A woman wearing a face mask as protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walks past a mural dedicated to frontline workers, in Manila, Philippines. Image Credit: Reuters

A World Health Organization team looking into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic is set to arrive in China, after the country last week delayed its entry.

Malaysia's king declared a state of emergency, in a move that allows embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to avoid facing an election until the pandemic is over. South Korean cases remained below 1,000 for an eighth straight day, while India reported the lowest number of infections since June.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE raised their vaccine production target for this year to 2 billion shots, from 1.3 billion previously. U.S. daily vaccinations, which have been slow due to an uneven rollout, rose by a record 1.25 million.

Key Developments:

Australia to rely on doctors, drug stores 

Australia will rely on general practice doctors and drug stores to administer Covid-19 vaccines as the nation aims to inoculate its population this year. General practices and pharmacies will begin providing doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine in the second part of the first phase of Australia's program, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters. Hospitals will use Pfizer Inc.'s vaccine due to the requirement it be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, he said.

India sees lowest daily cases since June

India added 12,584 cases in a day, the lowest number since June 16. While the country has the second-highest number of cases in the world, with more than 10 million, it's seen daily infections gradually ease from a peak of nearly 100,000 in September.

Singapore to open vaccination centers

Singapore is setting up special centers to administer Covid-19 vaccinations daily to large groups of people, on top of allowing the jabs to be taken at clinics and other established health-care facilities. Those centers will be ready "soon," the city-state's chief health scientist Tan Chorh Chuan told The Straits Times in an interview.

Malaysia declares state of emergency 

Malaysia's king declared a state of emergency in the Southeast Asian nation, in a move that could allow the embattled government to delay elections as it tackles the worsening coronavirus pandemic. The move comes amid infighting within Malaysia's largest ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation, on whether or not to hold a snap election by March. UMNO is expected to make a final decision on the matter during its general assembly on Jan. 31.

New Zealand further tightens border measures

New Zealand will further tighten border measures to combat the global spread of more transmissible variants of the Covid-19 virus. From Jan 18, almost all people entering New Zealand will need to be tested for the virus within the first 24 hours of arrival, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in an emailed statement Tuesday in Wellington. Health officials are also putting in place requirements for almost all travelers to New Zealand to have a negative Covid-19 test withing 72 hours of their departure.

South Korea's new cases remain below 1,000

South Korea reported 537 new cases over the last 24 hours, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency's website. While the number is up from 451 the previous day, it's the eighth straight day infections have stayed below 1,000, indicating South Korea is making progress in taming its latest outbreak.

Sinovac shot's efficacy between 50-60%, UOL says 

The general efficacy of the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd. against coronavirus was between 50% and 60% in Brazil trials, website UOL reported citing unnamed people. Brazil's Butantan Institute, which has partnered with the Chinese firm to produce the shot, said ny information on the matter that isn't presented by the institute "is purely speculative." In a press conference last week, officials said the vaccine was 78% effective in preventing mild cases of Covid-19 and 100% effective against severe and moderate infections. It wasn't apparent how the Brazilian researchers calculated that efficacy rate.

Texas cases ease from record level

Texas continued to see lower levels of new coronavirus cases on Monday, after cases surged to a record in the past two weeks. The state reported 13,308 new cases, down from a record of more than 27,000 on Dec. 29 and near that again on Jan. 5.Hospitalizations remained high, with all but one of the state's 22 trauma service areas reporting capacity above 15%.

The state is using large hubs to distribute the bulk of its coronavirus vaccines, including one at Houston's Minute Maid Park, the baseball stadium where the Astros play. The 28 hub providers will receive 158,825 first doses of vaccine this week, the state health department said in an emailed release. An additional 38,300 doses will be distributed by other providers. Residents in all 254 Texas counties have received the vaccine.

Japan to declare emergency for Osaka 

The Japanese government will declare a state of emergency for Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures as soon as Wednesday in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, public broadcaster NHK reports, without attribution. Aichi and Gifu governments will also ask the central government as soon as today to declare emergencies in the prefectures, according to the report.

Portugal's president tests positive 

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tested positive for Covid-19 late on Monday but has no symptoms of the virus. Rebelo de Sousa, 72, will remain in self isolation and has canceled his agenda for the coming days, according to a statement posted on the presidency's website. Portugal on Monday reported the biggest daily increase in deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the outbreak.

California says hospitalizations are easing

California's virus hospitalizations are rising at a slower pace, offering a very cautious sign of optimism for the state's deeply strained health-care system, Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday. The 6% rise in hospitalizations over 14 days is "among the smallest increases we've seen over a two-week period in some time," he said at a briefing.T he slowdown may be the effect of stay-at-home orders or an early signal that holiday gatherings weren't as bad as feared, Health Secretary Mark Ghaly said. Still, he warned that cases from Christmas and New Year's are still being reported.

South Africa tightens up, to buy more shots 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended a prohibition on alcohol sales, restricted cross-border travel and announced plans to buy millions of additional vaccines as hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases. The country will remain on virus alert level 3, and the alcohol ban that was introduced on Dec. 28 and was due to end on Jan. 15 will remain in place, Ramaphosa said in a nationally televised address. All land-border posts will be closed to most travelers until Feb. 15, public gatherings other than funerals won't be allowed, and a nationwide curfew will be enforced from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., he said.

US lawmaker gets Covid, blames colleaguesS

US Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat and lung-cancer survivor, has tested positive for Covid-19. Watson Coleman, 75, of Ewing, believes she was exposed after sheltering with several maskless colleagues during last week's storming of the U.S. Capitol, according to a statement from her office. She said she received a positive rapid test Monday and is awaiting the results of PCR testing. She previously received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine when it was made available to all Congress members.

WHO says origin studies to ebgin in Wuhan

A World Health Organization team of scientists is commencing a long-delayed trip to China to engage in and review scientific research with Chinese counterparts on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. China said the team would arrive this week.

Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus complained about China's delay in granting visas to the team. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's emergencies program, said in the briefing that the investigations in China may lead to the need to make further inquiries in other countries, and emphasized it's not about finding someone to blame, but about finding the scientific answers about that animal-human interface.

Separately, a WHO team is in China working with producers of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines to assess compliance with international quality-manufacturing practices ahead of a potential emergency-use listing. WHO officials also said they're confident the rollout in lower-income countries can begin in February, though added a lot depends on country readiness and companies supplying doses.

J&J to submit south African trial data

Johnson & Johnson's preliminary data from the South African arm of a phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial will be ready for submission to U.S. regulators by Jan. 21, according to the head of the country's Medical Research Council.

The timing ties in with the U.S. drug giant's statement that interim data from the late-stage trial it is conducting in a number of countries is expected by the end of this month. If the data show the one-dose vaccine to be safe and effective, J&J will approach U.S. regulators for an emergency use authorization in February, and "other health regulatory applications around the world will be made in parallel," according to the company.

NYC eyes 1 million doses by month-end

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reaffirmed his goal of doling out 1 million Covid-19 doses by the end of January. He said New York reached its goal of vaccinating 100,000 people last week and plans to administer 175,000 doses by the end of the week. He said 55,000 appointments have already been scheduled.

A number of city officials criticized what they said was the confusing nature of vaccine appointments, particularly for older patients who struggle to use online scheduling systems. De Blasio said the city was opening up a telephone hot line for people to make appointments starting on Monday. He said New York currently has 160 sites and will be expanding sites and availability. If people show up without an appointment, he said people will be on hand to help them make a later appointment.