Coronavirus latest: Chinese COVID drug starts US clinical trials

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

Global cases have reached 120,819,288, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 2,672,857.

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Wednesday, March 17 (Tokyo time)

9:30 p.m. A potential Chinese-developed treatment for COVID-19 is undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. after the Food and Drug Administration approved the testing, Xinhua reports.

The trials began Monday at a research center of New Jersey-based Frontage Laboratories, Xinhua says, citing the drug’s lead developer, the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The drug candidate, known by the code DC402234, has shown effectiveness against an enzyme that is key to virus reproduction in preclinical research, according to the report.

7:14 p.m. The Japanese government will lift the state of emergency in the capital region on March 21, as the pressure on hospitals in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures ease and more beds become available.

The government’s coronavirus advisory council will meet on Thursday at the earliest to discuss plans to lift the emergency. If approved, the government’s task force will officially end the emergency declaration and follow with a news conference by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to explain the reasoning behind the decision.

7:00 p.m. Australia says it will ask the European Union to release 1 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to help Papua New Guinea battle a dangerous outbreak that authorities fear could spread to other parts of the region.

The request could inflame existing tensions between Canberra and Brussels amid claims of vaccine nationalism after the EU recently blocked an Australia-bound shipment of the doses.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the vaccines are contracted to Australia and are now badly needed to contain a surge in coronavirus cases in the Pacific island nation, parts of which are just a short boat ride from Australian territory.

A health care professional prepares doses of the Pfizer coronavirus disease vaccine as part of the state of Victoria’s rollout of the program, in Melbourne, Australia.
  © Reuters

6:53 p.m. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has unveiled a fresh round of stimulus, after its economy contracted by the largest amount last year since the Asian Financial Crisis.

Muhyiddin says the government will roll out 20 billion ringgit ($4.86 billion) worth of stimulus packages, including a 11 billion ringgit fiscal injection.

6:12 p.m. India needs to take quick and decisive steps soon to stop an emerging second “peak” of COVID-19 infections, says Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“If we don’t stop the growing pandemic right here, then a situation of a nationwide outbreak can get created,” Modi told a virtual conference of leaders of Indian states on Wednesday.

5:30 p.m. Scientists are investigating a new coronavirus variant that has been detected in Brittany in western France that may evade testing more successfully than other versions, according to the regional health authority.

4:31 p.m. Taiwan will form its first travel bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, the government says.

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention, but has kept its borders largely shut, and the bubble marks a small return to normality. Taiwan currently has only 29 active cases being treated in hospitals, while Palau has reported zero cases.

Palau is one of only 15 countries to officially recognize the government of the island claimed by China as its territory, and its president plans to visit Taiwan.

3:06 p.m. Tokyo reports 409 new infections, up from 300 a day earlier, topping the 400 mark for the first time since Feb. 18. The seven-day average of new cases has risen 12.7% compared with the same time last week to 298.

1:59 p.m. International students due to start at Japanese universities on April 1 are complaining that Olympians are being given priority entry as student visas remain held up by the COVID-19 state of emergency just two weeks before classes begin. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to decide later this week whether to lift or extend the emergency in Greater Tokyo.

A health care worker collects a sample from a woman at a bus station in New Delhi on March 16.
  © Reuters

1:54 p.m. India reports 28,903 cases in the last 24 hours, the highest daily count since Dec. 13, bringing the country total to 11.44 million. Fatalities rose by 188 — the most in one day since Jan. 15 — to 159,044. Maharashtra, the worst-hit state and home to India’s financial hub of Mumbai, confirmed 17,864 new cases and 87 deaths since Tuesday morning.

1:11 p.m. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced China’s so-called vaccine diplomacy, saying it was “deeply unfortunate” that countries play politics with people’s health.

12:29 p.m. Vietnam’s own vaccine, called nanocovax, is expected to be available by the fourth quarter. The country has inoculated more than 16,000 people with AstraZeneca’s vaccine received last month, the government said, adding that talks were underway to buy vaccines from other producers, including Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and the maker of Sputnik V.

10:54 a.m. Japanese goods exports fell 4.5% in February from a year earlier, marking the first decline in three months, as U.S. demand for cars and other items remained sluggish. Exports dropped to 6 trillion yen ($55 billion), with a 14% plunge in shipments to the U.S. and a 3.3% decline to the EU. These offset a 3.4% growth in shipments to China, Tokyo said in a preliminary report.

9:38 a.m. China had four new COVID-19 cases in the mainland on Tuesday, down from 13 a day earlier, the national health authority says.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen: The island is helping Paraguay, its sole diplomatic ally in South America, to buy COVID-19 vaccines.
  © Reuters

9:15 a.m. Taiwan is helping its sole diplomatic ally in South America, Paraguay, buy COVID-19 vaccines, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry says, following protests in Paraguay over the government’s handling of the health crisis.

Vaccines have been slow to arrive amid a spike in coronavirus cases. Thousands of Paraguayans have protested in the capital, Asuncion, over the lack of medicine and intensive care beds, and there have been calls to impeach President Mario Abdo.

Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic relations with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, and Taipei has long been nervous at Beijing’s efforts to entice away its remaining friends.

9:07 a.m. Australia’s pharmaceutical regulator says the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will continue despite many European nations pausing vaccination to investigate serious side effects reported in some recipients.

6:33 a.m. Pregnant women vaccinated against COVID-19 could pass along protection to their babies, according to a new study in Israel.

The research, conducted in February, found that antibodies were detected in all 20 women who received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy and also were detected in their newborns, who received them through placental transfer.

The findings by researchers from Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center were posted this month on medRxiv, an online distribution service for unpublished research manuscripts that have not been peer-reviewed, and reported by Israeli media on Tuesday.

5:25 a.m. British Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday the COVID-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca remains safe and urged people to get vaccinated when they are invited to by the country’s health service. More than a dozen other European countries have suspended vaccinating people this week with the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about an increased risk of blood clots.

3:50 a.m. The economic reopening is picking up pace in the U.S., driven by steady progress in vaccination distribution.

Restaurant reservations were down 37% on the year in March so far, compared with a 57% drop in January, according to reservation platform Open Table. This marks the lowest year-on-year decline since the start of the pandemic.

New York City resumed indoor dining at restaurants in February, with the capacity limit set to increase from 35% to 50% on Friday. Indoor sports arenas will be allowed to operate in California from April with capacity limitations.

Vaccine shots administered in the U.S. exceeded 109 million on Monday, according to Our World in Data. As more vaccination sites open and distribution networks expand, the number of shots given per day has reached 2 million in recent days.

3:25 a.m. Moderna begins administering its COVID-19 vaccine to children between 6 months and 12 years old in the U.S. and Canada, in a clinical trial in collaboration with the U.S. government. The test, involving about 6,750 children, will examine the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness in younger populations.

The U.S. has so far authorized use of the vaccine only for people ages 18 and older. Moderna began trials in adolescents between 12 and 17 in December.

A police officer inspects the ID of a motorcyclist at a checkpoint as a curfew is imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Metro Manila.
  © AP

1:35 a.m. The Philippine government suspends the entry of foreign nationals from Saturday through April 19 as coronavirus infections continue to rise.

Citizens other than those who have been been overseas as migrant workers will also be barred from returning home. Medical workers will be permitted, but the total arrivals will be capped at 1,500 a day.

The country logged 5,404 new cases on Monday, a seven-month high, and has reported a total of 631,320 cases to date. In addition to the rising infections of the U.K. and South African variants, the country has confirmed its own new strain, believed to be more infectious.

12:34 a.m. The European Union expects to receive 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the second quarter. The figure includes 10 million doses originally slated for later in the year, according to the European Commission. The EU’s overall forecast for 300 million doses for the quarter remains unchanged.

Tuesday, March 16

10:50 p.m. Mexico will purchase 20 million vaccine doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech, according to Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

6:59 p.m. Hong Kong’s unemployment rate rose to a 17-year-high of 7.2% in the December to February period, up from 7% in the previous three months. Sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 restrictions, including retail, tourism, and food and beverage, drove the increase.

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have asked spectators who plan to watch the torch relay to wear masks and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  © Reuters

6:40 p.m. Tokyo Olympic organizers call on roadside spectators watching the torch relay to wear masks and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They also say torch relay staff must test negative for the coronavirus before being sent from Tokyo. The 121-day torch relay is set to begin on March 25 at the J-Village training center in Fukushima, launching the build-up toward the planned July 23 start of the games.

5:20 p.m. Sweden says it is pausing vaccinations against COVID-19 using AstraZeneca’s vaccine as a precautionary measure. Germany, France and Italy said on Monday they would stop administering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after several countries reported possible serious side-effects.

4:30 p.m. AstraZeneca says it has agreed to supply up to half a million additional doses of its experimental antibody-based COVID-19 combination treatment to the United States for $205 million. The drugmaker and U.S. government agencies had initially agreed to a supply of 200,000 doses. The treatment, AZD7442, is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies and has not been approved for use yet, AstraZeneca said, adding that the new agreement is contingent on approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

3:50 p.m. Roche is launching a SARS-CoV-2 variant test to help monitor emerging coronavirus mutations, the Swiss pharmaceutical company says. The test runs on widely used high-throughput systems and is for research purposes only. “Periodic assessments against emerging variants have shown that Roche’s current diagnostic tests for detecting active SARS-CoV-2 infections remain accurate and effective,” it said.

Indian men wait in an observation room after receiving the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine at a government hospital in Hyderabad on March 12.
  © AP

3:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 300 new infections, up from 175 a day earlier, pushing up the seven-day average of new cases by 10.4% to 289. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said earlier in the day that the government would need more time before deciding on whether to lift the state of emergency on March 21 as planned.

3:00 p.m. Cambodia reports a daily high of 105 cases as a rare outbreak spreads and authorities urge people not to travel between regions. More than half the new infections were in one district of Kandal Province, which borders Vietnam. Although Cambodia has recorded among the fewest cases in Asia, its 1,430 infections are nearly triple that of a month ago, when its latest outbreak was detected.

2:22 p.m. India reports 24,492 cases in the last 24 hours, lower than the previous day but the sixth consecutive day with over 20,000 infections. This brings the country’s total to over 11.4 million, while deaths jumped by 131 to 158,856. Meanwhile, the country vaccinated more than 3 million people on Monday, the most in a day since the country launched its inoculation drive on Jan. 16. The total number of jabs nationwide has crossed 32 million, with over 26 million people having received the first shot of the two-dose vaccine and 6 million getting a second shot.

11:45 a.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga receives his first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine in a public appearance meant to reassure the country about its safety. Suga had his shot in preparation for his U.S. visit next month, when he will become the first world leader to meet in person with President Joe Biden.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha shows the AstraZeneca vaccine before getting a shot at the Government House in Bangkok on March 16, 2021. (Thailand Government House)
  © Reuters

10:57 a.m. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha becomes the country’s first person to be inoculated with AstraZeneca’s vaccine after the rollout was put on hold over safety concerns. “Today I’m boosting confidence for the general public,” he said. Prayuth and other cabinet members had been scheduled to get their shots on Friday before Thailand suspended use of the vaccine, following a number of European countries that have halted its use.

10:37 a.m. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei Stock Average gains 0.8% in early morning trade, hitting the 30,000-mark at one point for the first time in nearly three weeks. This followed an overnight Wall Street rally fueled by optimism over the huge stimulus in the U.S. and its expected effect on economic growth.

10:11 a.m. South Korea reports 363 cases, down from 382 a day earlier, bringing the country total to 96,380 with 1,678 deaths. Health authorities say an additional 11,922 people received COVID-19 shots, raising the number of vaccinated to 602,150.

10:00 a.m. China reports 13 cases on Monday, up from five a day earlier. All new cases originated overseas. The number of asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to seven from nine a day earlier.

8:30 a.m. Australia has no plans to halt use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says, as several European countries paused administering the vaccine after reports of serious possible side effects. Frydenberg said the European regulator and the World Health Organization had confirmed that the vaccine was effective and safe. “So we will continue to proceed with the vaccine rollout of AstraZeneca,” he told Sky News.

4:30 a.m. U.S. President Joe Biden says America will reach the milestone of 100 million coronavirus vaccinations within the next 10 days.

12:48 a.m. Germany joins the growing ranks of European countries that have suspended use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca over blood clots.

France, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands have also halted inoculations of the vaccine, while Ireland has temporarily suspended them.

In Asia, Indonesia will delay the start of its administering of the vaccine.

The World Health Organization has said that no link has been found between the shot and increased risk of developing blood clots and has urged countries to continue using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

A woman receives the AstraZeneca vaccination at a drive-through site in Milan, Italy, which has suspended use of the vaccine.
  © Reuters

Monday, March 15

10:53 p.m. China’s embassy in Manila says it will return to pre-pandemic visa requirements for the Philippines for those inoculated with a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine.

The Philippines began a vaccination drive among health workers on March 1, using some of the 600,000 doses of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine, CoronaVac. The Chinese government donated the vaccine.

8:55 p.m. The Hong Kong government will expand priority groups for its COVID-19 vaccination program to include all people 30 years old and above, starting on March 16, from the current group of people 60 and over. Also included in the expanded group are students aged 16 and above studying outside of Hong Kong and domestic helpers. Existing priority groups include personnel in healthcare settings, and residents and staff at homes for the elderly.

The new policy will cover more than 5.5 million people, accounting for more than 80% of the population aged 16 — the minimum age — and above. The city’s vaccination program was launched on Feb. 26.

6:30 p.m. The Philippines reports 5,404 new infections, the highest daily tally in seven months, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases to 626,893, with 12,837 deaths. Monday also marks the first year since Metropolitan Manila was placed under lockdown, which was later expanded to include other provinces. Many parts of the archipelago, including the Philippine capital, remain under varying degrees of community quarantines or partial lockdowns.

6:10 p.m. The Dutch organization tasked with reporting adverse drug reactions says it has had 10 reports of side effects from vaccinations with AstraZeneca, following its government’s decision to pause use of the vaccine as a precaution. The Pharmacovigilance Centre Lareb said in a statement side effects seen in the Netherlands include possible cases of thrombosis or embolisms, but not of a lowered number of platelets, as had been reported in Denmark and Norway.

India on Monday reported its highest daily coronavirus infection count in nearly three months. A health worker holding a rose is pictured receiving a vaccination in Mumbai on Jan. 16 during a nationwide inoculation campaign. 
  © Reuters

4:00 p.m. Indonesia expects to receive 20.2 million doses of vaccines developed by Moderna and China’s Sinopharm from the second quarter to use in a private vaccination scheme. The country authorized one of the world’s first private vaccination programs last month to run concurrent to its national effort, enabling companies to buy state-procured vaccines for staff. While the plan is expected to speed up inoculations, some have warned it could worsen inequity.

3:08 p.m. Tokyo confirms 175 infections, down from 239 a day earlier. But with the seven-day average of daily cases in the capital rising 13.5% from a week ago to 287, the central government may find it difficult to lift the emergency on March 21 as planned.

2:09 p.m. India reports 26,291 new infections in the last 24 hours — the highest daily count in nearly three months and marking the fifth straight day with over 20,000 cases — pushing the country total to over 11.38 million. Fatalities rose by 118 to 158,725.

11:20 a.m. China’s industrial output grew 35.1% in January-February from a year ago, faster than the 7.3% gain in December, official data shows, adding momentum to a solid recovery. Retail sales increased 33.8% from a year earlier in the first two months, compared with a rise of 32% expected by analysts, marking a notable jump from 4.6% growth in December.

Employees of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus in Japan in May 2020: The country continues to try and pull itself out of the coronavirus-induced slump.
  © Reuters

10:51 a.m. South Korea reports 382 cases, down from 459 a day ago, bringing the country total to 96,017 with 1,675 deaths. Health authorities say an additional 1,074 people received COVID-19 shots, raising the number of vaccinated to 588,958.

9:45 a.m. China reports five new cases for Sunday, down from 10 a day earlier. All of the new cases originated from overseas. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to nine from 10 cases a day earlier.

9:00 a.m. Japan’s core private-sector machinery orders fell 4.5% in January from the previous month, the first drop in four months, with declines seen in a wide range of sectors that have been recovering from the pandemic-induced slump. By sector, orders from manufacturers fell 4.2% month on month in January due to electrical machinery and chemicals, while service-sector orders tumbled 8.9%, down for the first time in four months.

8:04 a.m. The Netherlands will suspend use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine until at least March 29 as a precaution. The move follows a similar decision by Ireland earlier in the day. The Dutch decision is based on reports from Denmark and Norway of possible serious side effects, the government said.

The Netherlands’ halt of the AstraZeneca jabs follows a similar decision by Ireland.
  © Reuters

3:30 a.m. AstraZeneca said it had conducted a review of people vaccinated with its vaccine and found no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. The review covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and the U.K.

Sunday, March 14

11:30 p.m. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says he hopes former President Donald Trump will push his supporters to get vaccinated and emphasized that pandemic-related restrictions should not be lifted prematurely. Fauci said on the “Fox News Sunday” program: “I think it would make all the difference in the world. … [Trump] is such a strongly popular person … it would be very helpful for the effort for that to happen.”

8:59 p.m. Bahrain eases some coronavirus restrictions, including allowing indoor dining at restaurants and reopening educational institutions, as case numbers fall. Restaurants and cafes, which had been limited to takeaway meals since late January, can open with no more than 30 customers at a time.

2:23 p.m. The CEO of U.S. cruise operator Carnival anticipates at least two more tough years for the cruise industry, which is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023, the Financial Times reports.

11:39 a.m. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says in a TV interview he hopes Singapore would start reopening its borders by the end of the year as more countries ramp up vaccination drives. “I hope if that many countries can have substantial proportions of their populations vaccinated by later this year, we will be able to have the confidence and to have developed the systems to open up our international borders to travel safely again,” Lee said in an interview with the BBC that aired on Sunday.

9:01 a.m. The CEO of British Airways says vaccinated people and those not vaccinated but who test negative for the coronavirus should be allowed to travel without restriction, as he offered his ideas for a travel restart a month before the U.K. government finalizes its plans.

5:55 a.m. Australia’s center-left Labor Party is reelected in the country’s fifth-most populous state after voters backed the party for implementing some of the country’s most stringent coronavirus curbs. Labor is projected to win all but seven seats in Western Australia’s parliament.

4:08 a.m. Three health workers in Norway who recently received the AstraZeneca vaccine are hospitalized for bleeding, blood clots and a low blood platelet count. Norway halted rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday, following a similar move by Denmark. Iceland later followed suit.

Saturday, March 13

7:56 p.m. China’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong says it will simplify mainland China visa applications for foreigners in the city who have been inoculated with Chinese-made vaccines, effective Monday.

2:14 p.m. The Philippines has detected its first case of a highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil. A Filipino returning from Brazil tested positive for the P. 1 variant.

11:19 a.m. Australia records its first local case in more than two weeks after a doctor tested positive for the coronavirus, triggering restrictions in area hospitals. Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the unnamed doctor treated two patients last week who had recently returned to Australia and had tested positive for the U.K. variant.

10:34 a.m. South Korea reports a three-week high of 490 new cases, with infections edging higher as authorities prepare for a broad vaccine rollout. The daily tally as of Friday midnight was up slightly from 488 the day before to the highest since Feb. 19. Of Friday’s total, 474 were locally transmitted infections and 16 imported.

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