TOKYO – Japan has approved the COVID-19 pill developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. for use starting next week, Japan’s health minister said on Friday.
Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters that a ministry drug panel has cleared Merck’s molnupiravir through a fast-track process and the drug will be shipped to hospitals and pharmacies starting next week. .
It is one of two drugs to treat COVID-19 that Japan has obtained. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country was purchasing 1.6 million doses from Merck.
Japan has also organized a shipment of 2 million doses of a COVID-19 pill made by Pfizer that has yet to receive approval for use in the country.
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Until recently, Japan largely prevented coronavirus infections involving the new omicron variant by enforcing strict border controls. The first known cases of local transmission were reported in Osaka on Wednesday.
Further cases were reported in Osaka and Kyoto on Friday, while Tokyo reported its first case of community-acquired omicron.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
– Hospitals and police departments struggle to stay staffed as omicron infects workforce
– Fear of infection gives way to food insecurity as pandemic hits African economies
– Coronavirus dampens Christmas joy in biblical Bethlehem
Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS TODAY:
BETHLEHEM, West Bank – The biblical city of Bethlehem is celebrating its second consecutive Christmas Eve in the shadow of the coronavirus.
Small crowds and gray, gloomy weather put the brakes on Friday celebrations at Jesus’ traditional birthplace. A ban on almost all air traffic entering through Israel – the main entry point for foreign visitors heading to the occupied West Bank – has kept international tourists out for the second year in a row.
Instead, local authorities rely on the small Christian community in the Holy Land to boost morale. It’s a theme seen around the world as revelers, weary of nearly two years of lockdowns and security restrictions, search for ways to celebrate safely.
Before the pandemic, Bethlehem hosted thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world, bringing a heavy dose of holiday spirit to the city and a huge shock to the local economy.
PARIS – Protesters angry at virus and vaccine rules have occupied the Regional Legislative Assembly of Guadeloupe due to the deadlock in negotiations over their grievances over the management of the French Caribbean island.
Guadeloupe and Parisian officials denounced Thursday’s incursion as unacceptable and a threat to the democratically elected Regional Council.
Authorities posted images online showing an overturned Christmas tree and a banner reading “No to compulsory vaccination, no to the health pass.”
Vaccinations are compulsory for all French health personnel and a “health pass” is required to enter many places. The measures met the strongest opposition in Guadeloupe and Martinique, reflecting long-standing frustrations over inequalities between the islands and mainland France.
SYDNEY – The Australian state of New South Wales is reporting more than 5,000 new cases of coronavirus in 24 hours for the second day in a row as state and federal governments put measures in place to curb the spread of the virus.
The federal health minister also said experts had recommended that the gap between second vaccine doses and boosters be reduced from five to four months from Jan.4 and to three from Jan.31.
State Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet had resisted the requirement to wear a mask indoors until Thursday’s record number of cases prompted him to reconsider.
Testing centers have been inundated with people looking for testing before heading for family Christmas reunions. People are now advised to seek tests only if they are symptomatic or are close contacts of existing cases.
QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuador is making vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory.
The government said Thursday that only Ecuadorians whose illness could be complicated by vaccination will be exempted. These people must provide documents.
Officials say the order comes from an increase in coronavirus infections and the circulation of newer variants such as omicron.
Ecuador claims to have enough vaccines to immunize the entire population. As of Tuesday, about 77% of Ecuador’s 17.3 million people had been vaccinated. About 33,600 people in Ecuador have died from COVID-19.
Earlier this week, the body overseeing health policies to fight the pandemic decreed that vaccination certificates must be presented to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces.
SANTIAGO, Chile – Chile plans to offer a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine to its citizens.
President Sebastián Piñera said on Thursday that the fourth dose is expected to start in February.
Health Secretary Enrique París said the shot will be different from what people have received before.
Chile said nearly 86% of its population was fully immunized. This makes it the country with the highest level of coronavirus vaccination in Latin America, and places it among the best in the world, according to the online research site Our World in Data.
Piñera says 10.2 million of Chile’s 19 million people have received a third booster dose.
Almost 39,000 people in Chile are confirmed to have died from COVID-19.
LONDON – The British Public Health Agency says preliminary data suggests that people with the omicron variant of the coronavirus are between 50% and 70% less likely to need hospitalization than those with the delta strain.
The UK Health Security Agency’s findings add to emerging evidence that omicron produces milder disease than other variants, but also spreads faster and escapes vaccines better.
The agency said Thursday that, based on cases in the UK, a person with omicron is estimated to be between 31% and 45% less likely to visit a hospital emergency department compared to delta, “and 50 to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital.”
He warned that the analysis is “preliminary and very uncertain” due to the small number of omicron patients in hospitals and the fact that most belonged to younger age groups. As of December 20, 132 people had been admitted to UK hospitals with a confirmed omicron, of which 14 – aged 52 to 96 – have died.
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgarians over the age of 65 are offered a one-time payment of 75 levs ($ 43) on top of their monthly pensions if they get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Thursday that retirees who have not received a vaccine will receive payment after the first dose. Those who received a dose will receive the money after receiving a second dose and those who will receive a booster dose at the start of the program.
The program, which is due to start in January and last until the end of June, is part of the new government’s campaign to encourage the vaccination process.
The Balkan country of 7 million people remains the least vaccinated in the European Union at 27 countries, with less than a third of its adults fully vaccinated.
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