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What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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South Korea extends social distancing rules
South Korea will extend social distancing rules with a ban on private gatherings of more than four people in a bid to stamp out the possibility of a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Friday.

Chung said the number of daily confirmed Covid cases had been frustratingly stagnant, hovering between 300 and 400 over the past eight weeks. The country reported 488 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, the highest in three weeks.

Urging vigilance, Biden tells U.S. states to speed up vaccinations
President Joe Biden directed U.S. states on Thursday to make all adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine by May 1. The White House is also seeking to expand the pool of people able to administer shots to include dentists, optometrists, paramedics, veterinarians and medical students.

In a forceful but sombre speech from the White House on the first anniversary of the pandemic lockdown, Biden said he was working to accelerate Covid-19 vaccinations to create a greater sense of normalcy by the July 4 Independence Day holiday.

Direct deposits from U.S. bill to come as early as this weekend
Direct deposits from the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday will hit people's bank accounts as early as this weekend, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The relief package is set to provide $400 billion in direct payments of $1,400 per person, helping individuals earning less than $80,000 annually and couples making less than $160,000. Nearly 160 million households are expected to get payments, according to White House estimates.

Auckland free of all restrictions
All remaining restrictions in New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, have been lifted after no locally transmitted cases of coronavirus were reported for two weeks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday.

Ardern imposed a seven-day lockdown on the city of 1.7 million after a cluster of cases was detected. The lockdown was eased earlier in the month but some restrictions were retained, including limits on large public gatherings under an alert level 2.

Novavax effective against original virus and British variant
Novavax Inc's Covid-19 vaccine was 96% effective in preventing cases caused by the original version of the coronavirus in a late-stage trial conducted in Britain, the company said on Thursday, moving it a step closer to regulatory approval.

The vaccine was 86% effective in protecting against the more contagious virus variant first discovered and now prevalent in the country.

Situation in Paris region very worrying, minister says
The Covid-19 situation in greater Paris is "especially worrying" and the government will take extra restrictive measures there if infections continue at their current pace, France's health minister said on Thursday.
In the Paris region, the number of people in ICU units is now close to 1,100 and could reach 1,500 by the end of March if the trend continues, Olivier Veran said, adding that level would be "critical" for the area's hospital system.

Europe clears J&J's single-shot Covid-19 vaccine
Europe approved Johnson & Johnson's single-dose Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday, paving the way for the first shots to be delivered in a month as the bloc seeks to speed up a stuttering inoculation campaign and boost its supplies.

The first shipments will start in the second half of April, the company said, adding it is committed to delivering at least 200 million doses to the EU this year. In its statement on Thursday, the European Medicines agency (EMA) said the vaccine was found to be 67% effective two weeks after inoculation.
(Reuters)

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