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

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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

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UPDATES CLOSED

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.


A woman receives a shot of the Pfizer vaccine in Atlanta as the U.S. opens vaccinations to more adults.

  © AP

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.


A 6-month-old wears a face shield in Manila. The Philippines marked its second-highest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases on March 21.

  © AP

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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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets

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By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.

‘SIGNIFICANT LAYER OF INSURANCE’

The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry

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LONDON —
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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