(Reuters) -Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
UK coronavirus variant likely found in Hong Kong as city secures vaccine supplies
A new variant of the novel coronavirus spreading rapidly in Britain appears to have infected two students who returned to Hong Kong from the UK, Hong Kong’s Department of Health said on Wednesday as the city secured 22.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Virus samples from the two students who returned to Hong Kong in December appeared to match the British variant, but more analysis was needed, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, an agency under the Department of Health, told a news briefing.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said separately the government had secured 7.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and was seeking a fourth source to ensure adequate supply for the city’s 7.5 million residents. Hong Kong passed an emergency law to allow authorities to circumvent the normal regulation procedure to rush vaccines to residents, Lam said.
Hong Kong has already ordered 7.5 million doses of China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd’s and 7.5 million doses of Fosun Pharma-BioNTech’s vaccines. The first batch of one million vaccine doses from Sinovac is expected to be delivered to Hong Kong in January.
WHO meets over new variant; drugmakers expect to confirm vaccine effective against it
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called a meeting of members for Wednesday to discuss strategies to counter a new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain. A spokeswoman said the meeting was designed to help with information-sharing.
At least four drugmakers expect their COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against the new fast-spreading variant and are performing tests that should provide confirmation in a few weeks. The mutation known as the B.1.1.7 lineage may be up to 70% more infectious and more of a concern for children.
In the event that the variant presents vaccine developers with an unexpected challenge, an advantage of Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine is that scientists can quickly re-engineer genetic material in the shot to match that of the mutated protein, whereas modifying traditional vaccines would require extra steps.
Tropical Malaysia works to boost cold-storage, get more COVID-19 shots
Malaysia said on Wednesday it was talking with Pfizer and other companies to secure more COVID-19 vaccine doses to cover 83% of its population, and was drawing up plans to arrange ultra-cold storage in its tropical heat.
The Southeast Asian nation has so far got enough doses to inoculate 40% of its 32 million people, and has promised to spend $500 million to buy enough vaccines.
The government has a deal to buy 12.8 million doses of U.S. drugmaker Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot and is in talks to buy more doses to cover another fifth of the population, Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said. It was in final talks to secure 23.9 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd and CanSino Biologics, and from Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.
Malaysia, where temperatures average 30 degrees Celsius year-round, wants to ensure a distribution network that does not need to store vaccines for long, Khairy said. Pfizer’s vaccines need to be stored and transported at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94F), although they can be kept in a fridge for up to five days, or up to 15 days in a thermal shipping box.
Vaccine stirs rare hesitation in nearly virus-free Singapore
As Singapore prepares to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations, its striking success in controlling the virus is making some question whether they should take the jabs. In a city-state where compliance with the authorities is generally high, some Singaporeans fear potential side effects – even if minimal – are not worth the risk when daily cases are almost zero and fatalities are among the world’s lowest.
But the government is keen to open more of the economy with the help of the vaccine in a country dependent on travel and trade and preparing to host the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering next year.
To show the vaccine is safe, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, said he and his colleagues would be among the early recipients of the shots. They will be free, voluntary and given first to healthcare workers and the elderly. The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived this week and Singapore expects to have enough vaccines for all 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021.
(Compiled by Bernadette Baum and Kharishma Singh; Editing by Toby Chopra)