What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

FILE PHOTO: A bus driver in a protective face mask drives through the city centre during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, September 30, 2021.  REUTERS/Loren Elliott
FILE PHOTO: A bus driver in a protective face mask drives through the city centre during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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

Merck pill cuts risk of death, hospitalization by 50%

Merck & Co's experimental oral drug for COVID-19, molnupiravir, reduced by around 50% the chance of hospitalization or death for patients at risk of severe disease, according to interim clinical trial results announced on Friday.

Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics plan to seek U.S. emergency use authorization for the pill as soon as possible, and to submit applications to regulatory agencies worldwide. Due to the positive results, the Phase 3 trial is being stopped early at the recommendation of outside monitors.

Australia to ease international border restrictions

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced an 18-month ban on Australians travelling abroad will be lifted from next month, easing one of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions imposed globally.

Reopening the international border for citizens and permanent residents will be linked to the establishment of home quarantine in Australia's eight states and territories, Morrison said, meaning that some parts of the country will reopen sooner than others.

New Zealand logged 19 more cases of the highly infectious Delta coronavirus variant on Friday - all in Auckland, making it highly likely that the country's biggest city will continue to be sealed off even if some restrictions are eased next week.

England's COVID-19 prevalence increases

The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England increased in the week ending Sept 25, Britain's Office for National Statistics said on Friday, led by an increase in infections in school-age children.

Schools in England have been open for around a month, and some epidemiologists have highlighted concern about rising cases among children, although it is yet to translate into a sustained increase in infections for the population more broadly.

COVAX to send shots only to least covered nations

A global scheme designed to ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines will this month for the first time distribute shots only to countries with the lowest levels of coverage, the World Health Organization said.

Co-led by the WHO, COVAX has since January largely allocated doses proportionally among its 140-plus beneficiary states according to population size.

Japan's restaurants, bars welcome back drinkers

Typhoon winds and rain dampened what might have been a more celebratory mood in Tokyo on Friday, as restaurants were allowed to sell alcohol and stay open later following the lifting of the latest state of emergency.

Japan is cautiously easing restrictions that have prevailed across much of the nation for almost six months. New COVID cases in Tokyo totalled 200 on Friday, a sharp drop from more than 5,000 a day in August amid a fifth wave driven by the Delta variant that brought the medical system to the brink.

Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co said on Friday that "human error" caused metal contaminants to get into Moderna vaccine doses, leading to a recall.

Get someone jabbed and get a gift token, Swiss say

Switzerland is offering gift certificates to people who persuade others to be jabbed against COVID-19, the government said on Friday, part of efforts to increase the country's low vaccination rate.

Every newly vaccinated person will be asked to name one person who convinced them to be inoculated, the government said, with that person receiving a 50 Swiss franc ($53.68) gift token for their assistance.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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