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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Oct. 31 to Nov. 6, Hong Kong-mainland travel to reopen in February

Pfizer COVID-19 pill cuts hospitalization risk, study shows

Hong Kong International Airport. Quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and mainland China could resume in less than three months.   © 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 249,113,431, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,037,865.

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

-- Global coronavirus tracker charts

-- Status of vaccinations around the world

-- World map of spreading mutated strains

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

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UPDATES CLOSED

Saturday, Nov. 6 (Tokyo time)

3:38 a.m. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he will convene a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from around the globe to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic on Nov. 10, reports Reuters.

1:05 a.m. British scientists have identified a version of a gene that may be associated with double the risk of lung failure from COVID-19, a finding that provides new insights into why some people are more susceptible than others to severe illness and which opens possibilities for targeted medicine, reports Reuters.

Around 60% of people with South Asian ancestry carry the high-risk version of the gene, according to researchers at Oxford University.

12:27 a.m. Pfizer has announced that its Paxlovid oral antiviral reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% compared with a placebo in high-risk adults with COVID-19. The U.S. drugmaker decided to halt the clinical trial early.

"Today's news is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic," CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Pfizer shares opened higher on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday local time. Shares of Merck, whose treatment was recently approved in the U.K., opened lower on the NYSE.

  © Reuters

12:08 a.m. President Joe Biden says that the U.S. has secured millions of doses of Pfizer's experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 in case it turns out to be an effective treatment.

Friday, Nov. 5

4:39 p.m. The Japanese government says it will reopen borders for business people and students, starting on Monday. The country will lift the entry ban for business people, students and technical trainees. For business people who are fully vaccinated, the mandatory self-isolation period will be cut to a minimum three days. Tourists are outside the scope of the latest move.

4:30 p.m. South Korea has purchased an additional 30 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech's for 2022, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

3:51 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government will distribute 100,000 yen ($880) in cash, vouchers or a combination of both to those 18 years or younger and make it a pillar of an economic stimulus package planned to be created by the end of the month, Nikkei has learned.

3:16 p.m. Honda Motor downwardly revises its full-year net profit forecast through March 2022 to 555 billion yen ($4.8 billion), plagued by chip shortages and subsequent production cuts. Previously it had expected a net profit of 670 billion yen. It reported a net profit of 389 billion yen ($3.4 billion) for the half-year through September, up 143% from the previous year, when results were pulled down by the pandemic.

2:00 p.m. Japan jumped to sixth place in the latest edition of Nikkei's COVID-19 Recovery Index, from 14th a month earlier, after bringing daily infections below 300 from more than 25,000 in August. Singapore, on the other hand, slipped 30 places to 100th due to its persistent outbreak.

1:06 p.m. Quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and the mainland is expected to resume as early as February, the city's chief executive says. Carrie Lam's comments came three days after a "constructive" second meeting with mainland authorities. Hong Kong in recent weeks has mandated the use of a contact-tracing app for government offices and public service buildings.

11:18 a.m. Indonesia's economy in the third quarter continued to bounce back from its COVID-induced slowdown, albeit at a slower pace than the previous quarter, government data shows. Indonesia's real gross domestic product rose 3.51% in the third quarter from a year earlier, weaker than the median forecast of 3.76% by 21 analysts polled by Reuters.

Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney. Qantas Airways says it has taken nearly 500,000 domestic bookings in the past two weeks as states begin to open their borders.   © Reuters

11:10 a.m. Australia's Victoria removes entry restrictions on citizens of neighboring New South Wales, allowing almost blanket reciprocal travel between the country's two biggest states ahead of the busy Christmas period. Travel between the states, home to more than half of Australia's 25 million people, has been severely disrupted for months because of the pandemic. Now, "open borders between Australia's economic powerhouses" will be a major boost for hotels, airlines and other tourism businesses, travel company Flight Centre said.

10:00 a.m. Japan's household spending fell in September as consumers remained cautious about COVID-19, heightening the risk that the world's third-largest economy contracted in the third quarter. Spending dropped 1.9% year on year. However, in seasonally adjusted month-on-month terms, spending jumped 5%, the first increase in five months, as nationwide transmissions decreased in September after setting records in August.

9:30 a.m. Qantas Airways says it has taken nearly 500,000 domestic bookings in the past two weeks as states begin to open their borders. The total compares to around 20,000 reservations made during a two-week period in August, when parts of the country were in lockdown. "Domestically, the crucial Melbourne-Sydney route has started to ramp up," Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said. "And most states have outlined their plans to open their borders before Christmas, one of the busiest travel times of the year."

4:45 a.m. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced a rule to require full vaccination, or weekly testing plus face coverings, at employers with 100 or more employees. It aims to protect more than 84 million people, or two-thirds of the nation's private-sector workforce.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, meanwhile, says it has issued an emergency regulation mandating full vaccination for health care staff at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid. This will apply to some 76,000 providers and cover more than 17 million workers, it says.

"Together, these rules will cover about 100 million Americans -- two-thirds of all workers in America," President Joe Biden says in a statement.

4:00 a.m. "Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic, where we were one year ago," World Health Organization regional director Hans Kluge says in a statement. "The difference today is that we know more and we can do more."

Europe and Central Asia have "been experiencing soaring cases for four consecutive weeks," Kluge says, blaming "insufficient vaccination coverage" and "the relaxation of public health and social measures."

He warns that the regions could log another half million COVID-19 deaths by Feb. 1, along with "high to extreme stress on hospital beds" in 43 of their 53 member states, if current trends continue.

Thursday, Nov. 4

An experimental COVID-19 treatment pill called molnupiravir has been developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. (Merck handout via Reuters)

9:22 p.m. The U.K. becomes the first country to approve a COVID-19 antiviral pill developed by U.S.-based Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. Britain's medical products regulator recommends the drug, molnupiravir, be used as soon as possible following a positive COVID-19 test and within five days of the onset of symptoms, citing clinical data.

This is the first oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 to win approval. U.S. advisers will meet this month to vote on whether molnupiravir should be authorized.

5:10 p.m. Russia's daily COVID-19 death toll reaches a record high of 1,195 amid a surge in cases that has forced officials to impose a nationwide workplace shutdown. The government coronavirus task force also reports 40,217 new infections in the past 24 hours, including 6,305 in Moscow.

5:00 p.m. Tokyo reports 14 new cases, down from 25 a day earlier, as Japan considers restarting issuing long-term visas to foreign business travelers.

China is trying to contain the spread of COVID ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics.   © Reuters

4:30 p.m. China's ports are on high alert as strict travel policies are enforced to reduce COVID-19 risks amid a fresh domestic outbreak.

The National Immigration Administration says it will continue to tell citizens not to travel for non-urgent and nonessential reasons. The authority also vows to strictly implement curbs on the movement of those involved in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Over 700 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms have been reported in China since mid-October in 19 province-level regions.

1:29 p.m. Toyota Motor raises its full-year net profit forecast through March 2022 to 2.49 trillion yen ($21.8 billion), up from the 2.3 trillion yen profit it had predicted in May. Although chip shortages and anti-COVID-19 restrictions in Southeast Asia still weigh on the automaker, Toyota believes matters are improving and that it can meet robust auto demand around the world.

Foreign tourists visit Bangkok's Grand Palace on November 2, a day after the country reopened to international arrivals.   © Reuters

12:30 p.m. Thai consumer confidence rose for a second straight month in October, hitting a five-month high, thanks to an easing of coronavirus curbs and a larger reopening of the country's troubled tourism sector, a survey shows. The consumer index of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce increased to 43.9 for October from 41.4 the previous month.

11:56 a.m. China's Clover Biopharmaceuticals is set to debut on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong on Friday as it races to win regulatory approval and begin shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine. Though founded in 2007, Clover has yet to generate any operating revenue. Its vaccine development was financed by a grant worth up to $360.5 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the disease research funding group set up by the Gates Foundation, Japan, the EU and other governments.

9:50 a.m. Australian retail sales tumbled in the third quarter as coronavirus lockdowns shut shops in Sydney and Melbourne, though a rebound is now underway as high vaccination rates allow the economy to reopen. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show retail sales fell an inflation-adjusted 4.4% in the third quarter to 85.3 billion Australian dollars ($63.65 billion).

3:20 a.m. Takara Bio will mass produce mRNA vaccines from next year on a contract basis, Nikkei has learned, becoming one of the first Japanese companies to build key manufacturing facilities that will help cut the nation's reliance on imports.

Takara Bio will repurpose equipment at its mainstay plant in Kusatsu, a city in Shiga Prefecture, with production starting as soon as January. Read more.

Wednesday, Nov. 3

Nuns help as an elderly man receives a dose of the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Bharat Biotech in Mumbai.    © Reuters

9:25 p.m. The World Health Organization approves Indian drugmaker Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, paving the way for the homegrown shot known as Covaxin to be accepted as a valid vaccine in many poor countries.

5:51 p.m. Hong Kong will roll out booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines next week, Health Secretary Sophia Chan says, as the territory's authorities push Beijing to allow travel to mainland China. The vaccination campaign in the global financial hub has lagged many other developed economies, with about 65% of the eligible population fully inoculated with shots from either China's Sinovac or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

About 85% of those older than 80 in the Chinese-ruled city of 7.5 million have not been vaccinated. The elderly will get priority for the booster shots, along with health workers, cross-border truck drivers and others in categories deemed at higher risk of getting the disease.

4:00 p.m. Malaysia's central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, keeps its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 1.75% to support a steady recovery as the economy gradually reopens amid high COVID-19 vaccination rates.

2:15 p.m. India reports 11,903 new cases in the last 24 hours, up from 10,423 the previous day, pushing the country's total to over 34.3 million. Deaths rose by 311 to 459,191. The country's current active caseload stands at 151,209, which is 0.44% of the total infections reported so far. Its COVID recovery rate is 98.22% while mortality rate is 1.34%, according to the latest data from the home ministry.

India administered over four million vaccine doses nationwide since Tuesday morning, bringing the cumulative vaccination coverage to 1.07 billion doses.

Nearly 80% of Nike's footwear makers and half of its apparel providers in Vietnam were forced to halt production in mid-July.    © Reuters

11:40 a.m. The Vietnamese government says about 200 contract factories that make gear for Nike have resumed operations after months of pandemic-related suspensions, according to Reuters. Nearly 80% of Nike's footwear makers and half of its apparel providers in Vietnam were forced to halt production in mid-July, after authorities restricted movements amid a major outbreak.

6:08 a.m. Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously support broad use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in children ages 5 to 11.

They concluded that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, after discussing rare cases of heart inflammation that have been linked to the vaccine, particularly among young men.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky must sign off on recommendations before the U.S. can begin administering the vaccine to children in the age group.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized a 10-microgram dose of Pfizer's vaccine in young children. The original shot given to those age 12 and older is 30 micrograms.

Children arrive at school in New York on Oct. 4. Approval by the CDC means that 28 million children aged 5 to 11 would be eligible to receive a vaccine in the U.S.   © Reuters

4:15 a.m. Competitors in next year's Boston Marathon must provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine, say organizers, adding to a growing list of major sport events where inoculation is mandatory for participation.

3:39 a.m. The Netherlands decides to re-impose measures, including the wearing of face masks, aimed at slowing the latest spike in COVID-19 infections, reports Reuters.

The use of a "corona pass," showing proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or recent negative coronavirus test, would be broadened as of Nov. 6 to public places including museums, gyms and outdoor terraces, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Tuesday, Nov. 2

6:00 p.m. Russia's daily COVID-19 death toll has risen to a record high of 1,178 amid a surge that has forced officials to re-impose a partial lockdown nationwide. The government coronavirus task force also reports 39,008 new infections in the last 24 hours, including 5,736 in Moscow.

4:11 p.m. Indonesia is further relaxing restrictions in much of Greater Jakarta, as well as major cities in Central and East Java Provinces. Companies in the non-essential sector can have 75% of their workers onsite, restaurants and recreational sites can also open up to 75% of their capacity, and malls can operate until 10 p.m. without restricting visitor numbers. This relaxation of rules only applies to vaccinated people and their children.

India's 10,423 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, reported on Nov. 2, is the country's lowest daily count in eight and a half months.   © Reuters

2:19 p.m. India posts 10,423 new cases in the last 24 hours, the lowest daily count in eight and a half months and bringing the country's total infections to 34.3 million. Fatalities rose by 443 to 458,880.

1:30 p.m. Japan reports 86 new cases for Monday, down from 229 a day earlier and the lowest figure since June last year, as 72% of the entire population has been fully vaccinated. With cases substantially down, the country looks to let foreigners visit for short business trips, study abroad and technical training, relaxing strict entry rules.

11:30 a.m. South Korea reports 1,589 new cases for Monday, down from 1,686 a day earlier and below 2,000 for the second straight day. Deaths rose by 16, bringing the cumulative total to 2,874. There is concern over a possible rebound in cases, however, as the country moves toward living with COVID-19, with curfews on restaurants and cafes being lifted on Monday.

10:10 a.m. China reports 71 new cases for Monday, down from 92 a day earlier. Of the new infections, 54 were locally transmitted cases, compared with 59 a day earlier. The northeastern province of Heilongjiang led with 27 new local cases, followed by new reports of infections in Hebei, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Ningxia, Shandong, Jiangxi and Qinghai.

A medical specialist works in the coronavirus intensive care unit at a hospital in Oryol, Russia. Russia, the U.K. and Greece have reported record-high cases recently.   © Reuters

7:00 a.m. The number of people who have died from COVID-19 has surpassed a grim milestone of 5 million around the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. While many countries are reopening their borders as cases and deaths have eased amid accelerated vaccinations, infections are resurging in some countries with Russia, the U.K. and Greece reporting record-high cases recently.

3:16 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised Russia, Belgium and Slovakia to its highest risk assessment level, advising against travel to these countries and recommending full vaccination for those who do go.

The CDC rated the trio and Burkina Faso at Level 4, meaning a "very high level of COVID-19." Nearly 80 destinations are now at Level 4.

Monday, Nov. 1

9:08 p.m. U.S. biotech firm Novavax and partner Serum Institute of India say they received emergency use authorization for their COVID-19 vaccine in Indonesia, its first approval anywhere. Indonesia says it is slated to receive 20 million doses of the protein-based vaccine this year. It will be sold under the Indian company's brand name, Covovax.

Novavax and Japanese partner Takeda Pharmaceutical are preparing to seek regulatory approval for a rollout in Japan early next year.

6:00 p.m. Tokyo reports just nine cases, down from 22 a day earlier and the fewest since the end of May last year, as infections across Japan steadily decline. The latest seven-day average of new infections stood at 23.4 per day, down 20.9% from the previous week.

5:18 p.m. Indonesia's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency has issued an emergency use authorization for the inoculation of children aged six to 11 years old using China's Sinovac vaccine. Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin says the country is hoping to fully vaccinate 123 million people, or 59% of the population target, by year-end -- from 83.8 million as of Monday. The government has also removed the PCR test requirement for domestic flight passengers following widespread controversy, instead returning to cheaper antigen testing to screen travelers.

An Indonesian college student receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Sept. 14. President Widodo will address disparities in global vaccine distribution at the G-20 Summit.   © Antara Foto / Reuters

3:05 p.m. Most of Hong Kong's quarantine exemptions will be scrapped beginning Nov. 12, the city's No. 2 official said, as it gets more in line with mainland China's approach. Over 30 types of people, including diplomats and business executives, have been allowed to enter the city and avoid up to 21 days quarantine in a hotel. Now, only a few groups will be allowed, such as cross-border lorry drivers and airplane crew members. The announcement comes as the government enforces the use of a contact tracing app to enter all government buildings and public premises.

2:03 p.m. Schools in the Indian capital of New Delhi on Monday reopened for physical classes with 50% capacity, after remaining shut for almost 20 months. Attendance is voluntary and virtual classes will continue for those not joining in-person. Meanwhile, the country reported 12,514 new cases in the last 24 hours, down slightly from 12,830 the previous day and bringing the country's total to 34.28 million. Fatalities rose by 251 to 458,437.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared his country reopen after surpassing its COVID-19 vaccination target.   © Reuters

1:30 p.m. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared his country reopen and ready for "a new way of life," having surpassed its COVID-19 vaccination target and recorded one of Asia's highest inoculation rates. Cambodia has vaccinated nearly 86% of its more than 16 million people, with 2 million given booster shots already and 300,000 children aged 5 set to be inoculated on Monday alone. The ratio is similar to that of Singapore. "From now on, the full reopening of the country in all areas and living with COVID-19 in a new way of life starts from today," Hun Send said.

11:45 a.m. South Korean exports marked an eighth straight month of double-digit growth in October, propelled by post-lockdown recoveries in major markets that boosted demand for Korean chips and petrochemical products, government data shows. Exports surged 24% in October from a year earlier, faster than the nearly 17% growth from September but missing the 27% level seen in a Reuters poll.

10:30 a.m. A declassified U.S. intelligence report saying it is plausible that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a laboratory is unscientific and has no credibility, the Chinese foreign ministry says. The updated U.S. intelligence briefing, published on Saturday, says that a natural origin and a lab leak were both plausible hypotheses to explain how SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, first infected humans, but that the truth may never be known. In a response Sunday on the website of China's foreign ministry, spokesman Wang Wenbin said, "A lie repeated a thousand times is still a lie."

A couple is reunited at Sydney Airport after COVID-19-related border restrictions were eased, on Nov. 1. Fully vaccinated Australians are allowed into Sydney from overseas without quarantine for the first time since March 2020.   © Reuters

9:30 a.m. Japan's blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average jumped over 700 points at one point, or 2.4%, on Monday morning as investors welcomed the election results. With the LDP securing a sole majority in the lower house, uncertainty over the country's politics eased, prompting risk-taking in the equity market.

8:50 a.m. Australia eases its international border restrictions for the first time during the pandemic, allowing some of its vaccinated public to travel freely and many families to reunite, sparking emotional embraces at Sydney's airport. In the past 18 months, the country employed some the world's strictest coronavirus border policies that banned citizens from either returning to the country or leaving it, unless granted an exemption. A flight by flag carrier Qantas Airways from Los Angeles touched down in Sydney at 6 a.m. local time.

7:32 a.m. White House press secretary Jen Psaki says in a statement that she tested positive for COVID-19, adding she last saw President Joe Biden on Tuesday. Psaki, 42, said that she has been vaccinated and is experiencing mild symptoms, and that she and the president sat outside more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart and wore masks on Tuesday. Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday, said a person familiar with the matter, according to Reuters.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki apparently did not infect President Joe Biden at their last meeting, when both wore masks and sat at a distance.    © Reuters

1:42 a.m. Moderna says it has been told that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require additional time to complete its assessment of the company's COVID-19 vaccine for use in adolescents ages 12 to 17.

Sunday, Oct. 31

9:30 p.m. The U.S. is delivering an additional 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan, raising to 4 million the total number of shots donated by Washington to the self-ruled island, which is under increasing pressure from China. The new delivery of Moderna doses departs from Kentucky on Sunday aboard a flight belonging to Taiwan's China Airlines, a senior American administration official says.

7:30 p.m. Shanghai Disneyland suspends entry to cooperate with COVID-19 investigations linked to other Chinese provinces and cities. Guests currently in the park must undergo coronavirus tests at the exit when they leave, the theme park says on its Chinese social media account. Entry to the nearby Disneytown also has been halted, Shanghai Disneyland says.

12:35 a.m. Singapore's Health Ministry reports 3,112 new cases, down more than 1,000 cases from a day earlier, Reuters reports. The city-state also records 14 deaths.

Saturday, Oct. 30

9:45 p.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for equal treatment and mutual recognition of vaccines based on the World Health Organization's emergency use list, the official Xinhua News Agency reports. In remarks to the Group of 20 leaders summit in Rome, Xi says China has provided over 1.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide and is working with 16 nations on the cooperative manufacturing of doses.

Two Chinese vaccines, one from Sinovac Biotech and one from Sinopharm, have been included in WHO's emergency use list.

8:42 p.m. China's health authority says the nation's latest outbreak is "developing rapidly," according to Reuters. Some 377 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms were reported from Oct. 17 to 29, National Health Commission data shows.

Though the numbers are tiny compared with clusters outside the country, China has remained committed to its policy of zero tolerance, urging vigilance around border areas and ports to prevent infected inbound travelers from spreading the virus to locals.

4:54 p.m. Beijing's Universal Studios theme park boosts health monitoring and conducts tests on all staffers after it was informed by health authorities that close contacts of COVID-19 cases visited the resort on Oct. 24, Reuters reports. The theme park says the close contacts are under close monitoring and in isolation, and have tested negative for the virus.

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

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