What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a throat swab test at a street booth as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues in Beijing, China, January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a throat swab test at a street booth as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues in Beijing, China, January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

(Reuters) - Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Asia's COVID deaths surpass 1 million

Asia passed the milestone of 1 million coronavirus-linked deaths on Friday, a Reuters tally showed, as a spike in Omicron variant infections spreads across the region after starting in nations such as Japan and South Korea.

The death toll in Asia, home to more than half the world's population, reached 1,000,045, contributing 16% of global deaths related to COVID-19, the tally showed.

China's daily local COVID cases top 1,000

Mainland China reported over 1,000 new COVID-19 infections in dozens of cities, the highest daily count in about two years, with the Omicron variant forcing a northeastern city to go under lockdown and the financial hub Shanghai to close schools.

The reported daily count of China's local cases, the highest since the initial nationwide outbreak in early 2020, is much smaller than many others outside China, but the growing number could complicate Beijing's "dynamic-clearance" ambition to suppress contagion as quickly as possible.

China on Friday said it would for the first time allow the general public to use rapid COVID-19 antigen tests that do not need medical workers to take samples as it steps up efforts to ensure infections are identified at an early stage.

Hong Kong leader urges vaccinations as infections swamp city

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Friday that the city's COVID-19 vaccination programme would focus on its elderly and children, as authorities battled to reduce a surge of coronavirus infections and climbing death rates.

Health authorities reported 29,381 new infections and 196 deaths on Friday. In total since early 2020, the global financial hub has recorded almost 650,000 COVID-19 infections and about 3,500 deaths - most of them in the past two weeks.

Panic buying in Hong Kong due to fears of a new lockdown has hit the city's refugees particularly hard because they can only spend their food allowance in supermarkets that regularly run out of supplies, aid workers and refugees say.

Kenya lifts remaining COVID restrictions

Kenya lifted its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, including a ban on large indoor gatherings such as religious services and a requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test for arriving air passengers.

Though Kenyans should continue heeding public health measures such as handwashing and social distancing, face masks are no longer mandatory in public and all quarantine measures for confirmed cases are halted with immediate effect, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe told a news conference.

Valneva now expects recommendation on COVID vaccine by April

Valneva now expects a positive recommendation from the European Medicines Agency in April for its VLA2001 COVID-19 candidate vaccine, the French vaccine maker said on Friday, compared to an earlier target for the end of March.

"Following such conditional approval, the company would expect to start delivering planned doses of VLA2001 to European countries in the second quarter of 2022," said Valneva.

Japan's Fujifilm to halt enrolment in Avigan trial

A drug once hailed as Japan's biggest contribution in the global fight against COVID-19 suffered another setback on Friday, as Fujifilm Holdings said it was halting enrolment in a clinical trial of the pill, Avigan.

The emergence of the Omicron variant, which usually causes milder infections, made it tough to determine the drug's effectiveness in preventing severe symptoms, the company said in a statement.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Alison Williams)

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