Asia Minute

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It’s been nearly six months since Hawaii started its “Safe Travels” program, which now allows visitors on most islands to skip quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test. Other locations are more cautious with entry requirements, but some are considering easing certain restrictions. And that includes Thailand.

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Communities around the world are debating whether to ease certain restrictions as new cases of COVID-19 decline or stabilize. In the Philippines, that discussion has ended — at least for the time being.

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State health officials say vaccine distribution programs should be back on track this week following some disruptions because of severe winter weather on the continental United States. Overseas, this is a big week for vaccinations in two locations in the Asia Pacific that are just getting started with vaccine rollouts.

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Tourists are still trickling into Hawaii in relatively small numbers under the Safe Travels Program. That allows visitors with a negative Covid test to bypass quarantine. But another location in the Pacific is rampin gup a different kind of visitor program.

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Updated 2/18/21, 8:50 a.m.

Japan’s 2020 Olympics Committee has a new leader — a woman. Seiko Hashimoto is a seven-time Olympic Athlete who replaces a politician who resigned after making derogatory remarks about women. But that doesn’t end the controversy.

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The Biden Administration is sending more COVID-19 vaccines to states. While the supply remains uncertain, here in Hawaii and around the country, the shots remain voluntary. But's no longer the case in the largest country in Southeast Asia.

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An influential grouping of Pacific Islands is facing a crisis. The Pacific Islands Forum suffered a split last week, and its future is uncertain.

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Vaccinations for COVID-19 continue to go into arms around the state — although health officials would still like to have a bigger supply. Vaccine distribution is underway across most of Europe, and several other parts of the world. For parts of the Asia Pacific, that process still has not begun.

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President Joe Biden spent two hours on the phone this week with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Wednesday's wide-ranging talk covered both some areas of dispute and those with the potential for cooperation. The initial phone call between the two leaders came near the end of a busy week in the South China Sea.

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The United States is sanctioning the military leaders in Myanmar, following last week's coup. While political uncertainty continues in that country, protests are increasing in neighboring Thailand.

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The state Department of Health says more than 210,000 COVID-19 vaccines have now been distributed around Hawaii. Those shots continue with a combination of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines.

Elsewhere, other vaccines are in use, and that includes the country with the second-highest number of cases — trailing only the United States.

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The continuing pandemic has touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world — both directly and indirectly. Much less is known about its impact on animals. One capital city in the Asia Pacific is taking a step to learn more.

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Every new presidential administration brings a series of changes to federal positions ranging from cabinet secretaries to senior positions at the Pentagon, State Department and elsewhere. And a quiet announcement late last week drew some attention in the Asia Pacific.

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Starting today, visitors from South Korea can skip quarantine here if they have a negative COVID test from a trusted partner. These are challenging times for international travel, but tourism organizations in the Asia Pacific are still working on plans for the future.

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While progress continues with vaccines around the world, travel plans remain on hold for many. A major international business gathering planned for May in Southeast Asia is the latest to be postponed.

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Several locations in the Asia Pacific are extending restrictions related to the continuing pandemic. But the extent and timing of those actions vary, but governments are taking a cautious approach.

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One of the questions surrounding the pandemic is when students should return to in-classroom learning. The answers are mixed, both here in Hawaii and in places from Chicago to California. It's also a matter of debate in Thailand, where most classes are moving ahead this week.

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The Year of the Ox officially gets underway a week from Friday. But Lunar New Year celebrations start much earlier — especially in mainland China. And for the second year in a row, the coronavirus is the focus of attention.

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Starting next week, travelers from South Korea will be able to join Hawaii's Safe Travels program — allowing those with a negative COVID test from a "trusted partner" to skip any quarantine. That news comes as South Korea has just announced its next steps to fight the virus.

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An international think tank has released a new report ranking the response to the coronavirus pandemic by countries around the world. The list includes 98 locations. And while the United States comes in near the bottom of the list, half of the top ten are in the Asia Pacific.

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According to Johns Hopkins University, nearly 20 countries around the world have more than a million cases of COVID-19. The United States tops the list by far at more than 25 million cases. But the latest country to break a million is in Southeast Asia.

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Among the many locations dealing with rising cases of the coronavirus is Malaysia. The Southeast Asian country imposed some restrictions earlier this month, but a debate is underway about whether to take further steps.

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Every week, the fight against COVID-19 continues on many fronts — from wearing masks to distributing vaccines. In parts of Asia, one focus that's now less than a month away is the Lunar New Year. It's a traditional time for travel and large family gatherings, and one country is already starting to make some changes.

Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill / U.S. Army

The early days of the Biden Administration have been busy. One focus has been steps to control the pandemic and increase the distribution of vaccines. But a wide variety of other issues remain — including some with one of America's closest allies in the Asia Pacific.

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Travel figures are starting to come out for the full year of 2020, and they show the impact of the global collapse in air travel. The Hawaii Tourism Authority hasn't yet posted its year-end statistics, but there's news from major airports in the Asia Pacific.

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The "peaceful transfer of power" is an expression we've heard a lot leading up to today's inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. As President Biden begins his term, what does the state of political leadership look like around the Indo Asia Pacific?

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Japan's Prime Minister says safeguarding the country's hospital system is one of his top priorities. He made the comments to parliament Monday in an opening address that comes as the country is struggling with a growing spread of the coronavirus.

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The coronavirus pandemic has affected everything from life expectancy in the United States to economies around the world. It's even had a surprising impact on a particular activity in Southeast Asia: piracy.

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As coronavirus vaccines continue to roll out around the world, there's a growing focus on the differences among versions. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have a high rate of effectiveness. So does the Astra Zeneca version. But there's a bit more uncertainty with some vaccines coming from China.

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As planning continues for wider vaccinations across the state, that process is taking place around the world. That includes Indonesia, where authorities are taking a slightly different approach with a different vaccine.