What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: People queue at a nucleic acid test street booth outside a closed loop area designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China

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

13 new cases among Olympics Games-related personnel

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee said on Wednesday that a total of 13 new COVID-19 cases were detected among Games-related personnel on Jan. 25. Nine of the cases were found among new airport arrivals, according to a notice on the Beijing 2022 official website.

Four others were among those already in the "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel from the public, the notice said. None of the new cases on Jan. 25 were athletes or team officials.

U.S. considers allowing diplomats to leave China over COVID rules

The U.S. State Department is weighing whether to authorise departures for American diplomats and their families in China who wish to leave due to the U.S. government's inability to prevent Chinese authorities from subjecting them to pandemic control measures including possible forced admittance to COVID fever clinics and separation from children, sources said on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

One person said the U.S. Embassy conducted an internal survey showing that as many as 25% of staff and family members would choose to leave China as soon as possible.

Home quarantine for diplomats should be a baseline requirement, and admission to Chinese fever clinics and hospitals should be voluntary, the person said, adding that the U.S. government should have imposed retaliatory measures for such requirements but failed to do so.

S.Korea's daily new COVID count exceeds 13,000 for 1st time

South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases exceeded 13,000 for the first time, data showed on Wednesday, while the government sought to revise its COVID-19 response to focus on the highly contagious but less-lethal Omicron variant.

"Going forward, our top priority is to reduce critically ill patients and deaths," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told an inter-ministry meeting.

A new testing policy has taken effect in four designated cities on a pilot basis, under which only priority groups can take a polymerase chain reaction test while others should get a rapid antigen test first at a local clinic.

English COVID study finds record prevalence in January

An English COVID study reported record prevalence in January after an Omicron-fuelled spike in infections, Imperial College London said on Wednesday, adding that infections had dropped back from their peak but were now plateauing.

England will on Thursday ditch mask mandates and vaccine passes introduced to slow the spread of Omicron. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has credited the success of Britain's booster rollout and the lower severity of the variant as he aims to live with COVID.

Japan's border crackdown leaves students in limbo

Two years after Japan locked down its borders to block the coronavirus, some 150,000 foreign students still are not able to enter the country, left in limbo by a policy that has disrupted lives and caused headaches for universities and businesses.

Many countries sealed borders to keep the coronavirus at bay, but Japan stands out with the strictest borders among Group of Seven countries, effectively banning all new non-residents since March 2020.

The absence of the foreign students and researchers is being felt from big laboratories to small, private universities, highlighting the importance of overseas talent - and their tuition fees - as Japan grapples with a shrinking population.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Himani Sarkar)