Asia Today: Hong Kong secures 15 million vaccine doses

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A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walks past Christmas decorations in a restaurant window in Hong Kong, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong has secured delivery of 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with the first million to arrive as early as January, the city’s leader said Friday.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said the city has reached agreements for 7.5 million doses each from Sinovac and Pfizer/BioNTech. As each person needs two doses, the 15 million would be enough to cover the city’s population, she said.

At-risk people, such as the elderly and staff in nursing homes and in healthcare, will be given priority, she said at a news conference.

“Our target is that within 2021, free vaccines will be provided to Hong Kong residents so that our lives will return to normal as soon as possible, so that we can resume cross-boundary activities and business activities gradually,” Lam said.

She said Hong Kong is also negotiating with AstraZeneca and another manufacturer with the goal of securing a total of 30 million doses. Then, "if one type of vaccine proves to be problematic we have another alternative. And the amount of procurement will be twice the population of Hong Kong,” she said.

The city is currently facing a surge in cases and has tightened social distancing measures. It has reported 7,378 infections, including 114 deaths.

In other developments in the region:

— South Korea is expanding the use of rapid tests and deploying hundreds of police officers and soldiers to help with contact tracing as it deals with its worst surge of coronavirus cases since the early days of the pandemic. Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said Friday that rapid antigen tests at emergency rooms, intensive-care units and remote-area hospitals will be covered by the national health insurance starting Monday, which would cost recipients about 8,000 won ($7) for each test. Antigen tests and another form of rapid testing based on saliva samples will also be available at designated coronavirus testing sites in the Seoul metropolitan area, where officials are temporarily providing free tests to anyone, regardless of whether they have symptoms or clear reasons to suspect infection. Yoon said the country will also deploy more than 800 police officers, soldiers and civil servants to support contact tracing efforts in the capital area, which has been at the center of the viral resurgence in recent weeks. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Friday reported another 689 new coronavirus cases.

— India has recorded 29,398 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, a continuing downward trend. It had reported 31,521 new cases a day earlier. Single-day cases have remained below the 50,000 mark for more than a month now. India reported another 414 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the overall death toll to 142,186, according to the Health Ministry. India’s coronavirus tally since the pandemic began is 9.7 million cases, second behind the U.S.

— Australia’s prime minister says his government will not rush approval of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine because he wants Australians to have confidence in the product. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that Australia is in a different position to Britain, which has given emergency approval to the roll out, and to the United States, which is near final approval for the vaccine’s use. Morrison says he wants Australians to have “absolute full confidence that when it gets the tick, they can get the jab.” The government expects the Australian regulator to approve the vaccine produced jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech by late January. The Australian roll out is expected to be underway by March.

— Australian researchers say they have abandoned development of a potential coronavirus vaccine because it produced false positive results on HIV tests. A statement said Friday that the University of Queensland vaccine that was to be manufactured at Australian biopharmaceutical company CSL’s Melbourne headquarters proved safe and produced a “robust response” to the virus during initial trials. But it said the researchers and the government agreed not to proceed further because of the false positive result of some HIV tests due to a protein contained in the potential vaccine. It was one of five potential vaccines on which the Australian government had signed contracts with developers.

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