The Latest: Japan to purchase antibody cocktail for COVID-19

TOKYO — Japan’s government said Monday that it has agreed to purchase an antibody cocktail to be produced and marketed for COVID-19 treatment by a Japanese drug maker Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. which has a licensing deal with Roche.

Chugai Pharmaceutical concluded the agreement with Roche in December for the production and marketing in Japan of the antibody cocktail for the virus treatment.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Monday that the government concluded the agreement with Chugai over the purchase of enough doses through March 2022 once the drug, now at final stages of clinical testing in Japan, is approved by the health ministry.

The antibody cocktail developed by Roche and a U.S. drug maker Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. was approved for emergency use in the United States for the treatment of high-risk, non-hospitalized patients with mild cases. Clinical testing started in Japan in March and if approved, it will be a new effective addition to Japan’s COVID-19 treatment, Kato said.

A cocktail of two virus neutralizing antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab are synthetically manufactured copies of antibodies that the body produces after an infection. It was given to U.S. President Donald Trump when he contracted the disease in October.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— In coastal Senegal, beginning of the fishing season renews hope for industry ravaged by COVID-19

— While wealthier nations stockpile vaccines, some of the poorest countries have yet to receive any, even for medical staff

— Joyful reunions among vaccinated parents and children marked this year’s Mother’s Day

Concert advocating vaccine equity pulls in $302 million, exceeding its goal

Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ANCHORAGE — Officials in Anchorage have reported that the city sewer system is clogging up because people are flushing wipes and other items.

It’s problem that’s been made worse by the pandemic because people spend more time at home. Alaska’s News Source reported that Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility spokesperson Sandy Baker said up to 6,000 pounds of wipes have entered the sewer system in Anchorage daily since the pandemic started.

The wipes can block pipes and cause sewage to back up into residents’ homes. Baker said part of the problem is that many brands of wipes claim to be flushable, but are not because they don’t break down.

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has dedicated his weekly letter to the nation to the issue of waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, saying it’s “necessary at this time” and “in direct response to an emergency.”

Ramaphosa’s message reflects his country’s hope that the waiver, first proposed by South Africa and India, may still happen despite opposition from nations like Germany.

Ramaphosa writes that the Biden Administration’s support for a waiver has given negotiations at the World Trade Organization “added momentum.” He compares the vaccine IP waiver issue to South Africa’s eventually successful fight two decades ago to ease IPs on life-saving antiretroviral drugs during the HIV/Aids crisis.

“And once again, South Africa is waging a struggle that puts global solidarity to the test,” Ramaphosa wrote.

European Union leaders have doubted the immediate benefit of a waiver of IPs on COVID-19 vaccines, saying many less developed countries, particularly in Africa, don’t have the capacity to manufacture vaccines even if the waiver is achieved.

Ramaphosa writes that South Africa is one of five countries in Africa with vaccine production capacity and a waiver would enable them to “bolster global vaccine manufacturing for COVID-19 and other major diseases.”

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s leader says the whole country will be placed under a near lockdown for a month from Wednesday, but all economic sectors will be allowed to operate.

The announcement came as a surprise as movement restrictions are already in place in parts of Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur and the richest state of Selangor. It also comes amid public criticism against the government’s haphazard and inconsistent measures to deal with the pandemic.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Monday tougher action was needed to battle a new aggressive wave of outbreaks before it turns into a national crisis. Daily coronavirus cases have been rising in recent weeks, pushing Malaysia’s tally up three-fold since January to over 444,000.

All education institutions will be shut, except kindergartens. No dine-in is allowed in restaurants, and only three people are allowed in a private vehicle. Muhyiddin said all economic sectors can operate during the lockdown until June 7 but at reduced capacity. Malaysia last imposed a national lockdown last year that halted all economic activities and dealt a blow to its economy.

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BUCHAREST — At Dracula’s castle in picturesque Transylvania, Romanian doctors are offering a jab in the arm rather than a stake through the heart.

A COVID-19 vaccination center has been set up on the periphery of Romania’s Bran Castle, which is purported to be the inspiration behind Dracula’s home in Bram Stoker’s 19th-century gothic novel “Dracula.”

Every weekend through May “vaccination marathons” will be held just outside the storied 14th-century hilltop castle, where no appointment is needed, in an attempt to encourage people to protect themselves against COVID-19.

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BERLIN — A large German health insurance provider says the number of days working-age people called in sick during the first three months of 2021 hit a 13-year low as hygiene and distancing rules prevented the spread of other illnesses.

The Techniker Krankenkasse said Monday that the rate of absence among its clients during the first quarter was 3.8%, compared with 5.1% in the same period of 2020 and 4.8% the previous year.

Jens Baas, the company’s chairman, said the biggest drop in reported illnesses was for colds, but the wave of flu cases seen every February also didn’t happen.

“It shows that distancing and hygiene rules as well as limited possibilities for contact also prevented the spread of other causes of infection,” Baas said.

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KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities say the country’s largest vaccination center has been opened in the southern port city of Karachi to speed up the inoculation campaign against COVID-19.

The vaccination center, which was inaugurated Sunday, has the capacity to inoculate between 25,000 and 30,000 people daily.

Pakistan has vaccinated about 4 million people against coronavirus since March when China donated vaccines to this impoverished nation.

Pakistan is currently in the middle of a third wave of the pandemic.

Over the weekend it imposed a lockdown to force people to stay home during the Eid al-Fitr festival, which is celebrated at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Pakistan on Monday reported 78 deaths from coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a decrease.

Since last year, Pakistan has reported 18,993 deaths from COVID-19 among 861,473 cases.

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SYDNEY — An Australian judge has rejected a challenge to a temporary COVID-19 ban on citizens returning from India.

The government imposed the Indian travel ban on April 30 to relieve pressure on quarantine facilities for returned international travelers. The ban will be lifted on Friday.

Federal Court Justice Tom Thawley on Monday dismissed the first two parts of a four-pronged challenge to the ban initiated by 73-year-old Australian Gary Newman, who has been stranded since March last year in the Indian city of Bangalore.

The second two parts are based on constitutional grounds so require more notice for a court hearing than Newman’s application last week for an urgent hearing allowed.

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BERLIN — Germany is making the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine available to all adults as it did with the AstraZeneca vaccine, though the bulk of the expected deliveries is still some way off.

Germany has recommended the AstraZeneca shot mainly for over-60s because of a rare type of blood clot seen in an extremely small number of recipients. But amid a push to get as many people inoculated as possible, the government decided to allow doctors’ offices to vaccinate any adults with it — putting aside a priority system under which the oldest and most vulnerable have been vaccinated first.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said authorities decided Monday to take the same approach with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, about which there are similar concerns. He estimated that 5 to 6 million over-60s in Germany still need to be vaccinated and that should be concluded by early June.

Spahn said the largest deliveries from Johnson & Johnson, more than 10 million doses, are expected in June or July.

Germany has now given nearly one-third of the population at least one vaccine shot.

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TOKYO — Japan’s leader insisted Monday that the country can host the Summer Olympics safely despite repeated questions from opposition lawmakers asking him to explain how that’s possible and consider canceling the event.

Concerns are rising about the ability of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government to infections under control ahead of the Olympics, which start in just over two months. Suga decided Friday to extend a state of emergency in Tokyo until May 31 and expand the measure to six prefectures from the current four.

Japan logged about 7,000 new cases Saturday, a highest since mid-January.

Opposition lawmakers on Monday asked if Suga is determined to hold the Olympics even if coronavirus infections soar. The prime minister repeated that his role is to do his utmost to ensure the health and safety of all during the July 23-Aug. 8 games.

“I have never put the Olympics first,” Suga said. “We will do everything we can to provide safety for athletes and other participants, while protecting the lives and health of the Japanese people.”

Suga added he arranged for Pfizer to donate its vaccine for athletes via the IOC, which would contribute to holding the games safely.

Public calls for a cancellation have been on the rise. An online petition calling for the Olympics to be canceled has gained more than 300,000 signatures in a week. A weekend survey by Japan’s largest newspaper showed about 60% of the respondents calling for a cancellation.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has announced it will bar airline passengers arriving from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka starting May 12 until further notice, as concern mounts over a virus variant spreading in India.

The statement on the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency said anyone who has been in those Southeast Asian nations over the past two weeks are also forbidden from entering the country. They must first spend 14 days in another country before being allowed to enter the UAE.

Emirati citizens, diplomats and a few others are exempt from the restrictions as long as they get tested on arrival and quarantine for 10 days in the UAE.

Already, the UAE has halted all flights to and from India over the dramatic virus outbreak there. The decisions have a major impact on residents of seven sheikhdoms, home to millions of foreign workers from India, Pakistan and the other nations.

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BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it plans to create a state-of-the-art manufacturing site for its mRNA-based vaccines and other drugs in Singapore.

The company, which developed the first widely used coronavirus vaccine together with U.S. partner Pfizer, said Monday that it is also establishing a regional headquarters for Southeast Asia in the city-state.

BioNTech said the new manufacturing facility will boost the regional and global supply capacity of its products and ensure a rapid response to potential pandemic threats in the region.

The site, which could be operational by 2023, will have the capacity to produce “several hundred of million doses of mRNA-based vaccines depending on the specific vaccine,” the company said.

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BRUSSELS — There were 16,000 excess deaths recorded in Belgium last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country’s Federal Planning Bureau.

In a statement Monday, the office said the 2020 excess mortality —a term which refers to the number of deaths from all causes during a crisis — was largely a result of the COVID-19 health crisis.

“These 16,000 people lost a combined 124,000 years of life, given their life expectancy, or an average of 7.7 years per person,” the bureau said.

More than 24,500 people have died from coronavirus-related causes in Belgium, a country with 11.5-million inhabitants that has been among the most battered by the deadly virus in Europe.