfizer made a similar application last month.

4:31 p.m. Thai Union Group, the world's largest canned tuna processor, confirmed on Wednesday that 69 employees at factories in Samut Sakhon Province have tested positive for COVID-19, putting Thailand's biggest seafood production center at risk at a time when hundreds of other cases have been found at neighboring companies.

4:04 p.m. India is ready to roll out two COVID-19 vaccines within 10 days of Jan. 3, when its drug regulator gave emergency use approval to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and a homegrown one from Bharat Biotech, the Health Ministry says.

3:55 p.m. Japan's capital recorded 1,591 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced, a new daily high.

3:37 p.m. Indonesia will impose two weeks of increased coronavirus restrictions in parts of its most populous island of Java from next Monday and on the resort island of Bali to support hospitals and reduce fatality rates, a minister said on Wednesday.

The chief economic minister, Airlangga Hartarto, said the measures include changes to opening hours for malls and limited capacity at restaurants and places of worship.

3:24 p.m. Honda Motor is offering voluntary retirement to a section of employees at its motorcycle and scooter unit in India, Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India (HMSI), amid slowing demand in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a company letter to its employees' union dated Jan. 5.

2:30 p.m. Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is facing renewed pressure within his ruling coalition, fueling talk of a snap election relatively soon after the country begins its expected COVID-19 vaccine rollout next month.

2:14 p.m. Tokyo has posted a record high of more than 1,500 infections, Nikkei has learned. The central government is expected to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and neighboring prefectures on Thursday. The previous daily high for the capital was 1,337 infections on Dec. 31.

People wearing face masks walk in Tokyo on Jan. 3. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

2:01 p.m. India reports 18,088 cases in the last 24 hours, up from 16,375 the previous day. But the figure remained below the 20,000-mark for the fifth consecutive day, bringing the country's total to 10.37 million. Deaths jumped by 264 to 150,114.

1:53 p.m. President Joko Widodo says Indonesia will roll out 5.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to a number of regions this month and over 23 million more by March. Widodo claims the country has secured orders for a total of 329.5 million doses of vaccines -- including from AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer. Indonesia is set to begin vaccinating its population next week.

11:13 a.m. Thailand's central bank, when it kept its benchmark rate at a record low last month, saw a need to preserve some room for using monetary policy at the most effective time, minutes from its last policy meeting showed on Wednesday.

The situation related to the latest wave of coronavirus infections remained highly uncertain and the country's economic projection would be substantially affected if new cases surge, the minutes said.

10:36 a.m. Chinese authorities are stepping up efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, seeking to avoid another wave of the pandemic amid a rise in locally transmitted cases near Beijing.

The province surrounding Beijing, Hebei, on Tuesday entered a "wartime mode" after reporting its first local infections in more than six months. The province will set up investigation teams to trace the close contacts of those who have tested positive.

10:10 a.m. South Korea reports 839 daily cases, up from 715 a day ago. Total infections reach 65,818, with 1,027 deaths. The government will pay the third disaster subsidies to owners of small businesses next week. Many shops have been forced to close or do limited business.

8:50 a.m. Australia will bring forward its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans by two weeks to early March, health authorities said on Wednesday, as the country seeks to contain fresh cases in its two largest cities.

Australia has repeatedly resisted pressure to expedite its vaccination distribution timetable, citing a low number of coronavirus cases in the country as a whole although new clusters in Sydney and Melbourne have sparked fears of a wider outbreak.

7:53 a.m. Millions more doses of coronavirus vaccine will reach vaccination centers within days in the U.K., The Times reported, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that almost a quarter of citizens over age 80 had been given a dose.

7:16 a.m. Airlines flying into the U.K. will be required to bar passengers from boarding if they do not have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure, the Telegraph reported late on Tuesday.

Every traveler coming into any U.K. port or airport will be expected to have a negative PCR test, part of a significant toughening of border controls, the report added.

6:20 a.m. Scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. may take about two months to determine whether doses of the company's COVID-19 vaccine can be halved to double the supply of the shots in the U.S., according to the agency.

The news comes as the country grapples with a surge in cases, with the number of vaccinations falling far short of early targets.

The U.S. government has been considering the move to require just one dose for Moderna's vaccine in order to vaccinate more people.

The New York Times first reported on the development, citing an interview with Dr. John Mascola, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the NIH.

4:04 a.m. The state of emergency expected to be declared Thursday for Tokyo and neighboring areas is likely to last for some time based on the Japanese government's criteria for ending its decree.

The planned emergency covering Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba will be lifted in any given area as its outbreak drops below the most severe level in Japan's four-stage scale. That scale is based on six indicators including hospital bed capacity, test positivity rates and cases without a traceable route of transmission.

Japan expects the decree, which will help local authorities restrict economic and social activity, to last about a month. But bringing the outbreak under sufficient control may take longer in Tokyo, where new cases have skyrocketed.

3:42 a.m. Macao's casino revenue plunged 79% in 2020 as tough entry restrictions to combat COVID-19 kept visitors away, bringing into relief the strong dependence on gamblers from mainland China, new data shows.

Gross revenue came to 60.4 billion pataca ($7.6 billion) in statistics from the Macao government. The figure declined for a second straight year, hitting a 14-year low.

2:50 a.m. The head of the World Health Organization expresses frustration over China's lack of approval for a international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

"Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalized the necessary permissions for the team's arrival in China," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

"I am very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute," Tedros added.

The WHO chief says he has been in contact with "senior Chinese officials" to make clear "that the mission is a priority for the WHO and the international team."

"I have been assured that China is speeding up the international procedure for the earliest possible deployment."

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he has been in contact with "senior Chinese officials" to make clear "that the mission is a priority for the WHO and the international team."   © Reuters

2:30 a.m. People should take two doses of the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine within a period of 21 to 28 days, the head of the World Health Organization's immunization advisory group says.

"We deliberated and came out with the following recommendation: two doses of this vaccine within 21 to 28 days," Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, told an online news briefing.

1:46 a.m. Goldman Sachs Group expects to have all its staff members back at their offices by the end of the year, CEO David Solomon tells Bloomberg Television.

1:37 a.m. U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures touch a 10-month high of over $50 a barrel on speculation that OPEC and other producer nations will hold off on reversing output cuts in February.

Tuesday, Jan. 5

11:15 p.m. Bars and restaurants that agree to shorten business hours to stop the spread of the coronavirus "need real support," says Takeshi Niinami, CEO of Japanese beverage group Suntory Holdings.

Niinami tells reporters he expects sales of alcohol to bars and restaurants in Japan to hit bottom in February. How soon the sector recovers will depend on the country's COVID-19 vaccination program, the CEO adds. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has pushed to speed up access to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, has said the first vaccines will be distributed in late February.

"If the government lays out a plan soon for when and how many people will receive [the vaccine,] some store owners will decide to tough it out because they can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Niinami says.

Visitors offer prayers on the first business day of the new year Jan. 4 at Tokyo's Kanda Myojin shrine amid rising COVID-19 cases.   © Reuters

10:43 p.m. Vietnam has decided to halt flights from countries that have detected new COVID-19 variants, starting with Britain and South Africa, local media report.

The move comes ahead of a Communist Party congress -- the country's most important political event -- held every five years to choose new leadership and set economic goals.

9:00 p.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has canceled a planned trip to India later this month, citing the need to oversee the pandemic response at home. "The prime minister spoke to [Indian] Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

8:20 p.m. Daily cases in Japan reach a record of at least 4,800. Prefectures such as Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama, which share borders with Tokyo, recorded daily highs. Twelve municipalities in western Japan have urged citizens not to travel to and from Tokyo and the three prefectures.

7:24 p.m. Israel's health ministry has authorized a vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Moderna, the company and an Israeli official say, marking the vaccine's third regulatory authorization and the first outside North America. The government has secured 6 million doses, and first deliveries are expected to begin this month, Moderna says.

6:13 p.m. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says his country has ordered an additional 35 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, bringing its total pipeline to 63 million doses. The country aims to inoculate at least half of its 70 million people.

5:00 p.m. Indonesia will begin a mass vaccination program on Jan. 13, the country's health minister says. The government has previously said 1.3 million frontline workers are to be among the first to receive vaccine shots from China's Sinovac Biotech. Indonesia, a country of more than 265 million, has received 3 million doses.

4:30 p.m. At Tokyo's Toyosu fish market, the highest bid at the ceremonial first auction of the new year was 20.84 million yen ($202,000), one-tenth of last year's high price as the pandemic, social distancing and restrictions on restaurants dampened enthusiasm for big bluefin.

A bluefin from Oma, Aomori Prefecture, won this year's highest price at the Toyosu fish market in Tokyo on Jan. 5.

3:14 p.m. Tokyo confirms 1,278 infections, marking the second-highest daily tally, as the capital struggles to cope with a rising number of patients in hospitals. Tokyo and neighboring prefectures asked the central government to declare a state of emergency after the capital posted a record high of 1,337 infections on Dec. 31.

2:30 p.m. Thailand confirms 527 new infections and ramped up restrictions in five provinces deemed high-risk. The new cases include 439 in a cluster of migrant workers in the province of Samut Sakhon, near Bangkok.

2:04 p.m. India reports 16,375 cases in the last 24 hours -- staying below 20,000 for the fourth consecutive day and marking the lowest daily rise in more than six months -- bringing the country total to 10.36 million. Fatalities rose by 201 to 149,850 in what was the lowest single-day increase in deaths in over seven months. Of the total cases, 2.23% are active while 96.32% of patients have recovered. The country's COVID-19 mortality rate stands at 1.45%.

12:32 p.m. The Japanese government has begun considering suspending new entries of foreign nationals under business travel agreements with 11 countries and regions, including China and South Korea, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

12:20 p.m. Japan's top-ranked sumo wrestler Hakuho, who is from Mongolia, has tested positive for COVID-19, the nation's sumo association says.

11:00 a.m. A vaccine candidate from Chinese company Stemirna Therapeutics is approved for human testing by China's medical products regulator, Stemirna's partner says. The potential vaccine -- which Stemirna has been working on since January last year -- is based on messenger RNA technology, partner Tibet Rhodiola Pharma, said in a filing. The technology is also used in vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.

10:40 a.m. Mexico's health regulator Cofepris approves the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard says. "The emergency approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine by Cofepris is very good news," Ebrard wrote on Twitter. "With this, production will start soon in Mexico."

10:02 a.m. South Korea reports 715 new cases, down from 1,020 a day ago. Total infections reach 64,979 with 1,007 deaths.

9:20 a.m. China reports 33 cases for Monday, matching the count from the previous day, of which 16 were from overseas. Of the remaining cases, 14 were found in Hebei Province, two in Liaoning Province and one in Beijing.

A subway rider walks at Times Square station in Manhattan. The so-called U.K. variant of the COVID-19 virus has been found in New York state.   © Reuters

6:01 a.m. The so-called U.K. strain of the coronavirus, which has raised alarm for its rapid spread in England, has reportedly been detected in another part of the U.S.

A man in New York state has tested positive for COVID-19, and the virus was shown to be the new, more infectious variant, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says.

The man is described as being in his 60s, living in Saratoga County north of New York City and having no recent travel history. This suggests he was infected with the variant within the local community, Cuomo says.

5:15 a.m. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces a new England lockdown "tough enough" to stop a new COVID-19 variant.

"As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic," Johnson says.

"With most of the country already under extreme measures, it's clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out."

The lockdown takes effect Wednesday.

5:00 a.m. Brazil makes a diplomatic push to guarantee an Indian-made shipment of British drugmaker AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, hoping to avoid export restrictions that could delay immunizations during the world's second-deadliest outbreak.

4:49 a.m. Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine will become available in Japan by late February, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says, after his office went ahead of health bureaucrats to engage in direct negotiations with the U.S. drugmaker.

Suga's remarks are a rare comment by a prime minister on the timing of a vaccine in Japan, whose cautious health ministry is regarded as slow to adopt new inoculations by international standards. The COVID-19 shot developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech is already being distributed in the U.K., the U.S. and other countries.

3:50 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has administered over 4.5 million initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Monday morning, with more than 15 million doses distributed.

2:45 a.m. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is poised to announce a new coronavirus lockdown for all of England similar to the one imposed when the pandemic hit the country in March, the BBC reports.

The New York Stock Exchange: U.S. stocks start off 2021 on the back foot.   © Reuters

2:20 a.m. U.S. stocks are falling amid concerns that COVID-19 vaccinations have been too slow to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 600 points.

In a sign of frustration over the speed of the rollout, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatens fines against hospitals that do not administer COVID-19 vaccines within a week of receiving their allotments.

Such hospitals may also be barred from receiving new supplies of the shot, the governor tells a news conference.

Meanwhile, shares in workplace software developer Slack are down more than 1% after the company's namesake app -- a mainstay for many teleworkers -- suffers a widespread outage on the first Monday of 2021.

Monday, Jan. 4

11:15 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government is poised to declare a state of emergency for the second time in the COVID-19 pandemic, acting as soon as Thursday to combat surging cases in the Tokyo area.

The emergency would cover the capital as well as the neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba and is expected to last roughly a month.

In other developments, Tokyo and surrounding areas will call on residents to stay indoors after 8 p.m. Bars and restaurants will be told to close at the same time, but schools will remain open

Japan reports 3,302 new COVID-19 cases as of 8 p.m. Monday, more than one-third of which were in Tokyo and the surrounding three prefectures.

8:39 p.m. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has commended his security detail for their "loyalty and courage" in inoculating themselves with unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines, his spokesman Harry Roque says, as some lawmakers called their actions illegal. The military detail broke no laws when they administered the COVID-19 vaccines to themselves, he says, adding, "We thank you for your loyalty and courage," quoting Duterte.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has commended his security detail for their "loyalty and courage" in inoculating themselves with unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines. (Photo courtesy of Presidential Communications Operations Office of the Philippines)

8:31 p.m. The European Commission is in discussions with Pfizer and BioNTech about the possibility of ordering more doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to the 300 million shots already covered under an existing contract, a spokesperson says.

8:26 p.m. Ireland's hospitals cannot manage as COVID-19 cases surge and will cancel most nonurgent procedures this week to create as much spare critical care space as possible, its hospitals' chief says.

7:23 p.m. Current social distancing measures in Hong Kong will be extended to Jan. 20, as the city continues to grapple with the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, with 53 new cases recorded on Monday. Public gatherings of more than two people have been banned and restaurant dine-in services after 6 p.m. are no longer allowed.

Meanwhile, retail sales in Hong Kong fell 25.3% during the first 11 months last year, marking the steepest drop on record.

7:17 p.m. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is asking residents to refrain from nonurgent, nonessential outings after 8 p.m. as the coronavirus infection rate continues to grow in the Japanese capital. It also says restaurants would have to close by 8 p.m. from Friday until at least the end of the month.

6:49 p.m. The local government of Thailand's capital Bangkok will start prohibiting restaurants from serving dinner indoors from Tuesday until further notice. Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has decided to only allow restaurants to operate for takeaways between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

6:30 p.m. Singapore says its police will be able to use data obtained by its coronavirus contact-tracing technology for criminal investigations, a decision likely to increase privacy concerns around the system.

6:27 p.m. Hong Kong keeps schools closed until mid-February, as authorities said the coronavirus situation in the Asian financial hub remains "critical." Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said all kindergartens and schools would suspend face-to-face teaching until after the Lunar New Year holiday which ends on Feb. 15.

Children in Cambodia return to school as the country relaxes a six-week lockdown.    © Reuters

6:17 p.m. Indonesia's mass vaccination program is set to start next week, a senior minister says, pending authorization from the country's food and drug agency, as about 700,000 doses of vaccines have already been widely distributed.

6:13 p.m. Cambodia reopens schools and museums as it relaxes a six-week lockdown following a coronavirus outbreak late last year. By contrast, some neighboring countries are facing new restrictions due to rising COVID-19 cases.

6:00 p.m. Scientists are not fully confident that COVID-19 vaccines will work on a new variant of the coronavirus found in South Africa, according to ITV, a British independent broadcaster, citing an unidentified scientific adviser to the British government.

5:03 p.m. Britain begins inoculating its citizens with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine against COVID-19, giving the shot to Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, at a hospital a few hundred meters away from where the vaccine was developed.

A vial of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is displayed at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, Britain, on Jan. 2. South Korea says AstraZeneca has filed an application for approval in the country.

4:53 p.m. Singapore will consider relaxing travel restrictions for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the government's virus taskforce says.

4:44 p.m. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says Thailand should take delivery of 200,000 doses of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine by February. Thailand, which aims to inoculate at least half of its 70 million population, has ordered two million doses from Sinovac in total. Senior officials say the country will have the capacity to produce 200 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine a year locally.

4:38 p.m. President Joko Widodo of Indonesia announces a total of 110 trillion rupiah ($7.8 billion) in aid relief this year for at least 38.8 million low-income households in Indonesia in the forms of cash handouts and food staple packages.

3:09 p.m. Tokyo reports 884 new infections in the city on Monday. The number of patients in serious condition increased by seven to 108, the most since the pandemic began. The capital on Thursday recorded its highest number of cases, 1,337.

2:36 p.m. AstraZeneca has filed an application for approval in South Korea of the coronavirus vaccine it developed with Oxford University, the country's drug safety ministry says in a statement. The ministry said it is aiming for emergency use approval in 40 days. That would the first such acceptance by the country, which is struggling to contain the latest wave of infections. South Korea signed a deal with AstraZeneca in December, and the first shipment is expected as early as this month.

2:08 p.m. Vietnam has agreed to buy 30 million doses of the vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca, the government says, adding that authorities are also seeking to purchase vaccines from other sources, including Pfizer. "We've already signed an agreement to guarantee the AstraZeneca vaccine for 15 million people, which is equivalent to 30 million doses," deputy health minister Truong Quoc Cuong told a government meeting.

1:48 p.m. India reports 16,504 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 18,177 the previous day, bringing the country total to 10.34 million. Deaths jumped 214 to 149,649.

1:12 p.m. Indonesia's inflation rate rose for a fourth straight month in December but remained below the central bank's target range. December's consumer price index rose 1.68% year on year, compared with a 1.61% rate expected in a Reuters poll. Bank Indonesia's target range for 2020 and 2021 is 2% to 4%.

1:01 p.m. Indian shares hit record highs on Monday to start the first trading week of the new year, after the country gave emergency use approvals to two coronavirus vaccines over the weekend, lifting investor sentiment.The NSE Nifty 50 index rose 0.5% to 14,087.95 and the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex rose 0.43% to 48,077.13.

12:51 p.m. Australia's most populous state of New South Wales reports no local cases for the first time in nearly three weeks, as Sydney battles multiple outbreaks and authorities urge tens of thousands of people to get tested.

10:46 a.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government is preparing to declare a state of emergency as early as this week, aiming to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, Nikkei learned on Monday.

10:39 a.m. Japan's benchmark Nikkei Stock Average tumbled in early morning trading on Monday, at one point falling over 400 points, or 1.5%. Concerns over the country's rising infections and reports about the possibility of a new emergency weighed on investor sentiment and pulled the index off highs not seen in 30 years.

An employee cordons off an outdoor gym to avoid the spread of the coronavirus at a park in Seoul on December 30.   © Reuters

10:15 a.m. South Korea reports 1,020 cases, up from 657 a day ago, bringing the country total to 64,264 with 981 deaths. The government extended social distancing restrictions in greater Seoul for two more weeks until Jan. 17 as the capital struggles to contain a third coronavirus wave.

9:03 a.m. Singapore's gross domestic product shrank 3.8% in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, according to preliminary data released on Monday, marking the fourth straight quarterly decline amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

6:51 a.m. The U.S. government is considering giving some people half the dose of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in order to speed vaccinations, a federal official said on Sunday.

5:33 a.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and several cabinet members on Sunday debated declaring a state of emergency while also exploring less drastic options, such as punishing noncompliant businesses, frustrating a capital city seeking swift, blanket action as cases rise.

Sunday, Jan. 3

7:00 p.m. The governors of Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures on Saturday called on the Japanese government to declare a state of emergency to combat the surging coronavirus.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono, Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa and Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita issued the request to Yasutoshi Nishimura, the government's coronavirus point man, during a meeting that lasted for over three hours.

4:42 p.m. India's drugs regulator on Sunday gave final approval for the emergency-use of two coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the other by local company Bharat Biotech.

11:42 a.m. The coronavirus pandemic has driven thousands out of Tokyo to its suburbs as working from home becomes the new normal.

About 28,000 people moved out of Tokyo in November 2020, up 19% from the same month last year, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

The net number of people who moved out -- the number who moved out minus those who moved in -- was about 4,000 in November.

Saturday, Jan. 2

7:33 p.m. India has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, paving the way for a huge immunization campaign in the world's second most populous country.

4:52 p.m. South Korea will expand a ban on private gatherings larger than four people to include the whole country, and extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighboring areas until Jan. 17, the health minister said on Saturday.

10:30 a.m. U.S. coronavirus cases crossed the 20 million mark on Friday as officials seek to speed up vaccinations and a more infectious variant surfaces in Colorado, California and Florida.

---

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

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