This Feb 11, 2021, photo shows vials of Bharat Biotech Ltd Covaxin vaccine for coronavirus at Sanjeevan Hospital in Daryaganj, New Delhi, India. (T NARAYAN / BLOOMBERG)
KABUL / SYDNEY / DHAKA / THIMPHU / JAKARTA / DUBAI / TOKYO / RAMALLAH / SEOUL - An Indian coronavirus vaccine that generated controversy when it was granted emergency approval before finishing its final stage testing has shown to provide strong protection against COVID-19 in an interim analysis of an advanced clinical trial.
Covaxin, which was co-developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd. and the Indian Council of Medical Research, showed an efficacy rate of 81 percent in those without prior infection after a second dose, the company said in a statement Wednesday. That’s better than Bharat Biotech’s guidance last year of around 60 percent and the country’s benchmark of 50 percent for vaccines targeting the novel coronavirus.
The vaccine maker didn’t say if the efficacy rate was measured at protecting against all symptoms, including mild coughs, or just serious reactions to the disease that require hospitalization.
Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticised Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100 percent safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
India's COVID-19 tally rose to 11,139,516 on Wednesday as 14,989 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, said the latest data from the federal health ministry.
According to the data, the death toll mounted to 157,346 with 98 new deaths.
There are still 170,126 active cases in the country, while 10,812,044 people have been discharged from hospitals after medical treatment. There was an increase of 1,768 active cases during the previous 24 hours.
Afghanistan on Wednesday reported 27 new COVID-19 cases after health authorities conducted 2,308 tests within a day, bringing the total number of cases to 55,803, the country's Ministry of Public Health said.
Meanwhile, 12 people recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall number of recoveries to 49,359 while one death was reported in the national capital Kabul, raising the death toll to 2,447, the ministry said in a statement.
Australia will seek the support of the defence forces in its COVID-19 immunisation drive, authorities said on Wednesday, as it looks to ramp up a vaccination rollout programme that is running behind schedule.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will provide help in rolling out vaccines to aged care residents in rural and regional areas not readily accessible by other medical providers, acting Defence Minister Marise Payne said.
ADF teams are expected to start next week and will focus on the planning, logistics and operations support.
“As we move into the next phase of the aged care vaccine rollout and continue the expansion of teams, additional nurses, pharmacists and providers are being added, with ADF vaccination teams supplementing these efforts,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.
Australia’s international border will remain shut for at least another three months, as the government considers the COVID-19 situation overseas an “unacceptable public health risk.”
The human biosecurity emergency period will be extended to June 17. The provisions include required pre-departure testing and masks on international flights, restrictions on cruise vessels and outbound travel for Australians.
Bangladesh reported 614 new COVID-19 cases and five new deaths on Wednesday, making the tally at 547,930 and death toll at 8,428, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.
The official data showed that 16,414 samples were tested in the last 24 hours across the country.
As Bhutan prepares to roll out nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program, the Health Ministry has started listing people willing to take vaccinations through an online registration.
As of Wednesday, a total of 171,769 of the country total population of 765,000 have registered for COVID-19 vaccination, as per the Health Ministry. The online registration for the COVID-19 vaccine that was initiated since Feb. 21 is still on going.
A medical worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Medical Center in Tokyo, Feb 17, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)
Cambodia reported 34 more local COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infected people linked to the third community transmission to 374, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said in a statement.
The new cases were found in the capital Phnom Penh, southwestern Preah Sihanouk province and southeastern Svay Rieng province, the statement said, adding that they were all related to the third community outbreak on Feb. 20.
The patients are currently undergoing treatment at various designated COVID-19 hospitals, it said.
In a bid to contain the outbreak
Covax Facility will provide about 1.7 m doses of coronavirus vaccines to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by May, Yonhap News reported, citing a Covax statement.
Fiji reported on Wednesday four new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of active COVID-19 cases to seven in the island nation.
According to a statement by Fiji's Ministry of Health, all four imported cases tested positive during routine quarantine testing, while undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantine in Nadi, Fiji's third largest city.
The first case is a 42-year-old female who travelled to Fiji from New Delhi, India, and arrived in Nadi on February 24. The second case is a 35-year-old male who travelled to Fiji from Bangalore, India transiting through New Delhi and arriving in Nadi on the same day.
The COVID-19 cases in Indonesia rose by 6,808 within one day to 1,353,834, with the death toll adding by 203 to 36,721, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
According to the ministry, 9,053 more people were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,169,916.
Iran reported 8,495 daily COVID-19 cases, raising the total nationwide infections to 1,648,174.
The pandemic has so far claimed 60,267 lives in Iran, up by 86 in the past 24 hours, said Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education.
A total of 1,406,845 people have recovered from the disease in Iran, while 3,738 remain in intensive care units, she added.
Iraq's Ministry of Health reported 4,690 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily record in 2021, bringing the total nationwide infections to 703,778.
It also confirmed 30 new deaths, raising the death toll from the infectious virus to 13,458, while the total recoveries in Iraq climbed by 3,517 to 643,156.
Israeli scientists have developed a rapid cost-effective test that identifies two of the mutated COVID-19 strains, Ben Gurion University (BGU) in southern Israel said on Tuesday.
The current standard for coronavirus variants testing is sequencing the entire virus genome, which is expensive and time-consuming.
The new test, however, reduces the time needed to determine whether an infection is caused by a variant from days to hours, BGU said.
Israel's Ministry of Health reported 4,738 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, raising the total infections in the country to 784,696.
The death toll from the COVID-19 in Israel reached 5,786 after 26 new fatalities were added, while the total recoveries soared by 2,593 to 738,443.
Australian Defence Force personnel escort their staff into the Epping Gardens aged care facility in the Melbourne suburb of Epping on July 28, 2020. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)
Japan is considering extending by two weeks the virus emergency in the Tokyo region now set to expire on March 7, TV network FNN reported, in a bid to further rein in the pace of infections.
FNN, citing an unidentified person, said the central government could make its decision as early as Thursday and announce it the next day.
The report came as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the leaders of the three prefectures adjacent to the capital were planning to ask Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government for an extension of about two weeks, Kyodo News reported sources with knowledge of the plan as saying.
Last week, about 600 people were tested for the coronavirus in the city of Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo - the Japanese government’s first stab at systematic random and targeted testing that it hopes will prevent a new wave of infections.
Some 300 people walking in the city and another 300 at local schools were given saliva-based PCR or polymerase chain reaction tests.
Tokyo plans to ask the national government to extend the coronavirus state of emergency that is due to expire this weekend, according to the Nikkei.
Tokyo on Wednesday reported 316 new daily COVID-19 cases, bringing the capital's cumulative total of infections to 112,345.
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan government, the latest figure compares to 232 new infections confirmed the previous day and is 103 more than the same time a week earlier.
Jordan recorded 5,124 COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths, taking its caseload to 402,282 and death toll to 4,756.
The Jordanian government also reported 2,887 new recoveries, raising its tally to 354,143, while there are currently 43,383 active COVID-19 cases in the kingdom.
Some 150,000 medical workers in Laos will get vaccinated against COVID-19 in March and April using the China-donated Sinopharm vaccines, local media reported on Wednesday.
According to a report by the Lao daily Vientiane Times, Lao people in at-risk groups between the ages of 18 and 60 will also be given priority in the vaccination drive, including those with a chronic illness and migrant workers.
This represents a second round of vaccination, scheduled for mid-March to early April. In the first round, volunteer medical workers received the COVID-19 vaccine at the end of 2020, said the report.
Mongolia reported 32 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, raising the nationwide tally to 3,032, said the country's health ministry on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, 30 more patients were discharged from hospitals in the country's capital Ulan Bator, the ministry said, adding that 78 percent of patients in the country have recovered from the disease.
The Asian country has recorded six COVID-19-related deaths since it confirmed its first case in March 2020.
The country launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign across the country last week, with the aim of vaccinating at least 60 percent of its 3.3 million people.
More than half of New Zealand's estimated 12,000 border workforces have received their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccination, as a third batch of vaccines arrived in the country, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday.
As of midnight Tuesday, a total of 9,431 people had received their first doses. More than 70 percent of those, which equates to 6,688 people, had been delivered in the Auckland region, Hipkins told a press conference.
New Zealand reported two more COVID-19 cases in managed isolation and no new cases in the community on Wednesday.
The two imported cases came from India and the United States respectively. The US case arrived on Feb 22 and is classified as historical and not infectious, according to the Ministry of Health.
A worker operates a machine producing plastic pipe at the Rangnang Disabled Soldiers' Essential Plastic Goods Factory in Pyongyang on March 1, 2021. (KIM WON-JIN / AFP)
Kuwait reported 1,341 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 193,372.
The Kuwaiti Health Ministry also announced seven more deaths, taking the death toll to 1,092. The tally of recoveries in Kuwait rose by 964 to 181,119.
Lebanon registered on Tuesday 3,098 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 380,019, according to the Lebanese Health Ministry.
The ministry also reported 62 new coronavirus deaths, pushing its death toll up to 4,805, while the tally of recoveries reached 296,237.
Firas Abiad, director of Rafic Hariri University Hospital, said on Tuesday that Lebanon needs to vaccinate 30,000 people per day to reach herd immunity target in one year.
The Omani Health Ministry on Wednesday announced 358 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the sultanate to 142,527, the official Oman News Agency reported.
Meanwhile, 193 people recovered during the past 24 hours, taking the overall recoveries to 133,138, while three people reportedly died, pushing the tally up to 1,583, according to a ministry statement quoted by ONA.
In Qatar, the health ministry announced 463 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 164,600.
Qatar's overall recoveries climbed by 259 to 154,420, while the coronavirus death toll remained at 259 for the second consecutive day, according to a ministry statement.
Malaysia reported 1,745 new COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said on Wednesday, bringing the national total to 305,880.
Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that two of the new cases are imported and 1,743 are local transmissions.
Another seven deaths have been reported, pushing the death toll to 1,148.
Malaysia has granted conditional approval for the use of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
The approval of the conditional registration would allow the vaccines to be used during an emergency, Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.
Myanmar reported 19 more COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the tally in the country to 141,984, according to a release from the Ministry of Health and Sports.
No new death was reported on Wednesday and the death toll stood at 3,199 in the country, the release said.
The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday confirmed that it diverted some COVID-19 vaccination doses meant for medical workers to VIPs as critics charged but said this involved a small fraction of inoculations.
A health ministry statement said 10 percent of the 12,000 doses it received were given to the Palestinian national football team, government ministers, presidential guards and members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s topmost Executive Committee. Another 200 doses went to the Jordanian royal court, after a request from Amman.
But it said the other 90 percent went to health workers treating COVID-19 cases in intensive care units and emergency departments, and health ministry workers.
The ministry statement followed criticism from several Palestinian human rights and civil society groups, who urged an investigation into the vaccination programme, saying it was not transparent.
Singapore reported no community COVID-19 case Tuesday, registering zero local case for five consecutive days, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Eight new imported COVID-19 cases were reported on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 59,956, MOH said in a press release.
Altogether 29 cases have passed away from complications due to the COVID-19 infection.
This file illustration photo taken on Nov 17, 2020 shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. (PHOTO / AFP)
Two South Koreans with underlying diseases died on Wednesday after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, according to Yonhap news agency.
A patient around 50 years old, who had been in a nursing hospital in Goyang, just outside of the capital Seoul, received the first jab of the full two-dose vaccines, developed by the British-Swedish drug maker, on Tuesday morning.
The patient developed heart failure and difficulty in breathing by the afternoon but recovered after going through emergency care.
The heart attack recurred on Wednesday morning, before the death of the patient who had suffered from multiple conditions such as heart problems, diabetes and stroke.
Another 63-year-old patient, who had been in a nursing hospital in Pyeongtaek, about 70 km south of Seoul for a preexisting cerebrovascular disease, was inoculated in the afternoon on Feb 27.
The patient began to show symptoms of high fever and pantalgia the following day. The recovery and aggravation of the symptoms repeated before the patient died on Wednesday morning.
Nothing has been known yet over the relationship between the death and the vaccination. Health authorities reportedly planned to launch an epidemiological probe into the cases.
South Korea reported 444 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Tuesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 90,816.
The daily caseload was up from 344 in the previous day, rising above 400 in four days.
Thailand may celebrate its traditional new year Songkran as usual around mid-April, Culture Minister Itthiphol Khunpluem said Wednesday.
The water-splashing festival was canceled last year due to COVID-19 concerns. This year, it might be allowed to organize nationwide from April 13 to 15, given the improvement in the local pandemic situation, according to the culture minister.
Nevertheless, the authorities are yet to apply social distancing measures against a possible spread among Songkran revelers at any crowded venues, Itthiphol said.
Thailand on Wednesday confirmed 35 new COVID-19 infections, mostly domestic, according to the country's Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Of Wednesday's new cases, 25 were domestic infections while 10 others referred to imported cases, the CCSA spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin said during daily briefing.
Those domestic cases included 12 in Samut Sakhon and three in Bangkok, among other provinces, he said.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported on Wednesday 1,783 new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 582,223.
The death toll climbed to 12,389 after 20 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said. It added 330 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 534,778.
The Philippines, which has about 110 million population, has tested over 8 million people since the disease emerged in January last year.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported 2,721 new coronavirus infections and 15 more deaths, raising its tally of confirmed cases to 396,771 and its total fatalities to 1,253. The total recoveries in the UAE climbed by 1,666 to 383,998.
Turkish trials found China’s Sinovac inoculation to be 83.5 percent effective against the coronavirus, a level of protection that’s lower than the country’s initial predictions but significantly above Brazilian estimates.
The CoronaVac shot made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd was 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalization, according to the Phase 3 trials by the prestigious Hacettepe University in Ankara, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkey has been running trials of the vaccine since September, and initial findings suggested an efficacy rate of 91.25 percent, the Health Ministry announced in late December.
Turkey on Tuesday reported 11,837 new COVID-19 cases, as its daily infections exceeded 10,000 for the first time in about two months.
The previous time when the daily COVID-19 infections exceeded 10,000 in Turkey was Jan. 8 when a total of 11,479 cases were reported.
The total number of positive cases in Turkey surged to 2,723,316, while the death toll rose by 68 to 28,706. The tally of recoveries in Turkey climbed to 2,586,073, with the addition of 7,892 more recovered cases.
Uzbekistan reported 45 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total count to 80,006, the Uzbek Health Ministry said Wednesday.
A total of 78,549 people have recovered from the coronavirus disease, putting the recovery rate at 98 percent, with the death toll in the country standing at 622, according to the ministry.
Earlier the ministry said that the first stage of the mass vaccination campaign will cover about 4 million people, including the elderly and disabled people, employees in the healthcare and education systems, as well as law enforcement staff.
Vietnam recorded 10 new cases of COVID-19 infection on Wednesday, including five imported and five locally transmitted, according to its Ministry of Health.
The new infections brought the total confirmed cases in the country to 2,482 as of 6 pm local time Wednesday, said the ministry.
HONG KONG NEWS