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Asian Countries Ease Curbs; EU Reviews Boosters: Virus Update

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Some Asia Pacific countries are easing Covid-19 restrictions, with Thailand reopening for tourism and Indonesia conducting trials in 20 cities to do so. Much of New Zealand exited lockdown amid progress in fighting the delta-variant outbreak.

The European Union’s drug regulator is reviewing Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE’s application for an extra dose of their vaccine six months after the second shot. In the U.S., officials are discussing the timing and efficacy of booster shots, with the White House pushing back at criticism that it’s rushing the process.

Scientists in South Africa said the spread of a new variant there slowed in August, suggesting it’s not likely to become a dominant strain. The Chilean government approved Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine for use on children as young as six, with shots being administered beginning this month.

Qantas to Test New Routes as Countries Reopen (11:38 a.m. HK) 

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Qantas Airways Ltd. is likely to fly to several new overseas destinations next year after pushing ahead with plans to resume international flights from December.

“We’ll probably try a lot of new routes internationally as certain borders open up,” Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said at a virtual business conference on Tuesday, without giving any specific destinations. 

H.K. Lets More Residents Return From China Without Quarantine (10:52 a.m. HK)

Hong Kong’s government will resume a program that allows residents to return from mainland China without quarantine starting Wednesday as the country’s Covid situation eases, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing.

Another program that allows non-residents to travel to Hong Kong from China without quarantine will start Sept. 15. Covid testing will still be required.

Slowing Cases in Australia’s Biggest State (10:47 a.m. HK)

The delta surge in Australia’s biggest state is showing signs of slowing after New South Wales recorded 1,220 new infections overnight, falling a third day to the lowest daily number in almost a week. Still, health authorities expect the increase in new infections to peak in mid-September, straining the state’s hospital resources.

Meantime, Victoria state recorded 246 new infections on Tuesday, equaling the previous day’s record as health authorities struggle to bring an outbreak of delta under control. Victoria’s seven-day case average has doubled since Sept. 2.

Singapore Won’t Rule Out Tighter Curbs (10:44 a.m. HK)

Singapore, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, is taking new steps to slow a rampant increase in Covid-19 cases but can’t rule out returning to closing restaurants and restricting public life if serious infections continue to rise.

“We have to slow down the transmission rate,” Finance Minister and co-chair of the government’s virus taskforce Lawrence Wong said Monday. “We will attempt to do so without going back to another heightened alert. These are last-resort measures and we will try our best to refrain from using them, but we should not rule them out entirely.”

Japan to Buy Novavax Vaccine (10:37 a.m. HK)

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. said the Japanese government agreed to buy 150 million doses of Novavax Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine that it will manufacture in the nation subject to licensing and regulatory approval.

The Japanese drugmaker aims to start distribution of the vaccine in early 2022. Separately, the company said it’s working with the health ministry to investigate deaths reported after administration of Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, and that there’s no reason to believe that it poses a health hazard or safety risk.

Thailand Cases Lowest in Over Six Weeks (9:23 a.m. HK)

Thailand reported the least number of new Covid-19 cases since July 22, with the total coming to 13,821. The government is considering ending a state of emergency as the outbreak eases and it reopens the economy for tourism.

Indonesia’s Positivity Rate Drops to Record Low (9:10 a.m. HK)

The portion of Covid-19 tests that turn out positive in Indonesia has fallen to a record low, paving the way for the gradual lifting of movement restrictions. 

The positivity rate, an indicator of the prevalence of infection in a community, fell to 4.43% on Monday — the first time in the pandemic that the nation has met the World Health Organization’s recommendation of below 5%. 

As the Covid-19 caseload declines, Indonesia has begun easing curbs for places of worship, restaurants, shopping malls, tourist sites and companies’ operations.

Japan Reports Third Death Amid Contamination Issue: NHK (7:41 a.m. HK)

Japan’s health ministry said that a man in his 40s died after receiving the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine from production lots that are being recalled due to possible contamination, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The cause of death hasn’t been determined and experts will examine whether there’s any link between the administration and the death.

Moderna Inc. and its distributor in Japan, Takeda Pharmaceutical, said last week the recalled lots may be contaminated with stainless steel particles, but ruled out they were the cause of earlier death of two men. Japan’s health ministry is continuing investigation into the cause. 

Scientists Say New Variant Slows Spread (4:36 p.m. NY)

South African scientists said the so-called C.1.2 variant spread at a slower rate in August than in the prior month, suggesting it’s unlikely to become a dominant strain. The new variant accounted for just 1.5% of all virus samples sequenced in the country last month compared with 2.2% in July, according to the Network for Genomic Surveillance South Africa.

The variant, first identified in South Africa, has been found in a number of countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius, Portugal, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Chile Approves Sinovac Shots for Children (1:52 p.m. NY)

The Chilean government approved Sinovac Biotech Ltd’s vaccine for use on children six years old and higher, as the country advances one of the most advanced vaccination programs in the world.

Five experts at Chile’s Institute of Public Health backed the measure, according to its website. Two voted to restrict shots to children 12 and older; another voted against allowing kids to get Sinovac, saying that there still wasn’t enough available data.

Previously, only Pfizer had obtained approval in the country to use its vaccine on people 12 to 17 years old. Sinovac, which has proven to be less effective than more costly mRNA vaccines to prevent infection, represents about two-thirds of the vaccines used in Chile.

Ho Chi Minh City Eases Grocery Restrictions (1:15 p.m. NY)

Vietnam’s commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City will continue to enforce a stay-at-home order at least until Sept. 15 but allow residents in areas with low reports of virus patients to visit supermarkets once a week. Mayor Phan Van Mai said the city will gradually restart more services after that date if efforts to contain the virus show signs of success.

EU Regulator Reviews Pfizer Booster Data (10:45 a.m. NY)

The European Medicines Agency has started an accelerated review of data on a booster dose of Comirnaty, the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine.

The review will take a few weeks and will look broadly at boosters six months post-vaccination for people age 16 and older, the agency said. Separately, EMA is also reviewing a third dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shots specifically for people with weakened immune systems.

Indonesia Cases Start to Ease (10:36 a.m. NY)

Southeast Asia’s largest economy added 4,413 new cases in the 24 hours through midday Monday, the least since May 18. The government has been easing restrictions across many cities as the local outbreak starts to subside from its peak, even as the number of daily deaths remain among the world’s highest. The country reported 612 fatalities from the virus on Monday. 

Indonesia will impose movement limits on Java and Bali islands through Sept. 13, and in the rest of the country until Sept. 20, while easing some curbs. Dine-in at shopping malls in some cities will be allowed for a maximum of one hour, while the government will trial a reopening for shopping centers in Bali. The government is maintaining its target of administering 2.5 million vaccine doses a day to curb severe illness and death.

Singapore Tightens Some Restrictions (6:35 a.m. NY)

The country will increase the frequency of mandatory testing for higher-risk environments, such as personal care services and gyms, and will extend this requirement to more settings with frequent community interactions, such as mall workers and supermarket staff. The government also said it will no longer allow social gatherings and interactions at workplaces from Sept. 8.

Thailand Begins to Reopen (5:27  a.m. NY)

Thailand is set to reopen more of its popular tourist destinations starting next month, betting that a higher local inoculation rate can help draw more foreign visitors and revive an economy battered by the pandemic.

The reopening of capital city Bangkok and Chiang Mai as well as beach resorts Pattaya, Cha-Am and Hua Hin from Oct. 1 will be modeled after an initiative to bring back vaccinated tourists to Phuket, tourism ministry officials said.

Asian Countries Ease Curbs; EU Reviews Boosters: Virus Update

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