WHO approves India-made virus vaccine for emergency use

A health worker prepares a jab of the Covaxin vaccine against COVID-19 at a primary health centre in Hyderabad, India, on May 25, 2021. (NOAH SEELAM / AFP)

ISTANBUL / SINGAPORE / TEHRAN / ANKARA / WELLINGTON / KUALA LUMPUR / SEOUL / VIENTIANE / MANILA / BISHKEK / ULAN BATOR – The World Health Organization on Wednesday said it had approved Indian drugmaker Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, paving the way for the homegrown shot to be accepted as a valid vaccine in many poor countries.

The Technical Advisory Group has determined that the Covaxin vaccine meets WHO standards for protection against COVID-19, that the benefit of the vaccine far outweighs risks and the vaccine can be used.


"The Technical Advisory Group has determined that the Covaxin vaccine meets WHO standards for protection against COVID-19, that the benefit of the vaccine far outweighs risks and the vaccine can be used," WHO said in a tweet.

The WHO's advisory group was expected to make a decision on the shot known as Covaxin last week, but asked for additional clarifications from Bharat Biotech before conducting a final risk-benefit assessment for the vaccine's global use.

Covaxin was also reviewed by WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, which recommended its use in two doses, with an interval of four weeks, in all age groups 18 and above.

The emergency use listing would allow Bharat to ship the vaccine to countries that rely on WHO guidance for their regulatory decisions.

Covaxin is the seventh to win WHO backing following two mRNA shots by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, adenovirus vector vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, and China's inactivated vaccines from Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm.

The nod also means that the shot may be accepted as a valid vaccine for millions of Indians who have received it and want to travel outside the country.

India's COVID-19 tally rose to 34,308,140 on Wednesday, as 11,903 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's latest data.

Besides, 311 more deaths were recorded since Tuesday morning, taking the death toll to 459,191.

Currently, there are 151,209 active cases in the country, with a decrease of 2,567 during the period.


The Iranian health ministry reported on Tuesday 10,104 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,944,599.

According to an official briefing, the pandemic has claimed 126,616 lives in the country so far, after 160 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours.


Indonesia is cutting its Christmas public holiday by one day and banning civil servants from taking leave during the festive season to curb people’s mobility, according to a circular letter from the communications ministry. 

The government is bracing for nearly 20 million people to travel across the country, risking a possible coronavirus resurgence. Previous spikes have followed long weekends and public holidays.

People wearing protective masks walk around the famed Shibuya scramble crossing in a shopping and entertainment district on Oct 25, 2021 in Tokyo. (KIICHIRO SATO / AP)


Japan is looking at restarting issuance of long-term business visas as part of a broader easing of COVID-19-era border controls, the Nikkei reported without citing how it obtained the information.

Meanwhile, the Yomiuri reported Wednesday that the government was looking at ways they could experiment with letting in tour groups, without citing sources.

The reports followed news late Monday that the country is looking to relax entry restrictions for visitors on short business trips, foreign students and technical trainee workers.

The island nation enacted one of the strictest border policies among developed nations during the pandemic, effectively banning most foreigners from entering unless they already held a visa. 

But as cases have fallen and Japan’s ruling party secured a majority in Sunday’s election, reports of a relaxing of border controls began appearing this week. 

The easing of restrictions could be announced this week and go into effect as early as Nov 8, according to domestic media. 

The changes for short-term business travelers would shorten quarantine restrictions from 10 days to three days. Those that qualify for a shorter quarantine will have to have received a vaccine that is approved in Japan – those made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, according to the Nikkei.

Tourists, a key driver of growth in Japan before the pandemic, are still not allowed in the country. 

ALSO READ: Caution urged as borders reopen in Asia


Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday reported 74 new COVID-19 cases, pushing its total caseload to 181,499, according to the country's Republican Headquarters for Combating COVID-19.

The death toll from the virus rose by two to 175,892, while 97 more people recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 175,892, it said.


Laos reported a new high of 1,062 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, the highest ever daily tally since the outbreak began in March 2020.

Deputy Director General of the National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology under the Lao Ministry of Health, Bouaphan Khamphaphongphan, told a press conference in Vientiane on Wednesday that 1,062 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded across the country over the last 24 hours, including 1,053 locally transmitted and nine imported.

In the meantime, the ministry reported three new COVID-19 deaths, raising its national death toll to 73.


Malaysia has reported another 5,071 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight Tuesday, bringing the national total to 2,481,339, according to the health ministry.

Some 15 of the new cases are imported, with 5,056 being local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed.

Another 70 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 29,045.


Mongolia reported 1,434 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, bringing the national caseload to 363,960, the country's health ministry reported Wednesday.

In addition, 12 more people aged over 40 died from the viral disease in the past day, pushing the death toll to 1,694, it added.

People visit a pop-up vaccination site, Oct 19, 2021, in suburban Auckland, New Zealand. (MICHAEL CRAIG / NEW ZEALAND HERALD VIA AP)

New Zealand

The New Zealand government has signed a purchase agreement with Pfizer for 4.7 million additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for delivery in 2022, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday.

These vaccines will be provided to those who didn't access a vaccine in 2021, for example those turning 12 next year, be used if the eligibility is extended to younger age groups, and for a potential booster program if the evidence determines this is required and if Medsafe grants approval, said Hipkins.

"New Zealand is also committed to supporting our Pacific neighbors with their COVID-19 response, including vaccine supply," he said.

New Zealand has access to a total of 10.88 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in 2021. The additional agreement for 4.7 million doses will be delivered throughout 2022, he said.

The country reported 100 new Delta variant cases of COVID-19 in the community on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country's community outbreak to 3,733.

Among the new infections, 97 were recorded in the largest city of Auckland, and three in nearby Waikato, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a press conference.

ALSO READ: Modi: India ready to make 5b COVID-19 vaccines in 2022


Millions of coronavirus vaccines remain unused in the Philippines as logistical bottlenecks and hesitancy slow inoculations, health officials said, highlighting another risk to the nation’s economic recovery.

More than 40 million of the 108 million vaccines the nation has received are in warehouses, in transit to the archipelago’s remote islands, or waiting to be used in local health offices, according to the health department.

Inoculations are hampered by “logistical bottlenecks,” Health Secretary Francisco Duquesaid at a virtual briefing Wednesday.

In this July 26, 2021 photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the annual state of the nation address at the House of Representatives in Manila. (JAM STA ROSA / POOL / AFP)

Also, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday that local government officials will be punished for falling behind their targets for COVID-19 vaccinations as the country seeks to open up the economy.

The Philippines, which has one of Asia's worst coronavirus epidemics, has so far fully immunized a little over a third of 77 million people eligible for shots.

Duterte said there was no reason why daily vaccinations could not be ramped up to at least a million from an average of 500,000 since the country has sufficient stock of vaccines.

"We saw fault lines in the overall picture of our vaccination program. I am not contented," Duterte said in a recorded address aired on Wednesday.

Duterte said local officials "who are not performing nor using the doses given to them in a most expeditious manner" would be sanctioned and made accountable. He did not spell out the penalties.

The government has been gradually easing COVID-19 curbs, and on Wednesday, it announced it was lifting the nightly curfew imposed in the capital region from Thursday.

Duterte asked the police and military to use planes and helicopters to deliver the vaccines faster to the provinces.


Singapore’s health ministry signaled again that virus curbs won’t remain as they are through the month of November if the city-state reaches reaches a key target for further easing. 

The Ministry of Health was responding to a parliamentary question Tuesday on the likelihood of people being able to dine out in groups of more than five. Current restrictions limit groups to just two. 

That means if a couple and their young children want to go out to dinner, they are forced to split up across multiple tables. 

The ministry reiterated that its key metric for easing is whether the city-state’s seven-day moving average of community cases declines week over week. Known as the weekly infection growth rate, that ratio currently sits at 1.09. 

Singapore recorded 3,496 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total tally to 204,340, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Of the new cases, 3,352 were reported in the community and 141 in migrant worker dormitories while three were imported cases.

A local district health official in protective gear disinfects shop fronts as a precaution against the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea on Oct 29, 2021. (LEE JIN-MAN / FILE / AP)

South Korea

South Korea said on Wednesday it would ramp up COVID-19 testing at schools after a sharp rise of infections among children, weeks ahead of a plan to fully reopen schools nationwide.

The surge comes as new social distancing rules aimed at a phased return to normal came into effect on Monday as a part of the country's plan to gradually move toward living with COVID-19 on the back of high vaccination rates.

South Korea has fully vaccinated nearly 90 percent of its adult population but only began inoculating children aged between 12 and 17 in recent weeks, administering just 0.6 percent of the age group with both doses so far.

The government would expand the use of portable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests for COVID-19 in schools in Seoul and neighbouring regions, and mobilize more virus-prevention personnel in overcrowded schools, he said.

South Korea plans to fully reopen schools nationwide from Nov 22.

The country reported 2,667 new cases for Tuesday, an increase of more than 1,000 from the day earlier. Nearly one fourth of the new cases were found in teenagers, officials said.

"The teenagers spend a lot of time in communal living such as schools and tuition centres and they are also active in social activities," Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, told a briefing.

"We believe that the risk of infection will inevitably rise and the confirmed cases will continue to surge stemming from these teenagers."

South Korea has not seen a noticeable increase in seriously ill cases among teens, with just one out of 378 severe COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals. South Korea has also reported a relatively low mortality rate of 0.78 percent.


Tourism in Turkey's largest city Istanbul has gradually resumed, thanks to the progress in its vaccination drive against COVID-19, local media reported on Tuesday.

Istanbul has attracted 5.8 million foreign tourists in the first nine months in 2021. The number of foreign tourists has steadily increased since March compared to the same period of the previous year, the Hurriyet daily said.   

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry revealed that 72.4 percent of citizens aged 18 and above in Istanbul have been vaccinated with two vaccine doses.

Turkey on Tuesday confirmed 29,796 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 8,091,462, according to the ministry, adding that the death toll from the virus rose by 224 to 71,052.