Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.9 million, with a figure of 5,981,137 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 442 million to a world wide figure of 442,084,034.

News by region


US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 956,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Asia pacific

Japan: Japanese drugmaker Shionogi & Co. said its experimental Covid-19 vaccine was found safe and effective in a study, creating an indigenous supply source for the Asian nation that is racing to complete a booster drive in hopes of curbing future outbreaks. The recombinant protein-based vaccine that was being tested as a booster shot met its primary endpoint in the Phase 2/3 trials, Osaka-based Shionogi said in a statement Friday announcing the interim report’s findings. There were no serious treatment-related adverse events, deaths, or adverse events of special interest, it said.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida plans to further ease Japan’s border controls for the pandemic while extending virus restrictions for Tokyo and 17 other regions until March 21, as infections linger in the country. He told a Thursday news conference his government would raise a cap on daily arrivals from overseas to 7,000 starting March 14 from the current 5,000, giving priority to students. Japan eased some of the developed world’s most stringent virus border measures Tuesday but had set the cap on arrivals so low it would take months to clear the enormous backlog of people waiting for entry.

China: The impacts of China’s “dynamic Covid zero” approach on people’s lives and production are short-term and limited, Zhang Yesui, a spokesman of the National People’s Congress, said at a press conference. China aims to control outbreaks as soon as possible instead of having no cases, Zhang said.

China’s financial hub Shanghai reported 16 infections on Friday, prompting the city’s health officials to conduct swift contact tracing and isolation to curb the virus spread. Wu Jinglei, the city’s top health official, said vaccination has kept symptoms mild among those infected. All but two infections are asymptomatic, and many of them are elderly people. Overall, China reported 117 cases on Friday as infections spread out across the country.

Singapore: Singapore will extend Vaccinated Travel Lanes to more cities in Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. It will also launch VTLs from two new countries, Greece, and Vietnam, according to an emailed statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. In Indonesia, the VTL will extend beyond Jakarta to include Bali-Denpasar beginning March 16. In Malaysia, it will extend beyond Kuala Lumpur to include Penang. And in India, it will extend beyond Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai to include all cities.

Hong Kong: Three children under the age of 5 have died in Hong Kong’s spiralling Covid outbreak, a disproportionately large number that has local parents anxious, though pediatricians say it could just be a grim coincidence. While the numbers are too low to draw any conclusions, according to experts, the children – aged 11 months, 3 and 4 years old – make up nearly 0.3% of the 1,153 fatalities that have occurred in this wave of infections. None had known underlying health conditions. Their deaths are being investigated by the coroner, according to the Hospital Authority. The childhood deaths are higher than in countries such as Australia and Singapore, which originally adhered to the same zero-tolerance policy as Hong Kong. Australia has more than 5,300 Covid fatalities, including six in children. No one under age 20 has died from the virus in Singapore during the past year.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., the first Wall Street bank to offer a quarantine subsidy in Hong Kong, is now handing out HK$1,800 ($230) to each of its employees as the city grapples with its largest outbreak of infections during the pandemic. The cash payment will allow staff to treat themselves and their families to a meal once the current restrictions are lifted, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman said. JPMorgan last year was also first to announce a reimbursement of $5,000 to employees to compensate for hotel quarantine stays.

Frustrated and anxious about the government’s handling of Covid-19, some Hong Kongers are looking to flee, even if it’s just to wait out the worst of the outbreak. Rival financial hub Singapore is a popular escape. A net 71,000 people left Hong Kong in February, the biggest outflow since the pandemic began, as the city’s most rampant wave of Covid intensified. While Hong Kong is effectively shut off from a raft of countries it deems high risk, there are 137 scheduled flights to Singapore in March, more than anywhere else aside from Shanghai, which is off limits to most non-Chinese citizens. Many of those leaving are doing so temporarily, hoping to avoid the mandatory mass Covid tests Hong Kong plans to start in mid-March. But others are eyeing longer shifts, and schools in Singapore are receiving a surge in interest from Hong Kong parents.

Vietnam: Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh directed the health ministry to begin the process of moving the country to the course of living with Covid-19 and treating it as endemic even as cases surge. Chinh ordered officials during Thursday’s cabinet meeting to study how other countries have made the move, according to a post on the government’s website. The prime minister said March and coming months will continue to be difficult and unpredictable as the country battles the virus and the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine.

Vietnam reported 118,790 virus cases on Thursday, the health ministry said on its website.

South Korea: South Korea’s daily new infections reached a record of 266,853 while the number of deaths rose by a record 186, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Despite the worsening numbers, the government said it would allow restaurants and cafes to open until 11 pm, a one-hour extension, from Saturday through 20 March. Authorities also halted the vaccine pass mandate in restaurants, cafes, and other high-risk venues from earlier this week to ease economic pressure on mom-and-pop businesses.

Malaysia: Malaysia’s new cases also reached a record as the Southeast Asia nation grapples with the spread of the Omicron variant. The nation added 32,467 cases on Thursday, surpassing the previous peak of 32,070 cases recorded on 24 February, data from the health ministry show.

Economy news

Global: After two long years, piazzas and shopping boutiques across Europe are again welcoming tourists, with one big difference: Chinese travellers — some of the biggest spenders before the pandemic — are nowhere to be seen. It’s the same in Southeast Asia, where tourism-dependent economies are throwing open their doors, but the white-sand beaches of the Philippines and night markets of northern Thailand are all but deserted. China’s borders remain effectively sealed as the country continues to pursue a zero-tolerance approach to a virus that other parts of the world have accepted as endemic. For the country’s 1.4 billion people, international travel is basically off the table with weeks-long hotel quarantines on return and flight options severely limited. Fear of Covid, which is stamped out aggressively when it flares in China, is also a factor.

Japan: Japan will support small and medium-sized businesses with a package of measures to alleviate the impact of the pandemic, including an extension of loans, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said in a briefing in Tokyo. The  move comes as Japan’s unemployment rate edged up in January as a record wave of infections prompted renewed restrictions that are likely to continue slowing progress in the recovery of the labor market in February and March.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong Technology Venture’s shopping platform HKTVmall said it’s facing unprecedented operational pressure and warned that orders may be cancelled. It cited a staffing shortage and supply issues as well as logistic partners suspending services. Separately, SF Express will suspend to-door delivery services in Hong Kong from 5 March, according to its website, citing the challenging environment, uncontrollable factors under the pandemic and a rapid rise in operating costs.