16 December

Global: Coronavirus infections have passed 73.5 million. Meanwhile, the global coronavirus death toll has passed 1,638,000 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 16.7 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 303,867 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

US president, Donald Trump, will “absolutely” encourage Americans to take Covid-19 vaccines and will receive a vaccine himself as soon as his medical team determines it’s best. The White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the Republican president also wanted to show that vulnerable Americans are the top priority to receive the vaccines.

US hospitalizations for the coronavirus increased by more than 1,200 patients a day in the six days through Tuesday, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show. There were 112,483 Covid-19 patients in US hospitals as of 15 December, a 7.1% increase since 9 December, California and New York accounted for almost three-quarters of the increase. New Mexico recorded 102% occupancy in its intensive-care units, while Covid-19 cases accounted for more than a quarter of hospital in-patients in Arizona, Nevada and Rhode Island. The number of cases in California hospitals increased 70% to 13,920 from December 1-15.

Singapore: Serology testing has revealed nearly half of the 323,000 migrant workers living in Singapore dormitories were infected with Covid-19, far higher than the official tally and indicating the virus spreads widely among people who may not have any symptoms. The city-state has reported more than 54,500 infections in dormitories since the pandemic began, making up more than 93% of all confirmed cases. Another 98,289 workers were found positive through serology testing – which identifies past infections – contributing to an overall prevalence rate of 47%, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

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India: Cipla is to market the rapid antigen test kits for Covid-19 that will be manufactured by Premier Medical Corp., the Indian drugmaker said. The test directly detects the presence or absence of coronavirus antigen in the patient’s body, generating results within 15-20 minutes, Cipla said. Marketed under the brand name CIPtest, the kit is found to have specificity and sensitivity of 98.09% and up to 75%, respectively.

Vaccine news

EU: EU countries could begin inoculations as soon as this year, the head of the European commission said. This followed the decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to bring forward its possible approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by eight days to 21 December.

Germany, France, Italy and five other European states will coordinate the start of their Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, the countries’ health ministers said. The countries will promote “the coordination of the launch of the vaccination campaigns” and will rapidly share information on how it is proceeding, the statement said, along with other commitments on areas such as transparency.

US: The US Food and Drug Administration raised no new concerns over data on Moderna vaccine in documents made public on Tuesday. It prepared the way for US authorisation of a second, easier-to-handle vaccine.

The US is discussing helping Pfizer secure raw materials required to produce tens of millions additional doses of its Covid-19 vaccine for domestic market between April and the end-June, New York Times reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation. The Trump administration negotiating a deal to use its power to free up supplies of raw materials. The move follows Pfizer’s indication that it can make more doses if the government orders suppliers to prioritize its purchase requests.

Pfizer rebutted comments by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that the company has had a “production issue” that’s delaying deliveries of its vaccine to the state. “Pfizer hasn’t had any production issues with our Covid-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,” company spokeswoman Amy Rose said. “We’re continuing to dispatch our orders to the locations specified by the US government.”

US states and territories will get $140 million to prepare for Covid-19 vaccination campaigns and $87 million for tracking and testing, the US Department of Health and Human Services said.

China: A Chinese drugmaker has secured 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine co-developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, as the country seeks overseas shots in addition to home-made ones to ensure immunization for the world’s most populous nation. Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., which in March made an agreement with BioNTech to develop and market the mRNA shot in China, will make an advance payment of 250 million euros ($300 million) for an initial 50 million doses. The German vaccine maker will supply no fewer than 100 million doses for China by 2021, Fosun said in a statement filed with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange Wednesday.

Lockdown updates

South Korea: Authorities are reviewing the possibility of raising the social distancing to level 3 and are exchanging opinions with experts, health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho says in a briefing. The Asia nation reported a record 1,078 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, up from 880 a day earlier, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website.

Economy updates

Asia-Pacific: The economic blow from coronavirus has wiped out 81 million jobs across Asia-Pacific this year, with women and young people disproportionately affected, according to the International Labour Organization. Employment in Asia-Pacific showed a 4.2% decline compared with the pre-crisis trend, with the gap at 4.6% for women and 4% for men, the ILO said in a report.