Hong Kong freezes minimum wage; AstraZeneca’s China partner doubles capacity

Nikkei Asia is tracking the spread of the new coronavirus that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Global cases have reached 103,369,524, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The worldwide death toll has hit 2,236,351.
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
— Coronavirus mutations can be classified into 12 types
— Distribution, duration, safety: challenges emerge in vaccine race
Tuesday, Feb. 2 (Tokyo time)
6:05 p.m. Hong Kong retail sales slumped 24.3% in 2020, compared with a year earlier, the latest government figures show. Retail sales fell 13.2% year-on-year in December. The city is mired in the fourth wave of coronavirus infections that has kept stringent social distancing restrictions in place.
6:00 p.m. China’s Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products says it has completed a facility that will be able to produce 400 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine per year, doubling a capacity target promised in 2020. The company obtained rights to supply the AZD1222 vaccine, developed by the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker and Oxford University, in mainland China last year, on the proviso that it must ensure capacity of at least 200 million doses by the end of 2021.
5:18 p.m. Hong Kong’s minimum wage will be frozen at HK$37.5 ($4.84) an hour as the government cites a struggling economy amid the pandemic. This marks the first time since the index was introduced in 2011 for the minimum hourly pay to stay at the same level.
5:15 p.m. Malaysia’s government extends a lockdown and broad movement restrictions by two weeks, as the country grapples with a surge in coronavirus infections. The lockdown, which covered all but one state and was to end on Feb. 4, will now continue until Feb. 18, Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob says.
4:30 p.m. Johnson & Johnson is seeking Thailand’s approval for its vaccine, Reuters says. Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration has received previous requests from AztraZeneca and China Sinovac Biotech. J&J started the request process for its vaccine late last month. Said Surachoke Tangwiwat, Deputy Secretary-General of the FDA, “We can proceed with the approval within 30 days after all documents are submitted.”
4:20 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tells the steering committee of the lower house of parliament the government intends to extend the state of emergency in 10 prefectures, including Tokyo, by one month through March 7.
4:00 p.m. Panasonic raises its net profit forecast for the year ending March to 150 billion yen ($1.43 billion), up from 100 billion yen, thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery in auto-related businesses and continued solid sales of home appliances, an effect of coronavirus precautions. The new forecast represents a 34% fall from the previous fiscal year’s net profit, though it is better than the 56% drop previously expected.
3:30 p.m. Vietnam’s health minister says the country’s latest outbreak, which has infected 276 people and spread to 10 provinces and cities, is of the more contagious British variant. Six days after it was detected in the northern province of Hai Duong, the cluster there is under control, the minister said. But it has spread to Hanoi, where 20 new cases have been detected, and containing it in the capital will take longer, he added.
3:22 p.m. Tokyo reports 556 new infections, up from 393 a day earlier, marking the fifth consecutive day for the capital to report fewer than 1,000 cases. But with the medical system still under stress, the Japanese government has taken steps and this evening is to extend a state of emergency for Tokyo and nine other prefectures until March 7.
2:14 p.m. India’s daily cases and deaths have hit fresh lows. The country reported 8,635 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 11,427 the previous day and the lowest single-day rise since early June, bringing the total to 10.77 million. Fatalities fell to 94, sinking below 100 for the first time since the second week of May and bringing the total to 154,486. India started vaccinations on Jan. 16 and has so far inoculated 3.95 million people, according to the health ministry.
12:30 p.m. China reports 30 cases, the fewest in a month, as imported cases overtook local infections. The figure suggests the country’s worst wave since March 2020 is being eradicated ahead of a key holiday. Of the new cases, 18 originated overseas, eight were local cases in northeastern Heilongjiang Province and four were in neighboring Jilin Province.
12:00 p.m. An investigative team led by the World Health Organization arrives at an animal health facility in the Chinese city of Wuhan in a search to discover the origins of the pandemic. The team has already visited key hospitals, the regional disease control center and the city’s Huanan seafood market, where the first infections were believed to have originated late in 2019.
10:20 a.m. Moderna says it has proposed filling vials with additional doses of its vaccine, raising the volume to 15 doses from 10 to ease a production crunch. The company would “need to have further discussions with the FDA to assure the agency’s comfort with this approach before implementing,” Moderna said, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
10:10 a.m. Chinese police arrest more than 80 people and confiscate over 3,000 fake doses of a vaccine as part of a campaign to combat vaccine-related crimes, state news agency Xinhua reports. The suspects had been carrying out the ruse since at least September last year.
10:01 a.m. South Korea reports 336 new cases, up from 305 a day ago. Total infections reach 78,844 with 1,435 deaths.
7:17 a.m. COVID-19 vaccines will be available to all Germans by September, Chancellor Angela Merkel says, defending the government’s vetting process and vaccination program. Germany has decided to seek regular, not emergency, approval for the vaccines and administer injections at the prescribed interval. While the path has been slower, “there were good reasons for this,” Merkel told reporters after a European Commission meeting.
5:28 a.m. Many places in China will suspend religious gatherings during the Lunar New Year holidays to control the coronavirus outbreak, the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times reports. Beijing and Chengdu, as well as Ninghai in Zhejiang Province — south of Shanghai — are among the places across the country that have ordered such suspensions, according to the newspaper.
3:36 a.m. The U.S. economy will grow 4.6% in 2021, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts, with gross domestic product returning to its pre-pandemic level at midyear. After contracting 3.5% in 2020, the economy is expected to continue recovering on resumed business activity and coronavirus stimulus spending.
3:21 a.m. The World Health Organization-led investigative team in China has had “good discussions” with Chinese counterparts assessing the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a WHO official in Geneva. The group of independent experts did not speak to reporters after visiting the provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Hubei, the epicenter of the initial outbreak in 2019.
2:17 a.m. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accuses the European Union of holding COVID-19 vaccines hostage, referring to potential export restrictions on AstraZeneca’s vaccine. “This is a fight among the highest bidders, who can pay first,” Duterte said in a televised address, according to Reuters. The Philippines aims to vaccinate 70 million people this year, or two-thirds of the population.
1:55 a.m. Japan’s health ministry will consider having shots administered at workplaces once the country’s COVID-19 vaccine program reaches the general population. Hospitals, health clinics and community civic centers are currently among the ministry’s proposed vaccination sites. In addition to the convenience, workplace shots are seen alleviating weekend crowding at other vaccination sites.
12:34 a.m. The Maldives plans to vaccinate its entire population of roughly 500,000 against the coronavirus within six months, according to President Ibrahim Solih. The country’s Food and Drug Authority has approved the Covishield vaccine for emergency use, with 100,000 doses already received.
Monday, Feb. 1
10:09 p.m. Japan plans to extend its COVID-19 state of emergency that is set to expire on Feb. 7 for another month for all prefectures currently covered except Tochigi.
8:26 p.m. India unveils a budget that includes proposals to more than double its health care outlay to over 2.2 trillion rupees ($30 billion) and raise the ceiling on foreign direct investment in the insurance sector.
8:23 p.m. Vietnam reports 32 more COVID-19 cases on Monday, all from the capital Hanoi, and has shut schools in at least 22 cities and provinces since a new outbreak began in the country on Thursday, the Ministry of Health said.
8:01 p.m. About 1,500 of the initial volunteers in a late-stage clinical trial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine were given the wrong dose, but weren’t informed that a mistake had been made after the blunder was discovered, Reuters reports, citing documents obtained.
7:56 p.m. A joint Philippine congressional panel approved on Monday a bill that will reduce the rate of corporate income tax to attract more foreign investment and help the coronavirus-hit Southeast Asian economy recover.
7:08 p.m. China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals says it has terminated its partnership with GlaxoSmithKline to develop a COVID-19 vaccine using the British drug maker’s adjuvant.
Clover has been testing two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, one containing an adjuvant from GSK and the other from Dynavax, and has said that the candidate with the GSK product would move to mid- to late-stage clinical trial in December. It says on Monday both candidates induced high levels of neutralizing antibodies but it has decided to initiate Phase II and III study of the candidate using the Dynavax adjuvant after taking into account “scale-up manufacturing considerations.”
6:46 p.m. Poland has found its first case of COVID-19 in mink, the agriculture ministry said, raising fears of costly culls in an industry that counts over 350 farms in the country. With new variants of the coronavirus threatening global efforts to get the pandemic under control, authorities in several countries have begun mass culls of the animals due to fears of a mutated strain of the illness being transmitted to humans.
6:37 p.m. Myanmar’s Health Minister Myint Htwe says on the ministry’s official Facebook page that he is leaving his post because of the “evolving situation” in the country, after the military seized power in a coup. He urges colleagues to continue to serve the population, especially considering the pandemic and the vaccinations to come. Myint Htwe does not say if his departure is voluntary.
6:00 p.m. Malaysia is expected to receive its first batch of Pfizer vaccines on Feb. 26, a senior health official says, according to a report by national newswire Bernama. In November, Malaysia said it had agreed to buy 12.8 million doses of the vaccine, jointly developed by the U.S. drugmaker and German partner BioNTech. Under the deal, Pfizer will deliver the first one million doses in the first quarter of 2021, with 1.7 million, 5.8 million and 4.3 million doses to follow in subsequent quarters, respectively.
4:15 p.m. Nintendo has raised its earnings forecast for the year ending March for the second time in three months and now expects a record net profit of 400 billion yen ($3.8 billion) backed by continued strong demand for the Switch console since the coronavirus outbreak, the game maker says.
4:05 p.m. A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic visits the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China’s central region of Hubei, where the outbreak emerged in late 2019. The group of independent experts spent about four and a half hours on their longest site visit since completing two weeks of quarantine on Thursday. The WHO said its members would be limited to visits organized by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, due to health concerns.
3:30 p.m. Tokyo reports 393 new infections, down from 633 a day earlier and marking the first time for the capital to register fewer than 400 since Dec. 21, 2020. Still, Japan is likely to extend its state of emergency, at least for Tokyo, beyond Feb. 7 as area hospitals remain under strain.
2:33 p.m. India reports 11,427 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 13,052 the previous day, bringing the country total to 10.76 million. Fatalities rose by 118 to 154,392. Meanwhile, total vaccinations in the country have crossed 3.75 million since the start of the campaign on Jan. 16, according to the health ministry’s latest update.
1:35 p.m. Japan is likely to extend its state of emergency beyond Feb. 7, at least for Tokyo, government sources tell Nikkei. The government will hold a COVID-19 advisory committee meeting as early as Tuesday to discuss the emergency, which covers 11 prefectures, including Osaka, Kyoto, Aichi and Fukuoka, as well as the capital. For each prefecture, the committee will make a judgment based on multiple indicators, such as the number of new infections per 100,000 people over the last week.
11:00 a.m. The surge in international container-shipping rates in recent months has left companies reliant on maritime transport facing delays and mounting costs that risk bogging down a post-coronavirus economic recovery.
10:05 a.m. South Korea reports 305 cases, down from 355 a day ago, bringing the country total to 78,508 with 1,425 deaths. The government has extended social distancing rules in greater Seoul for two more weeks to control the outbreak during next week’s Lunar New Year holiday.
9:20 a.m. China reports 42 cases, down from 92 a day earlier and marking the lowest one-day increase since Jan. 8, amid efforts to contain the disease ahead of the holiday season. Of 33 locally transmitted infections reported, 22 were in the northernmost province of Heilongjiang. New cases reported in neighboring Jilin Province fell to 10 from 63 a day earlier.
8:00 a.m. Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as coronavirus variants hindered its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the crisis. Highlighting Israel’s challenges in enforcing restrictions, thousands of Orthodox Jews attended the Jerusalem funerals of two prominent rabbis on Sunday, drawing criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners. Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to extend the five-week-old lockdown until Friday, with a separate ban on international flights to remain in place until Sunday. Parliament earlier voted to double fines for lockdown violators to 10,000 shekels ($3,051).
5:12 a.m. Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission tweeted that AstraZeneca will deliver nine million more doses of its vaccine to the EU in the first quarter, making a total of 40 million for the period. Deliveries will start one week earlier than expected. The Anglo-Swedish company unexpectedly announced in January that it would cut supplies to the EU of its vaccine candidate in the first quarter, sparking a row over supplies. AstraZeneca would expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe, she said.
5:00 a.m. France has delivered nearly 1.5 million shots during its vaccination program, reporting just a few thousand more than 24 hours earlier. The country’s faltering vaccine rollout has been bogged down by bureaucracy and recent supply shortages.
Sunday, Jan. 31
9:30 p.m. Indonesia will receive 13.7 million to 23.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine through the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme, its foreign ministry says. Delivery is expected to be split into two lots.
8:50 p.m. Vietnam reports 50 infections for Sunday, most linked to an outbreak that began on Thursday in the northern province of Hai Duong. The outbreak has spread to at least nine cities and provinces, including the economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, with 238 locally transmitted infections.
6:40 p.m. At least 5.6 million doses of two international vaccines are expected to arrive in the Philippines in the first quarter, the chief of the country’s coronavirus task force says. The initial volume is part of the 9.4 million doses of the two vaccines — one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by AstraZeneca — expected to be shipped in the first half.
1:40 p.m. A World Health Organization-led team of experts investigating the origins of COVID-19 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan was expected to visit a Huanan market later on Sunday. The market is a wholesale seafood center where the coronavirus was initially detected.
1:01 p.m. China’s factory activity grew at the slowest pace in five months in January, hit by a wave of domestic infections but still in line with the ongoing recovery in the world’s second-largest economy. The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index fell to 51.3 in January from 51.9 in December, the government said in a statement on Sunday.
12:47 p.m. Australia reopened its “travel bubble” with New Zealand on Sunday after its neighbor reported no new locally acquired cases, but added new screening measures as it marked its longest infection-free run since the outbreak began. The decision marks the resumption of the only international arrivals into Australia who do not require 14 days in hotel quarantine. Australia had paused quarantine exemptions for trans-Tasmania arrivals six days earlier after New Zealand reported its first new case in months.
12:40 p.m. Takeda Pharmaceutical and two Japanese universities are developing a drug to treat the clogging and inflammation of blood vessels, both of which are complications of COVID-19. The drug uses a mechanism different from those of existing coronavirus drugs. The developers report that it will likely help prevent the aggravation of symptoms.
12:28 a.m. Pakistan has secured 17 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine under the COVAX scheme. About 6 million of the doses will arrive in the first quarter and the remainder by the middle of the year, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Faisal Sultan said on Twitter.
Saturday, Jan. 30
11:15 p.m. Pregnant women with protective coronavirus antibodies are likely to pass those antibodies to their unborn babies, according to a new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the U.S.
The findings, published in the in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics, show 72 out of 83 infected or previously infected pregnant women transferred the antibodies across the placenta. Researchers say this might suggest pregnant women who get a COVID-19 vaccination could pass that along also.
7:26 p.m. Malaysia reports its biggest daily rise in coronavirus cases for the second straight day, with 5,728 new infections recorded. The new cases took the cumulative total of infections to 209,661. The health ministry also reports 13 new deaths, raising total fatalities from the pandemic to 746.
5:54 p.m. India reports its lowest active number of coronavirus cases in seven months, a year after the virus was first confirmed in the country. The infection rate has slowed significantly since September and 13,083 new cases are reported Saturday, one of the lowest figures on record and down from more than 20,000 each day at the beginning of the month, federal health data showed.
4:32 p.m. The World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China visit a hospital in the central city of Wuhan that treated early coronavirus patients. On its second day after two weeks in quarantine, the team goes to Jinyintan Hospital, where doctors had collected samples from patients suffering from an unidentified pneumonia in late 2019. Team members leaving the hospital did not speak to journalists, who have been kept at a distance since the group left its quarantine hotel on Thursday.
3:57 p.m. Taiwan’s government reports the island’s first death from COVID-19 since May, as it battles a small and unusual outbreak of locally transmitted cases. A woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions died after being infected with the coronavirus as part of a domestic cluster connected to a hospital, says Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.
12:47 p.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues a sweeping order requiring the use of face masks on nearly all forms of public transportation as the country continues to report tens of thousands of daily COVID-19 deaths.
The order, which takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Monday, requires face masks to be worn by all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares and at transportation hubs like airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations and seaports.

To catch up on earlier developments, see the last edition of latest updates.