NEW DELHI -- India has started shipping covid-19 vaccines to numerous cities, four days ahead of a nationwide inoculation drive.
The first consignment of vaccines developed by the Serum Institute of India left the city of Pune on Tuesday. The vaccines rolled out from Serum Institute of India's facility in temperature-controlled trucks to the airport where they were loaded into private air carriers for distribution all over the country.
Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri called the shipping of vaccines a "momentous mission."
Beginning Saturday, India will start the undertaking of inoculating an estimated 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers. The effort will then turn to inoculating around 270 million people who are either older than 50 or have secondary health conditions that raise their risks of dying from covid-19.
The first vaccine shipments contain the Covishield vaccine made by the Serum Institute and developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
India's drug regulator has also approved for emergency use a homegrown vaccine, Bharat Biotech's Covaxin. Medical groups and others have raised concern about the drug being approved with scant evidence of its effectiveness. It's still unclear when and where Covaxin will be distributed.
India has the second-most coronavirus infections in the world, after the U.S. It has confirmed more than 10.4 million cases and over 150,000 deaths.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region, the small Pacific nation of Micronesia reported its first case of the coronavirus after a crew member on an arriving ship tested positive. In an address to the nation, President David Panuelo said many people had heard the "alarming news" but the case has been contained at the border.
Panuelo said one crew member aboard the government ship Chief Mailo had tested positive when the ship returned from the Philippines after more than a year of dry dock repairs. He said the crew member has been isolated on board, that all other crew members remain on board, and that law enforcement authorities are monitoring the ship daily. Micronesia, home to 100,000 people, had been among just a few nations to have avoided the virus altogether.
New Zealand will soon require that travelers from most countries show negative coronavirus tests before they leave for New Zealand. Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand is in a fortunate position to have stamped out community spread of the virus but takes nothing for granted. The new rules will require travelers to have a negative test within 72 hours of departure.
The rules will be imposed on travelers from the U.S. and the U.K. from Friday and most other countries soon after. Travelers from Australia and some Pacific nations will be exempted. In addition to the test requirement, New Zealand will continue to place new arrivals in mandatory two-week quarantine at the border.
Indonesia has received the raw materials to begin making 15 million doses of Sinovac's covid-19 vaccine. The materials will be stored at cold temperatures before being sent to state-owned PT Bio Farma in Bandung, West Java, which Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikit said will process them within a month.
Indonesia's Food and Drug Authority gave emergency approval to Sinovac's vaccine Monday. The first two batches of the vaccine, which were fully produced by the Chinese company, will be distributed beginning this week. "The government brought this third batch to add the number of the vaccine that will be distributed to the public," covid-19 task force chief Doni Monardo said. Indonesia has recorded 836,000 cases and 24,000 deaths from covid-19.
Meanwhile, the African Union has secured close to 300 million vaccine doses in the largest such agreement yet for Africa, a continental official said Tuesday.
Nicaise Ndembi, senior science adviser for the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the current African Union chairman, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, is expected to announce the news today.
The 300 million doses are being secured independently of the global Covax effort aimed at distributing vaccines to lower-income countries, Ndembi said.
"We have reached the final stage of our deals," he said, referring questions about who will be providing the vaccines and at what cost to the upcoming announcement.
While richer countries have been urged to donate any excess vaccine doses to countries in need, Ndembi said that "the Africa [disease prevention agency is] not going to table to beg for vaccines. We're going to the table to buy. ... All these doses I mentioned have been procured and [are] being paid for."
Information for this article was contributed by Cara Anna of The Associated Press.