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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Mar.21 to Mar.27, Thailand urges calm after death of vaccine recipient

Japan's record $1tn budget clears parliament; Philippines daily cases peak

Thai health officials rush to calm fears and reassure public of vaccine safety after a man died 10 days after being inoculated earlier this month.   © Reuters

Nikkei Asia is tracking the spread of the coronavirus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Cumulative global cases have reached 125,901,563, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 2,761,997.

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

-- Distribution, duration, safety: challenges emerge in vaccine race



Saturday, March 27 (Tokyo time)

3:26 a.m. The World Health Organization urged countries on Friday to donate COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate the most vulnerable in 20 poorer nations after India, a key supplier to the agency's COVAX vaccine-sharing programme, said it was prioritising local needs.

2:46 a.m. The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is still recommended for use while studies continue to examine any potential link to "very rare" side effects including blood clots, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Friday.

Friday, March 26

8:56 p.m. Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan faced widespread criticism for holding an in-person meeting with his aides five days after testing positive for COVID-19, as the country on Thursday reported the highest single day rise in infections since the peak of the first wave in June last year.

7:00 p.m. Thailand will start allowing foreign travelers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to visit the popular resort island of Phuket without quarantining first -- the country's latest desperate effort to revive its tourism sector. The Centre for Economic Situation Administration, a special economic council chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, made the decision on Friday. The cabinet is expected to endorse the plan as soon as Tuesday.

6:00 p.m. Japan's record $1 trillion budget for the upcoming fiscal year is approved by parliament. The 106.6 trillion yen ($975.83 billion) budget for the year beginning April 1 features 5 trillion yen in emergency spending related to the pandemic. That follows three COVID-19 packages worth a combined $3 trillion already rolled out in the current fiscal year.

5:08 p.m. The Philippines reports 9,838 new infections, a record high. This brings the total number of cases to 702,856 with 13,149 deaths, including 54 new fatalities.

4:03 p.m. Asia's daily confirmed COVID-19 cases renewed a record high this week, defying the global effort to end the pandemic and clouding the region's economic recovery outlook. New Asiawide infections reached 146,664 on Wednesday, the first fresh high since late November, according to the statistics website Our World in Data. The site's definition of Asia stretches from Japan to India to Turkey, while excluding Australia and New Zealand.

3:15 p.m. Thai health officials rush to calm public fears after confirming a man died 10 days after receiving a vaccine earlier this month. The cause of death was from an abdominal aortic aneurysm and rupture, a senior health official said, adding that the country's vaccination campaign would continue. The man was inoculated on March 3 and died on March 13. "I am confident this death is from the aneurysm and not related to the vaccine," the official said. The aneurysm and rupture from the main blood vessel that leads from the heart can be fatal.

1:33 p.m. India's daily cases continue to surge with 59,118 infections in the last 24 hours -- the biggest single-day spike since Oct. 18 -- bringing the country total to 11.85 million. Deaths jumped by 257 to 160,949.

12:00 p.m. Japan will extend subsidies for domestic travel that does not cross prefectural borders starting April 1. The subsidy of up to 7,000 yen ($64) per night will be provided via prefectural governments. The central government will limit payouts to prefectures with relatively few infections, as it had been criticized for its "Go To Travel" national campaign for helping spread cases.

11:30 a.m. Australia reports its first locally transmitted case in over a week, prompting authorities to place restrictions on hospitals, retirement homes and disability centers. The person who contracted the virus has been infectious for a week but stayed mostly at home since Monday after developing symptoms.

Olympic torch bearer Yoshihide Muroya lights the celebration cauldron during the first day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay in Fukushima Prefecture on March 25.   © Reuters

11:00 a.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he intends to invite U.S. President Joe Biden to attend the Tokyo Olympics, which is set to start on July 23 after being postponed a year due to the pandemic. "Of course, I think that will be the case," Suga said in a parliamentary session when asked if he would invite Biden to the games when he travels to Washington next month for talks with the president.

10:17 a.m. South Korea reports 494 cases, up from 430 a day ago. Total infections reach 100,770, with 1,716 deaths. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government will maintain Phase 2 of social distancing rules for two more weeks in the Seoul area, banning private meetings among five or more people.

10:00 a.m. China is expected to lead the recovery of East Asian and Pacific economies this year, but many nations will record sub-par growth as they struggle to emerge from the pandemic, according to new World Bank forecasts. "Essentially we see a three-speed recovery," said Aaditya Mattoo, the World Bank's chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific. "Only China and Vietnam have followed a V-shape recovery path, with output surpassing pre-COVID-19 levels in 2020."

9:30 a.m. China reports 11 new cases for Thursday, in line with the previous day. All of the new cases originated from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 31 from 10 cases a day earlier.

7:30 a.m. Brazil registers a record 100,158 new coronavirus cases within 24 hours, the Health Ministry says, underlining the scale of a snowballing outbreak that is becoming a major political crisis for President Jair Bolsonaro. The record caseload, along with 2,777 more COVID-19 deaths, comes a day after Brazil surpassed 300,000 fatalities. Brazil's outbreak has set weekly records due to a patchy vaccine rollout, a lack of national coordination and an infectious new variant.

U.S. President Joe Biden has doubled his vaccination goal to administering 200 million doses in his first 100 days in office.   © Reuters

3:45 a.m. U.S. President Joe Biden sets a new goal of administering 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office. "I believe we can do it," Biden told reporters at the White House. His administration initially set a goal of 100 million shots in the 100 days since he took office on Jan. 20, which has been met ahead of schedule -- the White House said 130 million shots had been administered as of Wednesday. Some 85 million people have received one shot, while about 45 million people have been fully vaccinated.

3:00 a.m. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech have begun testing their COVID-19 vaccine in children under 12, hoping to expand vaccination to that age range by early 2022, the U.S. drugmaker says. The first volunteers in the early stage trial were given their first injections on Wednesday, a Pfizer spokesperson said. The vaccine was authorized by U.S. regulators in late December for people age 16 and older.

2:30 a.m. Oxford University says it is launching a study to investigate immune responses to a nasal administration of its COVID-19 vaccine developed with AstraZeneca, with 30 health volunteers age 18 to 40 for the initial trial. British researchers last September said that inhaled versions of vaccine candidates developed by Oxford University and Imperial College will be tested to see if they deliver a localized immune response in the respiratory tract.

Thursday, March 25

6:00 p.m. Russia's Chumakov Center has started Phase 3 trials of CoviVac, Russia's third vaccine against COVID-19, the Interfax news agency reports, citing a government minister. The best-known Russian vaccine is Sputnik V. Moscow has also given emergency approval to two others, EpiVacCorona and CoviVac.

5:09 p.m. The Philippines logs 8,773 new infections, a record high. This brings the total number of cases to 693,048 with 13,095 deaths, including 56 new recorded fatalities.

4:44 p.m. Indonesia receives 16 million doses of vaccine from China's Sinovac, bringing the total number of doses the country has received to 53.3 million. Most have come from Sinovac, with just a small portion from AstraZeneca. Six million people have been inoculated as of Thursday, half of whom received their second shots -- including all of the country's 1.4 million health workers. Indonesia has spent $101 million on imported vaccines so far.

3:10 p.m. Tokyo reports 394 cases, down from 420 a day earlier. The seven-day average of new cases in the capital, however, rose 7.7% from a week ago to 319.

Health care workers collect swab samples during a rapid testing campaign for COVID-19 at an auditorium in Ahmedabad, India on March 23.   © Reuters

2:45 p.m. Israel has administered two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to more than half its 9.3 million population in a fast rollout that has helped the country begin emerging from closures. Distribution of the vaccine in Israel began in December, with eligibility for citizens over the age of 16. People who receive it are deemed fully protected a week after the second shot.

1:27 p.m. India's daily cases hit a five-month high as the country reports 53,476 infections in the last 24 hours, up from 47,262 the previous day, bringing the country total to over 11.78 million. Deaths jumped by 251 to 160,692.

1:00 p.m. Japanese railway company Kintetsu Group Holdings plans to sell eight hotels in Osaka and Kyoto to U.S. investment fund Blackstone Group for around 60 billion yen ($550 million), Nikkei has learned. Kintetsu's financial performance has been hit by a decline in passengers for its railway business due to the coronavirus pandemic. It plans to improve its finances by selling the hotels, in addition to previously announced measures like layoffs and selling office buildings.

10:50 a.m. AstraZeneca says its vaccine was 76% effective at preventing symptomatic illness, citing a new analysis of up-to-date results for its major U.S. trial. Health officials earlier in the week publicly rebuked the drugmaker for using "outdated information" when calculating that the vaccine was 79% effective. The drugmaker reiterated on Thursday that the shot was 100% effective against severe or critical forms of the disease.

10:15 a.m. South Korea reports 430 cases, bringing the country total to 100,276. Health authorities are speeding up injections, with 733,124 people having received their first shot and 2,691 completing their second shot of the two-jab vaccine.

9:42 a.m. The torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics starts in Japan's northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, as organizers try to build momentum for the opening of the games in late July amid public worries over the pandemic. The event kicked off a year and a day after it was originally scheduled, officially starting the clock on Japan's troubled summer games.

9:30 a.m. China reports 11 cases for Wednesday, up from 10 a day earlier. All the new cases originated overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 10 from eight a day earlier.

8:20 a.m. Brazil says Janssen has filed for emergency use authority for its vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Brazil passed 300,000 on Wednesday.

8:00 a.m. The U. S. crossed 30 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, as states accelerate the vaccination process by lowering age limits. Health officials hope the vaccinations will prevent a rise in deaths. The country has lost 544,000 lives to the virus.

12:27 a.m. Tokyo will extend its request that restaurants and bars shorten their hours by three weeks to April 21 in order to prevent an upsurge in coronavirus cases. "It's important for us to come together to encourage basic infection prevention efforts," Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says. Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures have asked eateries and drinking establishments to close by 9 p.m.

Wednesday, March 24

9:00 p.m. Singapore says it has opened its immunization drive to a younger age group after more than half its elderly population signed up for or received their shots. Residents aged 45 to 59 years can now register to receive vaccines, of which 1.1 million doses have so far been administered, with 310,000 people having completed the full regimen. Singapore has recorded no new locally transmitted cases in the past two weeks.

4:42 p.m. A novel variant of the coronavirus has been found in India in addition to many other variants of concern detected abroad, the health ministry says, amid an alarming rise in cases in the country this month after a steady decline in infections in January and February.

"Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states," it said in a statement. "Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyze the situation."

Masked people crowd a marketplace in Mumbai on March 22 as COVID-19 spread in India.   © Reuters

4:34 p.m. China's daily output of COVID-19 vaccines has reached about 5 million doses, more than tripling the rate of 1.5 million on Feb. 1, official media say.

4:06 p.m. Thailand's central bank has left its key interest rate unchanged at a record low on Wednesday. It lowered its 2021 economic growth forecast slightly after a second wave of coronavirus infections hit economic activity.

3:38 p.m. Uzbekistan will launch its vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus with the AstraZeneca vaccine from April 1, a health official says. The country last week received its first 660,000 doses, provided for free under the COVAX initiative. Uzbekistan is negotiating with Russia to get 1 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine as well, and said it will also use a vaccine developed by China's Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical.

1:54 p.m. Papua New Guinea will kick off its coronavirus vaccination program by this weekend, helped by 8,000 AstraZeneca doses from neighboring Australia as it tries to prevent its basic health system from being overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases.

1:50 p.m. India reports 47,262 new cases in the last 24 hours, the fifth consecutive day with more than 40,000 infections, pushing the country's total to 11.73 million. Fatalities jumped by 275 -- the highest single-day count this year -- to 160,441.

The country has so far administered over 50 million COVID vaccine doses to people nationwide since starting the drive on Jan. 16. More than 42 million people have received the first shot of the two-dose vaccine, while over 8 million of them have also been given the second jab required to be administered after a gap of at least 28 days, according to the Health Ministry.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Hong Kong and Macao will suspend BioNTech vaccinations due to packaging defects in a single batch.   © Reuters

10:42 a.m. Hong Kong and Macao will suspend COVID-19 shots from BioNTech due to packaging defects in a single batch, governments of the two cities announce, adding that BioNTech inoculations will only resume after thorough investigations.

10:09 a.m. South Korea reports 428 new cases, up from 343 a day ago. Total infections reach 99,846, with 1,707 deaths.

9:28 a.m. Mainland China reported 10 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, up from nine a day earlier, the national health authority says. All of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to eight from 14 a day earlier.

8:32 a.m. Children in Britain will start receiving a COVID-19 vaccine as early as August under provisional government plans to push for maximum national immunity from the coronavirus, The Telegraph reported on Tuesday. That timeline would be months earlier than expected, the newspaper said, citing two sources involved in the plans.

6:01 a.m. The main obstacle to wide use of "vaccine passports" is likely to be political, as many see them as inherently discriminatory. A flurry of new health certificates may help restart airlines and tourism. But they risk dividing the world into vaccine "haves" and "have-nots." Read more on this week's The Big Story.

3:42 a.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, a Kremlin spokesman tells CNN. Although the specific vaccine was not disclosed, the Kremlin said earlier that it would be one of the three approved Russian vaccines.

Tuesday, March 23

11:55 p.m. India will widen eligibility for coronavirus vaccinations to people 45 and older from April 1 as the country faces a second wave of infections.

"Our appeal is that all above 45 should take vaccine as early as possible," says Information Minister Prakash Javadekar.

India's vaccination campaign kicked off in January with a phased rollout covering health care workers, front-line workers and individuals older than 60.

Responding to criticism of outdated data for its coronavirus vaccine, AstraZeneca says it will publish up-to-date trial results within 48 hours.   © Reuters

9:00 p.m. AstraZeneca says it will publish updated results from a major U.S. COVID-19 vaccine trial within 48 hours, responding to criticism from health officials that its interim results, published a day earlier, were outdated.

The U.K.-based drugmaker says that a preliminary assessment of its full analysis is consistent with the interim results and that it will "immediately engage" with the independent panel monitoring the trial.

7:50 p.m. French President Emmanuel Macron says the acceleration of the vaccination campaign was at the heart of the battle against COVID-19.

6:00 p.m. Thailand's cabinet approves financial measures worth 350 billion baht ($11.31 billion) to help the business sector recover from the impact of coronavirus outbreaks. The measures include 250 billion baht of soft loans provided by the central bank and another 100 billion baht for a so-called "asset warehousing" scheme to support debtors who are unable to repay loans.

5:46 p.m. Malaysia and Singapore are preparing for mutual recognition of coronavirus vaccination certificates in an effort to revive travel, the two countries' foreign ministers say.

5:20 p.m. Vietnam has approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for use against COVID-19, Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund, which promotes the shot globally, says on the Sputnik V website. The Russian vaccine has now been approved in 56 countries. Vietnam's health ministry said last month that a medical panel had recommended Sputnik V and Moderna's vaccine for use.

4:50 p.m. Japan's land prices dropped for the first time in six years in 2020 as the pandemic hurt demand for hotels and houses. Prior to the pandemic, an influx of foreign tourists and low interest rate had helped boost land prices. But with borders closed to foreign tourists and emergency steps to contain the virus, economic activity has slowed significantly.

4:00 p.m. New late-stage clinical trial data show an antibody cocktail of casirivimab and imdevimab reduced hospitalization and death by 70% versus a placebo in non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19, Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding says. Casirivimab and imdevimab also met all key secondary endpoints in the phase III trial involving 4,567 participants, including the ability to reduce symptom duration to 10 days from 14.

3:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 337 new cases, up from 187 a day earlier. The seven-day average of new cases for the capital rose 6.6% from a week ago to 308, following lifting of the state of emergency.

2:30 p.m. AstraZeneca may have provided an incomplete view of efficacy data on its COVID-19 vaccine from a large-scale U.S. trial, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says, in a fresh setback for the shot. The drugmaker said a day earlier that its vaccine developed with Oxford University was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in a large trial in the U.S., Chile and Peru.

"The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data," the U.S. agency said, referring to the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board.

2:19 p.m. India reports 40,715 new cases in the last 24 hours -- the fourth straight day with more than 40,000 infections -- bringing the country's total to over 11.68 million. Deaths jumped by 199 to 160,166.

11:30 a.m. Germany will extend its lockdown until April 18 and is asking people to stay home for five days over the Easter holidays to break a third wave of the coronavirus, Chancellor Angela Merkel says. In talks that ran deep into the night, Merkel pushed the leaders of Germany's 16 states to take a tougher stance to fight the pandemic, reversing plans for a gradual reopening agreed upon earlier this month after a sharp rise in infections.

Staff at a Japanese pub prepare to close minutes after 8 p.m., in line with the government's second state of emergency for Tokyo area and its hope to contain infection rates.   © Reuters

11:26 a.m. Tokyo plans to keep asking restaurants and bars to close early, Nikkei has learned. While Japan lifted the state of emergency for the Tokyo area on March 21, the Tokyo government still wants restaurants and bars in the capital to close by 9 p.m. till April 21. The metropolitan government has warned the pace of decline in cases has slowed and there is a possibility of a new wave of infections.

10:20 a.m. China reports nine new cases for Monday, up from seven cases a day earlier. All the new cases originated from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 14 from eight cases a day earlier.

10:00 a.m. South Korea reports 346 cases, down from 415 a day ago, bringing the country total to 99,421 with 1,704 deaths. President Moon Jae-in and First Lady Kim Jung-sook received AstraZeneca jabs in the morning as injections began for those aged 65 or older.

8:00 a.m. China's CanSino Biologics says it has won approval for a domestic clinical trial to develop an inhaled version of its vaccine. The National Medical Products Administration approved the trial of the vaccine, jointly developed by CanSino and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, the company said.

6:05 a.m. Japan is vaccinating at a slower pace than many other countries. As of last Friday, it had administered just 0.46 doses per 100 people in the population, according to the statistics website Our World in Data. This was behind 1.32 for South Korea, 2.69 for Indonesia, and around 12 for France, Germany and Italy. Singapore was leading Asia at 13.54, while the U.S. stood at 35.38 and Israel was far ahead at 111.68.

3:52 a.m. More producers of COVID-19 vaccines should follow AstraZeneca's lead and license technology to other manufacturers, says World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as he described continuing vaccine inequity as "grotesque."

AstraZeneca's shot, which new U.S. data on Monday showed was safe and effective despite some countries suspending inoculations over health concerns, is being produced in various locations including South Korea's SKBioScience and the Serum Institute of India.

Sinovac says its COVID-19 vaccine appears capable of triggering immune responses among children and adolescents, based on preliminary results of early and mid-stage trials.   © Reuters

2:46 a.m. Sinovac Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine appears to be safe and able to trigger immune responses among children and adolescents, according to preliminary results from early and mid-stage trials, the company says. The preliminary data was from Phase I and II clinical trials involving over 500 people between the ages of three and 17 who received two shots of either medium or low dosage of vaccine, or a placebo.

Most adverse reactions were mild, Zeng Gang, a researcher with the company, told an academic conference in Beijing.

1:20 a.m. The main opposition candidate in the Congo Republic's presidential election, Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, has died while being evacuated for medical treatment, reports Reuters, as early results from Sunday's vote showed the incumbent in the lead. The 61-year-old former minister was in the hospital with COVID-19.

12:11 a.m. Britain demands that the European Union allow delivery of COVID-19 vaccines it has ordered as tensions over a possible export ban on EU-manufactured shots mounted and Brussels pointed an accusing finger at drugmaker AstraZeneca, reports Reuters.

Monday, March 22

6:30 p.m. AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine developed with Oxford University was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in a large trial in Chile, Peru and the United States, the company says, paving the way for it to apply for U.S. approval.

6:00 p.m. Pakistan will begin receiving shipments of China's CanSino Biologics COVID-19 vaccine this week for sale commercially, Reuters reports.

"We expect the first 10,000 doses to come on March 25, and 100,000 next month and 200,000 the month after," an official at the company's local partner said.

Pakistan, one of the first countries in the world to allow commercial imports of COVID-19 vaccines, has already received a batch of the Russian Sputnik vaccine for commercial sale.

Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo says it has started early-stage clinical trials of its newly developed COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

5:30 p.m. Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo says it has started early-stage clinical trials of its newly developed COVID-19 vaccine in the country. Assuming the approval process is smooth, the drug is unlikely to be put in use until 2022 or later.

Daiichi Sankyo is the first domestic company to use the messenger RNA that Pfizer employed in its vaccine which is already in use in Japan.

5:12 p.m The Philippines reports a record 8,019 new infections, bringing the country's tally to 671,792 with 12,972 deaths. On Monday, Metro Manila, home to over 12 million people, and four surrounding provinces were placed under new sets of restrictions, including a ban on non-essential travel, dining in restaurants as well as mass and religious gatherings to curb the spread of the virus. The new restrictions will be in place for two weeks.

4:37 p.m. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank approves over $7.5 billion in lending for health care and economic resilience in 2020 in more than 20 member countries as the China-based development bank "adapted" its strategy in the wake of the pandemic. It also has allocated $1.3 billion under a Crisis Recovery Facility, which provides emergency support for member nations to buy medical equipment and expand hospital capacity quickly. It is now moving to vaccine financing, for which it is also working with other multilateral lenders such as the Asian Development Bank.

A sample is taken from an Indian woman during a rapid antigen testing campaign for COVID-19 in Mumbai on March 17.   © Reuters

3:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 187 new cases, down from 256 a day earlier, as the Japanese government ended the state of emergency for the capital and three surrounding prefectures. The metropolitan government will continue to ask restaurants and bars to close early, as the seven-day-average of new cases rose 5.3% from a week ago to 302.

2:35 p.m. India reports the biggest daily rise in four months, with 46,951 cases in the last 24 hours, which pushed the country's total to 11.65 million. Fatalities jumped by 212 -- the highest since early January -- to 159,967. The state of Maharashtra, home to India's financial hub of Mumbai, recorded 30,535 new cases, its all-time one-day high.

1:00 p.m. Tokyo Disneyland will extend its operating hours from April 1 now that the Japanese government has lifted the state of emergency, resort operator Oriental Land says. Disneyland will open at 9 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., compared with the current hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., which have been shortened due to the pandemic. Tokyo Disney Sea will open at 9 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. Restrictions on the number of visitors to both parks will also be relaxed from the current 10,000 to 20,000 per day.

12:49 p.m. The University of Hong Kong has launched a yearlong study to see whether a combination of COVID-19 vaccines might provide better protection than just one. The university's medical school is soliciting 150 adult volunteers to either get a dose of BioNTech's Comirnaty vaccine followed by a shot of Sinovac's CoronaVac or two doses of one of the two vaccines authorized for use in Hong Kong.

Taiwan began its vaccination campaign with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot on March 22.   © Reuters

10:30 a.m. Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot as the island begins its vaccination campaign. "I have just finished getting the injection. There is no pain at the injection site, and there is no soreness of the body," Su told reporters at a Taipei hospital. Taiwan's first vaccines -- 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot -- arrived on the island earlier this month from a South Korean factory.

10:00 a.m. China reports seven new cases for Sunday, down from 12 a day earlier. All new cases originated overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, remained the same as the day earlier at eight.

9:30 a.m. China's CanSino Biologics says its vaccine has been granted authorization for emergency use in Hungary. The Hungarian National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition granted approval for the Convidecia vaccine based on interim results of a Phase 3 trial, according to the company.

8:00 a.m. Japan ended the COVID-19 state of emergency at midnight Sunday in the Tokyo metropolitan region. Local authorities will continue to ask restaurants and bars to close early until the end of March but will push back the time by an hour to 9 p.m. Because the requests are not legally binding outside of a state of emergency, there will not be any penalties for establishments that do not comply.

7:56 a.m. Niger's presidency says China donated 400,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sinopharm to the country, according to Reuters.

China has donated vaccines to several other African countries as it aims to cultivate goodwill through so-called vaccine diplomacy.

China has donated vaccines to several African countries as it aims to cultivate goodwill through so-called vaccine diplomacy.   © Reuters

4:30 a.m. Germany is set to extend a COVID-19 lockdown into its fifth month, according to a draft proposal, after infection rates exceeded the level at which authorities say hospitals will be overstretched.

The recommendation is contained in a draft, seen by Reuters, prepared by Chancellor Angela Merkel's office ahead of Monday's videoconference of regional and national leaders to decide on the next round of measures to deal with the pandemic.

Sunday, March 21

5:47 p.m. India's health ministry warns that a huge gathering of devotees for a Hindu festival could send coronavirus cases surging as the country recorded the most new infections in nearly four months. The ministry says up to 40 people were testing positive for COVID-19 daily around the site of the weekslong Mahakumbh that began this month and peaks in April in the Himalayan holy town of Haridwar, next to the Ganges.

The festival is held only once every dozen years. Organizers have said more than 150 million visitors are expected. Many Hindus believe that bathing in the river during this period absolves people of sins and brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.

5:14 p.m. The Philippines records 7,757 additional COVID-19 cases, the second-highest single-day increase in the Southeast Asian nation since the pandemic began. The daily tally follows Saturday's record and marks the third straight day of confirmed new cases topping 7,000.

The Philippines will expand tighter COVID-19 restrictions to include four provinces surrounding the capital region, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman says, as the country battles a renewed surge in infections. The restrictions currently in effect in Metropolitan Manila will also be imposed in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, including night curfews and the prohibition of mass gatherings.

1:43 p.m. AstraZeneca says its COVID-19 vaccine contains no pork-derived ingredients, countering an assertion in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, that the product violates Islamic law. The country's highest Muslim clerical council, the Indonesia Ulema Council, said on its website Friday that the vaccine is "haram" because the manufacturing process uses "trypsin from the pork pancreas."

Saturday, March 20

9:45 p.m. Britons are "extremely unlikely" to take holidays abroad this summer due to the risk of importing new variants of COVID-19, a scientist who advises the government says, leaving airlines and travel companies bracing for a second lost peak season.

Britain has banned travel for most people during the current lockdown and has said overseas holidays will not be allowed until May 17 at the earliest. But Mike Tildesley, a scientist on a government advisory body, says the risk of importing vaccine-resistant variants back into the UK would likely scupper the nation's annual getaway.

"I think international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely," Tildesley, a professor of infectious disease modeling at the University of Warwick, tells BBC Radio.

His warning is a further setback for the travel industry's recovery prospects during the peak vacation season.

Airlines and holiday companies such as British Airways, easyJet and TUI are desperate for travel to resume after a year of COVID-19 restrictions which has left them struggling financially.

9:27 p.m. China reaches 70 million COVID-19 vaccinations given, state media CGTN reports, citing the national health commission. China last reported four new COVID-19 cases on Friday, all of which were imported from abroad.

8:30 p.m. Britain has now given a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to half of all adults in the country, its health minister Matt Hancock says on Twitter.

6:50 p.m. Denmark reports two cases of hospital staff with blood clots and cerebral hemorrhage after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination. The Capital Region of Denmark, the authority which handles the health care system in Copenhagen, says one of the hospital staff had died and both had received the AstraZeneca vaccine less than 14 days before getting ill.

5:00 p.m. The Philippines records 7,999 new coronavirus infections, the second straight day that the country posted a record high in daily cases. The health ministry says total confirmed cases rise to 656,056 while confirmed deaths reach 12,930.


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

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