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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of May 23 to 29 Search for COVID origin 'poisoned by politics,' says WHO expert

India posts lowest daily rise in cases in 45 days; Malaysia declares total lockdown

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is guarded during a visit by a WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of COVID-19 on Feb. 3.   © 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 169,296,672, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 3,519,492.

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

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UPDATES CLOSED

Saturday, May 29 (Tokyo time)

1:50 p.m. India reports 173,790 new infections during the previous 24 hours, its lowest daily rise in 45 days, while deaths rose by 3,617. The country's tally of infections now stands at 27.7 million, with the death toll at 322,512, health ministry data shows.

1:20 p.m. Vietnam health minister Nguyen Thanh Long says the country has detected a new variant of the coronavirus, which is a mix of the Indian and UK COVID-19 variants and spreads quickly by air, according to online newspaper VnExpress.

10:20 a.m. China reports 16 new cases, up from seven cases a day earlier. Of the new cases, 14 originated from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 14 from 26 a day earlier.

8:30 a.m. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. and India are united in trying to tackle the pandemic together, and Washington wants to make sure it takes action to help India with its coronavirus crisis. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who has spent the past week in the U.S., told reporters while standing with Blinken at the State Department that India is grateful to the U.S. for strong support and solidarity.

3:30 a.m. The World Health Organization's top emergency expert says the search for the origin of the coronavirus was being "poisoned by politics," days after U.S. President Joe Biden ordered aides to find answers. Since the virus outbreak that emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, scientists have been trying to solve the puzzle of where the virus originated. "We would like for everyone out there to separate, if they can, the politics of this issue from the science. This whole process is being poisoned by politics," Mike Ryan told reporters.

Friday, May 28

10:30 pm. The U.K. approves Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine, making it the fourth COVID-19 jab approved for use in the country.

The health ministry also says the government has decided to order 20 million doses of the single-dose vaccine, down from the original order for 30 million doses.

7:00 p.m. Japan officially extends the coronavirus emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures until June 20, roughly a month before the scheduled start of the Olympics. The emergency decree -- first declared on April 25 in Tokyo and the greater Osaka area, and already extended once earlier this month -- was due to expire next Monday. Now the two metropolises as well as the prefectures of Aichi, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Hyogo, Kyoto and Okayama face another three weeks under restrictions on dining and shopping.

Health workers proceed down an alley during a house-to-house vaccination drive against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manila, Philippines, May 26, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David   © Reuters

6:00 p.m. The Philippines reports 8,748 new infections, its highest single-day increase this month. Areas beyond the region of the capital Manila, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, have seen a rise in cases as well as an increase in usage of health care facilities, the health ministry said. Deaths rose by 187 on Friday to a total of 20,566. The Philippines has recorded 1.2 million coronavirus cases so far.

5:45 p.m. Tokyo reports 614 new cases, down from 684 a day earlier. The seven-day average of new cases in the capital stood at 580, 14% lower than the previous week.

5:30 p.m. A Japanese health ministry panel approves the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for youths as young as 12, lowering the age limit from 16. The move follows approvals in the United States and other nations to administer the vaccine to adolescents.

5:00 p.m. Malaysia reports 8,290 new cases, up from 7,857 a day earlier and its fourth straight day of record infections. This brings the cumulative number of cases to 549,514.

3:30 p.m. Taiwan reports 555 new domestic cases, including 258 cases added to the totals for recent days, as it continues to readjust its infection numbers following delays in reporting positive tests.

2:40 p.m. Thailand's food and drug regulator approves emergency use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm. "The FDA has approved the Sinopharm vaccine," a senior health official told a news conference, making it the fifth COVID-19 vaccine Thailand has approved.

1:37 p.m. India posts 186,364 new cases in the past 24 hours, the lowest daily count since April 14, pushing the country total to over 27.55 million. Fatalities jumped by 3,660 to 318,895.

11:00 a.m. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average index was up nearly 600 points, or 2%, in morning trade, recovering the 29,000 line for the first time in more than two weeks. The climb followed gains on Wall Street prompted by stronger-than-expected labor market data.

11:00 a.m. South Korea reports 587 cases, down from 629 a day ago, bringing the country total to 138,898 with 1,946 deaths.

A Japan ruling party committee will recommend the government provide to Taiwan part of the country's supply of COVID-19 vaccines purchased from AstraZeneca.    © Reuters

10:40 a.m. A Japan ruling party committee recommends that the government provide to Taiwan part of the country's supply of COVID-19 vaccines purchased from AstraZeneca, a party official says. Taiwan is battling a spike in domestic infections and only about 1% of the population has been vaccinated. The Japanese government is expected to consider the move. Japan approved AstraZeneca's vaccine last week and has contracted to buy 120 million doses, but has no immediate plans to use the shots in the country, amid lingering concerns raised internationally over blood clots.

9:40 a.m. China reports seven new cases for Thursday, down from 19 a day earlier. All the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 26, from 22 cases a day earlier.

9:30 a.m. The Japanese government is set to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency covering Tokyo and eight other prefectures for three weeks until June 20 -- just over a month before the Tokyo Olympics. Restrictions such as a ban on restaurants serving alcohol and requiring them to close by 8 p.m. will stay in effect in Tokyo as well as Hokkaido, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka beyond May 31.

9:00 a.m. Japan's unemployment rate worsened to 2.8% in April, rising for the first time in six months, as hiring in the service sector softened under the government's third coronavirus state of emergency, government data shows. The jobless rate rose from 2.6% in March, but was lower than 2.9% in February.

5:47 a.m. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City says it will host "a modified, in-person program" for this year's symposium of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after holding the high-profile conference online last year because of the pandemic. "The event will adhere to all health and safety guidelines that are in place at the time of the program," the Kansas City Fed said in a statement.

3:00 a.m. Brazil is seeing a rise in infections after the easing of restrictions. As of Wednesday, the seven-day moving average exceeded 66,000, about 85% of a peak reached in March. The number of deaths is on the decline thanks to vaccinations, with the seven-day moving average hitting 1,820, the lowest in two and a half months. But the spread of the Indian variant is raising the alarm among experts.

2:00 a.m. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says she sees this year's burst in inflation as temporary, though it is likely to last through the end of 2021. "My judgment right now is the recent inflation we've seen will be temporary, it's not something that's endemic," Yellen says in response to questions from lawmakers at a House Appropriations subcommittee virtual hearing. "I expect it to last, however, for several more months, and to see high annual rates of inflation through the end of this year," she says.

Thursday, May 27

10:32 p.m. Japan is poised to extend the current state of emergency until June 20, as hospitals in Tokyo, Osaka and other regions remain overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. The formal decision will come after government officials hear the opinions of experts on Friday.

10:00 p.m. China accuses the U.S. of politicizing the pandemic after President Joe Biden asked the intelligence community to redouble the effort to determine the origins of the coronavirus.

"Some people in the United States completely ignore facts and science," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

"The extremely impossible statement of China's 'laboratory leak theory' has been clearly documented in the report of the WHO Joint Investigation," Zhao said.

Beijing officials accused the U.S. of politicizing the pandemic after President Joe Biden asked the intelligence community to dig deeper into the origins of the coronavirus.   © Reuters

6:00 p.m. Tokyo reports 684 new cases, down from 743 a day earlier. The seven-day average of new cases in the capital is down 16.9% from a week ago, at 585.

5:00 p.m. France's Sanofi and Britain's GlaxoSmithKline launch a late-stage human trial for a recombinant COVID-19 vaccine candidate they hope to have approved by the end of the year. The study is one of the first late-stage trials combining tests for boosters and variants as drugmakers adapt to the evolving coronavirus. The drugmakers confirmed their study will include more than 35,000 adults in the United States, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

4:30 p.m. Malaysia reports 7,857 new cases, up from 7,478 a day earlier and the third straight day of record infections. The total number of cases stands at 541,224, the health ministry says.

3:20 p.m. Taiwan reports 667 new domestic cases, including 266 added to previous days' totals, as it re-adjusts figures following delays in reporting positive tests.

1:56 p.m. South Korea's central bank upgrades its economic growth forecast for this year to 4%, reflecting a speedy recovery in exports and corporate investment as well as greater private consumption and employment. The new forecast is in line with a target set by President Moon Jae-in earlier this month and would be the economy's fastest pace of expansion since the 6.8% jump logged for 2010.

1:49 p.m. India logs 211,298 new cases in the last 24 hours, up from 208,921 the previous day, bringing the cumulative total to 27.37 million. Deaths rose by 3,847 to 315,235.

11:00 a.m. South Korea reports 629 cases, down from 707 a day ago, bringing the country total to138,311 with 1,943 deaths.

Melbourne's "Fearless Girl" statue during a lockdown in Victoria state in February.   © Reuters

10:30 a.m. Australia's second-most-populous state, Victoria, will enter a one-week COVID-19 lockdown, forcing its nearly 7 million residents to remain home except for essential business in a bid to contain a fresh virus cluster. Victoria acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne that from midnight Thursday, people will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential work, health care, grocery shopping or exercise.

10:15 a.m. Thailand reports 47 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the total to 920. The country's COVID-19 task force also reports 3,323 new coronavirus cases, including 1,219 among prisoners, taking the total number of infections to 141,217.

9:20 a.m. China reports 19 new cases for Wednesday, up from 13 cases a day earlier. Two of the new cases were local infections in the southern province of Guangdong. The rest were imported infections originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 22 from 13 cases a day earlier.

2:30 a.m. U.S. President Joe Biden says he has asked for a more in-depth intelligence investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. An initial report "coalesced" around two likely scenarios involving human contact with an infected animal or a laboratory accident, with different elements in the intelligence community leaning in both directions.

"The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence," Biden says.

The Philippines is set to allow the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children ages 12 to 15. 

2:10 a.m. The Philippines says it will allow the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children ages 12 to 15. "Within the week, we will be issuing an amendment to the emergency use authorization of Pfizer and we will be able to use it in children, 12-15-year-olds," Food and Drug Administration chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said during a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Wednesday, May 26

6:10 p.m. Taiwan directly accuses China for the first time of blocking a deal with Germany's BioNTech for COVID-19 vaccines, in an escalating war of words after Beijing offered the shots to the island via a Chinese company. Taiwan has millions of vaccine doses on order, from AstraZeneca and Moderna, but has received only slightly more than 700,000 to date and has only been able to vaccinate about 1% of its population as cases surge.

4:10 p.m. Already grappling with a deadly second wave of the coronavirus, India is now faced with a new challenge: an alarming rise in cases of mucormycosis, a rare but potentially fatal infection also known as black fungus. The fungal disease -- which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has a fatality rate of 54% -- has been reported among several thousand people, mostly diabetics recovering or having recovered from COVID-19.

1:30 p.m. The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan says Washington is in no hurry to send vaccines to the island, noting its infection numbers remained comparatively low, although talks on the issue are continuing. After months of low infection numbers, Taiwan has seen a surge in domestic cases but has only vaccinated 1% of its more than 23 million people. The government says millions of vaccines are on the way. Last week the health minister asked his U.S. counterpart for help after President Joe Biden pledged to send at least 20 million more vaccine doses overseas by the end of June.

1:13 p.m. India reports 208,921 cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the country total to 27.16 million, while deaths rose 4,157 to 311,388.

12:00 p.m. Thailand reports a daily record of 41 deaths, bringing total fatalities to 873. There were also 2,455 new cases, bringing the country total to 137,894.

10:19 a.m. South Korea says that beginning in July masks will no longer be required outdoors for anyone who has had at least one vaccine shot. The allowance is a bid to encourage older residents to get vaccinated. South Korea aims to immunize at least 70% of its 52 million people by September. Currently, the figure is 7%. People who have received at least one shot also will be allowed to gather in larger numbers starting in June, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said. The country will begin vaccinating 65- to 74-year-olds on Thursday at over 12,000 clinics.

South Koreans who have received at least one vaccine shot will face fewer restrictions beginning in July.   © Reuters

9:28 a.m. China reports 13 new COVID-19 cases for May 25, down from 15 a day earlier, its national health authority says. The National Health Commission says in its daily bulletin that one of the reported new cases was a local infection found in the southern province of Guangdong. The rest were imported.

9:06 a.m. The Australian state of Victoria adds the Melbourne Cricket Ground to a growing list of coronavirus hotspots and orders thousands of football fans to self-isolate as it reports six new locally acquired cases. An infected person was among about 23,400 attendees at an Australian Football League match at MCG on Sunday, state officials say as the Melbourne cluster grows to 15. Supermarkets, cafes and pubs were among the dozens of other venues added to the hotspot list.

12:05 a.m. Moderna says that its two-shot coronavirus vaccine produced the same immune response in teenagers as in adults and that it plans to submit data to U.S. and other regulators in June for authorization to use the vaccine on adolescents.

If authorized, the vaccine would become the second available for adolescents as young as 12. Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine was authorized for that age group earlier this month.

Tuesday, May 25

6:30 p.m. Malaysia reports a record daily high of 7,289 cases, up from 6,509 a day earlier and bringing the country total to 525,889.

6:00 p.m. Austria is banning direct flights and tourist visits from Britain because of the prevalence there of a highly infections coronavirus variant first found in India, the health ministry says. Britain was added to Austria's list of "virus variant states," joining Brazil, India and South Africa, from which arrivals are only allowed in a limited number of cases.

5:10 p.m. Tokyo reports 542 new cases, up from 340 a day earlier. The seven-day average of new cases in the capital stood at 611, down 19.3% from the previous week. Osaka registers 327 new infections, up from 216 a day ago.

4:30 p.m. The number of new births in Japan during the first quarter of 2021 dropped 9.2% from a year earlier to 192,977, government data shows. Government officials attribute the sharp decline to the spread of COVID-19, with some couples refraining from having babies and even postponing marriages. New births for fiscal year 2020, which ended in March, were down 4.7% from the previous year.

Taiwanese will have to make do with restrictions on gatherings until June 15 as the island's COVID wave refuses to relent.   © Reuters

4:00 p.m. Taiwan announces the extension of its heightened nationwide COVID-19 warning level, now set at 3, to June 14, maintaining restrictions on gatherings. Also, Taiwan reports 542 new domestic cases, including 261 from a backlog of positive PCR test results over the past week.

3:00 p.m. As the Indian variant spreads, Japan says it will extend the quarantine period for travelers who have recently been to India to 10 days from six, starting Friday. The measure also applies to Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Travelers who have been to any of these areas within 14 days of arriving in Japan will be required to stay in a designated facility for 10 days, during which they will be tested three times.

1:47 p.m. India reports 196,427 new cases in the last 24 hours, the lowest daily count since April 14, pushing the cumulative total to 26.95 million. Fatalities jumped 3,511, for a total of 307,231.

1:05 p.m. Indonesia receives 8 million new doses of Sinovac's vaccine in bulk form, the 13th batch of coronavirus vaccines delivered to the country so far. Indonesia has now received 83.9 million doses in total, with 14.9 million people having received their first shots and 9.9 million their second.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike at an April 14 event at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building marking 100 days before the start of the Olympics and Paralympics.   © Pool photo/Reuters

12:00 p.m. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says the capital city will "do everything possible to ensure safe and secure" Olympic Games after the U.S. put Japan on its "do not travel" list due to the recent wave of infections. Meanwhile, Olympic Minister Tamayo Murakami said, "At present, we can see no particular impact," noting that the U.S. advisory did not ban essential travel and that the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee had said that planned mitigation practices would allow for the safe participation of Team USA athletes.

11:10 a.m. Japan is considering authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for kids 12 to 15 years old if efficacy and safety are confirmed at a government panel scheduled on May 28, says the health minister, Norihisa Tamura. The vaccine has already been approved for those 16 years or older and has started being administered across the country.

10:15 a.m. Australia's second-largest city, Melbourne, has new COVID-19 restrictions as authorities scramble to find the missing link in a fresh outbreak that has grown to five cases. Home gatherings will be limited to five guests, only 30 people will be allowed at public meetings and face masks will be mandatory indoors from 6 p.m. on Tuesday until June 4.

Melbourne during a five-day statewide lockdown in February. Australia's second-largest city has reinstated COVID-19 restrictions amid a fresh outbreak.   © Reuters

9:30 a.m. China reports 15 new cases for Monday, down from 18 a day earlier. Two of the new cases were local infections found in the central province of Anhui. The rest were imported infections. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 18, down from 22 a daily earlier.

5:30 a.m. China has offered to urgently send COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan to help it battle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, drawing an angry response from Taipei and a swipe from Washington, which said U.S. vaccines did not have strings attached.

2:50 a.m. The U.S. has placed Japan and Sri Lanka on its list of "do not travel" destinations because of the spread of the coronavirus in both countries.

2:00 a.m. Japan will decide as early as this weekend whether to extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and other prefectures beyond the current end date of May 31 and into next month as the July 23 start of the Summer Olympics approaches.

On whether the games can be held during a pandemic state of emergency, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee is emphatic that they can. Read more.

Relatively light pedestrian traffic in Tokyo's Ginza district reflects the gloomy economy during the state of emergency on April 29. (Photo by Yo Inoue)

Monday, May 24

11:30 p.m. Tata Steel will pay the monthly salary of employees who die from COVID-19 to their families until the late workers' retirement age of 60, the Indian steelmaker says.

Medical benefits and housing will also be provided during this time, according to the company. The education expenses of COVID-victim employees' children will also be paid until graduation.

"The Company has always been a shield of steel, supporting its stakeholders at all times," Tata Steel says in a statement. "This time is no different."

11:25 p.m. On the day that Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha receives his second shot of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the country says it will lengthen the prescribed time between the two doses of the vaccine to 16 weeks, Reuters reports, citing a senior health official.

The aim is to get more jabs into people's arms faster, according to the report.

Prayut's government is under fire for what critics call slow vaccine distribution.

7:00 p.m. Indonesia is considering introducing a carbon tax as it seeks to boost revenue to fund its spending to support an economy reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The carbon tax could be applied to fossil fuels and emissions released by factories or vehicles, as well as "carbon-intensive" industries such as pulp and paper, cement, power generation and petrochemicals. The initiative was included in a Finance Ministry document, issued last week, that outlines the economic framework and fiscal policies for next year.

A medical worker with Japan's Self-Defense Forces prepares to administer a vaccine at an inoculation center, which opened in Tokyo on Monday. (Photo by Koji Uema)

5:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 340 new cases, down from 535 a day earlier, bringing the seven-day average of new cases in the capital to 638 -- 18.7% lower than the previous week. Osaka, which is under a state of emergency along with Tokyo and other prefectures, registers 216 new infections, down from 274 a day ago and the first time in two months that the number of new cases in the western Japan prefecture fell below 300 for two consecutive days. On Monday, Japan opened state-run mass vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka.

4:30 p.m. Melbourne reports four new infections, the first cases of community transmission in Australia's second most populous state in nearly three months. The four cases, including a pre-school child, came from one extended family in two households in a northern suburb of Melbourne. The source of their infection is under investigation.

4:10 p.m. Malaysia reports 6,509 new cases, close to the record high set the previous day, when the country had 6,976 new cases. Total infections are over 500,000. Malaysia also suffered record COVID casualties on multiple days last week.

3:20 p.m. Taiwan reports 590 domestic cases, including 256 added to totals for days over the past week or so, as it continues to readjust infection numbers following delays in reporting positive tests.

Volunteers carry the body of a COVID-19 victim on the grounds of a crematorium in the village of Giddenahalli, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, on May 13, 2021.   © Reuters

2:03 p.m. India's death toll exceeds 300,000 as it reports 4,454 fatalities over the past 24 hours, becoming the third country, after the U.S. and Brazil, to cross the mark. The country reports 222,315 cases since Sunday morning, down from 240,842 the previous day.

1:15 p.m. Johnson & Johnson announces that it has applied for approval of its vaccine in Japan. The vaccine, which only requires one shot, has been tested in Japan on around 250 people since last September. Japan's health ministry has approved three different vaccines, all of which require two shots. Although the Japanese government does not have a contract with J&J, the company says it could start supplying the vaccine in early 2022 if approved.

12:00 p.m. Japan deploys its Self-Defense Forces to aid in its vaccination drive, speeding up inoculations targeting 36 million people over the age of 65. Medical officers and nurses will be stationed at two vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka. Here are five things to know about the SDF and its role in giving COVID-19 jabs.

11:20 a.m. Australia's second-most-populous state, Victoria, says it is investigating two suspected positive COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, which if confirmed would be the first community transmissions in the state in nearly three months.

11:08 a.m. In a series of tweets, SoftBank Group founder and CEO Masayoshi Son has expressed bewilderment and concern about the Tokyo Olympics going ahead amid Japan's slow-going vaccination drive during the pandemic.

10:00 a.m. Taiwan's government slams the World Health Organization for "indifference" to the health rights of Taiwanese and for capitulating to China, after failing to win an invitation to a WHO meeting. Taiwan is excluded from most global organizations due to objections from China, which considers the island a province. Backed by the West, Taiwan had been lobbying for observer access to the WHO's World Health Assembly, which opens on Monday.

People wait to be processed after arriving a receiving COVID-19 vaccine in Osaka on May 24. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

9:30 a.m. China reports 18 new cases for Sunday, down from 19 a day earlier, and all originating from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, reached 22, down from 25 a day earlier.

8:29 a.m. Japan prepares to begin mass vaccinations for seniors at two sites, in Tokyo and Osaka. Expectations are for a total of 7,500 injections on Monday. The figure will eventually expand to 15,000 per day. Moderna's vaccine, officially approved for use on Friday, will be used at the sites. The government aims to vaccinate everyone 65 and older by end of July.

7:00 a.m. Three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the spread of a virus causing what later became known as COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report. The newspaper said the report may add weight to calls for a broader probe of whether the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory.

3:04 a.m. Israel will end local COVID-19 restrictions following a vaccine rollout that has nearly stamped out new infections, the Health Ministry says Sunday. With about 92% of residents 50 and older inoculated or recovered, Israel has gradually reopened its economy after three lockdowns.

The country reported just 12 new virus cases Saturday, down from a daily peak of more than 10,000 in January. Israel will keep its borders closed to most incoming travel, though it has started to let in small groups of vaccinated tourists.

2:55 a.m. France's daily COVID-19 death toll falls to a seven-month low of 70 on Sunday, while the seven-day moving average of daily new cases slips below 13,000 for the first time since late 2020. The number of patients in intensive care units has declined for 20 consecutive days.

France has loosened its lockdown gradually since the start of May and hopes to lift all major restrictions by the end of June. After a slow start, the country's vaccination campaign has accelerated, with 34.5% of the total population having received at least one shot as of Sunday and 14.5% two shots.

Sunday, May 23

6:08 p.m. India's capital, New Delhi, will begin relaxing its coronavirus lockdown next week if new cases in the city continue to drop, says Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi. New Delhi, one of the worst-hit cities in India, went into lockdown April 20. But new infections have declined recently, and the positivity rate in tests has sunk to 2.5%, from 36% last month, the chief minister says.

5:00 p.m. Japan's Defense Ministry has given Moderna's coronavirus vaccine to Self-Defense Forces members, the first confirmed use of the inoculation in the country. The SDF begins operating mass vaccination centers on Monday. The vaccine developed by the U.S. pharmaceutical company was granted fast-track approval by Japan on Friday, along with one provided by Britain's AstraZeneca.

4:03 p.m. Malaysia reports a record 6,976 new coronavirus cases amid a recent surge in infections, raising the total count in the country since the pandemic began to 512,091.

3:18 p.m. Taiwan records 457 new domestic COVID-19 cases, including 170 from the past week, as the island readjusts its infection numbers following delays in reporting positive tests.

1:38 p.m. India reports 240,842 new infections over the past 24 hours, with deaths rising by 3,741.

1:31 p.m. China's national health authority reports 19 new COVID-19 cases for Saturday, up from 10 cases a day earlier.

12:01 a.m. Thailand detects the first local cases of the coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa, a group of scientists say Saturday. The finding should prompt vaccination efforts to be accelerated, the scientists say.

Saturday, May 22

6:38 p.m. Malaysia reports 6,320 new coronavirus cases as infections surge, bringing the country's total to 505,115. Health authorities also report 50 new deaths.

12:57 p.m. India reports 257,299 new infections over the past 24 hours, while deaths increase by 4,194. Cumulative infections in the country reach 26.3 million, while India's death toll totals 295,525, health ministry data shows.

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

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