What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Long lines for testing for COVID-19 continue in California

(Reuters) - Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Dozens of firms to make cheap version of Merck COVID pill

A U.N.-backed agency has struck a deal for nearly 30 generic drugmakers to make low-cost versions of Merck & Co's COVID-19 pill molnupiravir for poorer nations, widening access to a drug seen as a weapon in fighting the pandemic.

The antiviral pill, which in December received emergency approval in the United States, reduces hospitalisations and deaths of high-risk patients by around 30%, according to clinical trial results.

Africa calls for donated vaccines with shelf life of 3 to 6 months

Africa's top public health bodies on Thursday called for donated COVID-19 vaccines to come with a shelf life of three to six months so countries could plan their rollouts and avoid a situation where doses expire.

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said 2.8 million doses of vaccine had expired on the continent, roughly 0.5% of the 572 million doses delivered to date.

Beijing city raises vigilance as local COVID cases tick higher

China's capital Beijing ramped up efforts to curb COVID-19 infections, ordering checks among cold-chain firms and urging residents to cut unnecessary gatherings, as the city reported an uptick in local cases weeks before the Winter Olympics.

Beijing had three domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms on Wednesday, including one previously reported as a local asymptomatic carrier for Jan. 18, according to local health authority data on Thursday.

Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from Monday until after the approaching Lunar New Year, authorities said, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools in the Chinese-ruled territory.

India's richest state set to reopen schools

India's wealthiest state Maharashtra will reopen schools next week, its education minister said on Thursday, as new cases of the Omicron variant fell sharply, even though it had the highest tally of infections nationwide.

Over the last 24 hours, India hit a fresh eight-month high with 317,532 new infections, while deaths rose by 491, close to this month's peak, although the figure included 85 from a previous wave in the southern state of Kerala.

Thailand to resume quarantine waiver for arrivals

Thailand will resume its 'Test & Go' quarantine waiver for vaccinated arrivals from Feb. 1, its coronavirus task force said on Thursday, in response to slowing COVID-19 infections.

The scheme was suspended a month ago after only seven weeks due to the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant and uncertainty about vaccine effectiveness against it.

France to unveil timetable for easing restrictions

France will unveil a timetable for easing COVID-19 restrictions later on Thursday, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, though he cautioned the wave of Omicron infections tearing through the country had not reached its peak.

Attal said France's new vaccine pass rules would help allow a softening of rules even as the incidence rate of infections continues to increase.

Austria adds a lottery to COVID vaccine mandate

Austria's conservative-led government said on Thursday it was introducing a national lottery to encourage holdouts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, hours before parliament was due to pass a bill introducing a national vaccine mandate.

Roughly 72% of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes)

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