Japan delays emergency approval of Shionogi COVID-19 pill

A person wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus stands in front of a public awareness notice for COVID-19 protection in Shinjuku district on July 14, 2022, in Tokyo. (EUGENE HOSHIKO / AP)

TOKYO / DHAKA / SINGAPORE / MANILA / HANOI / SYDNEY – A Japanese health ministry panel on Wednesday delayed emergency approval for an oral treatment against COVID-19 that has been developed by Shionogi & Co.

Health experts on the panel voted to support a motion that they would await more data from ongoing clinical trials and continue discussions on the drug, dealing another blow to Shionogi's global ambitions for the antiviral pill.

Authorities had postponed a decision last month on the drug known as S-217622, which Shionogi hopes will compete with products from US drugmakers Pfizer and Merck & Co that have already been approved in Japan and elsewhere.

The company has signed an agreement to sell about a million doses to the Japanese government, pending the drug's approval.

Chief Executive Isao Teshirogi has said that annual production of the drug could reach 10 million doses. It has received US government support for a global Phase III trial.

Last month a health ministry panel postponed ruling on the drug because of uncertainty over its effectiveness as well as animal studies showing it could pose a risk to pregnancies.

Shionogi this month said it was preparing to seek approval in China for the drug, shown in pre-clinical studies to display high antiviral activity against the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

Some members of the health panel said that while trial data had not proved the effectiveness of the drug, the results were positive enough to grant emergency approval to help to tackle a seventh wave of infections and possibly reduce the incidence of so-called "long COVID" effects in patients.

New infections in Japan exceeded 150,000 on Wednesday, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

Medical staff transport a patient from the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Melbourne on Oct 9, 2021, as Victoria state recorded 1965 new COVID-19 cases, its highest daily infection number since the start of the pandemic, putting more pressure on the state's struggling health system. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)


Australia reported one of its highest daily death tolls from the novel coronavirus on Thursday while hospital admissions hovered near record levels, as authorities struggle to get ahead of highly contagious Omicron variants.

Australia is reporting the highest daily numbers since the first Omicron wave earlier this year, with 89 deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday and 90 on Wednesday. Just over 55,600 new cases were recorded on Thursday, the highest since May 18.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said state leaders and federal health officials have not recommended making masks mandatory in indoor venues, despite calls by some doctors to do so.

Australia avoided the high death tolls seen in other countries during the first waves of the pandemic thanks largely to high levels of public compliance with tough social distancing restrictions.

But there is little public appetite for a return to such measures to defeat the latest surge in infections and Albanese has resisted pressure from some health experts to impose mask mandates.

"It's no good having a mandate unless it's enforced," Albanese told ABC Radio.

He said health officials also had to take into account the effects of tough restrictions on mental health.

The latest Omicron wave is pushing the number of people with COVID-19 in Australian hospitals close to the peak hit in January. About 5,350 patients are in hospitals, and several states are battling record admissions.

Since the pandemic began, Australia has reported about 9 million COVID-19 cases and 10,968 deaths.

A Bangladeshi man receives COVID-19 vaccine in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Jan 30, 2022. (MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU / AP)


The Bangladeshi government decided on Wednesday to extend the ongoing special campaign to administer the second dose and booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine by another day to July 21.

As part of the government's all-out efforts to rein in the fresh spike of the pandemic, Bangladeshi health authorities earlier held a day-long countrywide mass vaccination campaign on Tuesday with a view to vaccinating 7.5 million people with the second and booster doses.

More than 285 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have so far been administered in the country, and more than half of the administered vaccines were China's Sinopharm.

According to a statement from the government's Management Information System of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), a total of 285,882,959 vaccine doses, including 159,514,745 Chinese vaccine doses, had been administered across Bangladesh as of Tuesday.

Bangladesh has been using COVID-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Moderna, Pfizer, Sinovac, and Johnson and Johnson.

Shamsul Haque, member secretary of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Management Task Force, said the vaccination efforts will continue as long as there are people eligible for inoculation.

A child receives the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 as a performer dressed as superhero character Spider-Man looks on at a gym in San Juan City, suburban Manila on Feb 7, 2022. (TED ALJIBE / AFP)


The Philippines reported 2,074 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday as the Southeast Asian country detected more cases of Omicron sub-variants, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 3,739,160.

The Department of Health (DOH) said the number of active cases rose further to 20,678.

DOH Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire told a press briefing that the DOH has detected over 900 additional cases with the Omicron BA.5, BA.4, and BA.2.12.1 sub-variants across the country.

"Most areas in the country show a continuous increase in cases with Metro Manila showing the steepest increase, now almost 900 cases per day," Vergeire said.

The Philippines tallies a daily average of over 2,000 cases. However, Vergeire said that most of the new COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

The COVID-19-related death toll remained unchanged at 60,641 on Wednesday.

Singapore Airlines stewardesses walk past a giant lollipop candy display at Changi International Airport in Singapore on April 1, 2022, as Singapore reopened its land and air borders to travelers fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. (ROSLOAN RAHMAN / AFP)


Singapore reported 10,293 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total tally to 1,626,360.

Of the new cases, 929 cases were detected through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and 9,364 through ART (antigen rapid test) tests, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health.

Among the PCR cases, 888 were local transmissions and 41 were imported cases. Among the ART cases with mild symptoms and assessed to be of low risk, there were 9,008 local transmissions and 356 imported cases.

Three new deaths were reported from COVID-19 on Wednesday, taking the death toll to 1,463, the ministry said.  

A man passes walks past a billboard on the coronavirus in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec 4, 2021. (NHAC NGUYEN / AFP)


Vietnam recorded 1,162 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up by 65 from Tuesday, according to its Ministry of Health.

The newly reported infections brought the total tally to 10,763,694. The country reported no new deaths from the pandemic on Wednesday, with the total fatalities staying at 43,091.

As of Wednesday, there were a total of 49 severe cases in need of assisted breathing in the Southeast Asian country, according to the ministry