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What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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U.S. nears 500,000 deaths
The United States faces a dark milestone this week despite a recent decline in Covid-19 cases as it prepares to mark half a million deaths, with President Joe Biden planning to memorialize the lives lost.

"It's nothing like we've ever been through in the last 102 years since the 1918 influenza pandemic. ... It really is a terrible situation that we've been through - and that we're still going through," Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Covid-19 medical adviser, told CNN's "State of the Union" program.

The president along with first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will observe a moment of silence on Monday and there will be a candle-lighting ceremony at sundown.

Merkel proposes 3-stage plan to lift curbs
German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants a staggered plan to lift pandemic-linked restrictions that is linked to increased testing, she told a meeting of her Christian Democrats leadership committee according to two participants.

Merkel wants to reopen parts of society in three stages, starting with expanding the number of personal contacts, followed by schools and vocational schools, and then sports groups, restaurants and culture.

She told the meeting it was important that steps to lift restrictions did not lead to renewed setbacks by causing virus variants to spread further.

Johnson to plot path out of lockdown
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will plot a path out of lockdown on Monday in an effort to gradually reopen the battered economy, aided by one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world.

With more than 120,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world's fifth-highest official death toll from the pandemic and its biggest economic crash in more than 300 years.

But a fast start to the vaccine rollout plus a near-two month tough national lockdown means Johnson can now set out a phased easing of the restrictions, prioritising a return to schools and social mixing outdoors.

Australia begins mass vaccination
Australia on Monday began its mass vaccine programme with frontline healthcare staff and senior citizens getting the first doses as the country looked set to report no local cases for the third straight day.

A group of 20 that included Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday received the first shots of the vaccine while the broader rollout started Monday morning with authorities expected to administer more than 60,000 doses by the end of the week.

"Today is a real milestone in our collective response to tackle Covid-19 and bring things as rapidly under control as we can," said Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd.

Strike threat by South Korean doctors
Doctors in South Korea have threatened a protest strike against legislation to strip them of licences following criminal convictions, sparking fears about possible disruption of a vaccination effort set to begin this week.

Healthcare workers are scheduled to receive the first batch of AstraZeneca's vaccine from Friday, as South Korea looks to protect 10 million high-risk people by July, on its way to reaching herd immunity by November.

But over the weekend, the Korean Medical Association, the largest grouping of doctors, said it would go on strike if parliament passed a bill to revoke the licences of doctors getting jail terms.

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