What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a medical syringe and a small bottle labelled "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine

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

Valneva expands trials on vaccine candidate

French vaccine maker Valneva is expanding trials of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate called VLA2001, and remains in talks with the European Commission over a potential contract, the company said on Thursday.

Valneva's vaccine candidate, which relies on an inactivated virus similar to flu vaccines, is seen by some as having the potential to win over people wary of vaccines that use new mRNA technology.

India likely to allow export of Sputnik Light shot this month

India is likely to allow exports of domestically produced doses of Russia's Sputnik Light COVID-19 vaccine this month, as the shot has yet to be approved for use in India, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Local media have reported that Indian drugmaker Hetero has already manufactured 2 million doses of the single-shot vaccine, for whose approval the country's drug regulator has sought a separate "immune-bridging clinical trial" in its residents.

"Light is not an approved vaccine in India and stocks are available. There's pressure on the government to export," said one of the sources.

U.S. FDA clears Pfizer booster for older and at-risk Americans

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for those 65 and older, all people at high risk of severe disease, and others who are regularly exposed to the virus.

The decision paves the way for a quick rollout of booster shots as soon as this week for millions of people who had their second dose of the vaccine at least six months ago.

Alaska, which led most U.S. states in coronavirus vaccinations months ago, took the drastic step on Wednesday of imposing crisis-care standards for its entire hospital system, declaring that a crushing surge in COVID-19 patients has forced rationing of strained medical resources.

Thailand seeks to slash quarantine period for visitors

Thailand's disease control committee has proposed a halving of a two-week hotel isolation requirement for vaccinated arrivals, amid delays in plans to waive quarantine and reopen Bangkok and tourist destinations from next month.

Thailand is keen to welcome back foreign visitors, after nearly 18 months of strict entry policies caused a collapse in tourism, a key sector that drew 40 million visitors in 2019.

"Reducing the quarantine is not only about tourism but will help business travel and foreign students," senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference, adding that tests would also be required.

Melbourne anti-lockdown protests fizzle

Melbourne's streets were largely quiet on Thursday after three days of anti-lockdown protests, with hundreds of police officers on patrol in the city to prevent another rally as COVID-19 cases in Victoria hit a daily pandemic record.

Police in central Melbourne were checking people's reasons for being outside, footage on social media showed, after a violent protest on Wednesday in Australia's second-largest city resulted in more than 200 arrests.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90%-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes)

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