What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks walk on a street, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Shanghai

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

New COVID variant triggers global alarm

Global authorities reacted with alarm to a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, with the EU and Britain among those tightening border controls as researchers sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.

Hours after Britain banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries and asked travellers returning from there to quarantine, the World Health Organization cautioned against hasty measures.

Britain said the variant was of huge concern, and considered by scientists to be the most significant one yet found as it could make vaccines less effective.

BioNTech, the inventor of the western world's most widely used COVID-19 vaccine, said it expects more laboratory data on the variant within two weeks to help determine whether the biotech firm's shot would have to be reworked.

South Africa said the British ban on flights from six southern African countries seemed rushed, as European authorities prepared similar moves..

Israel imposed a travel ban covering most of Africa.

Top U.S. infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci said that a ban on flights from southern Africa was a possibility and the United States was rushing to gather data on the new variant.

India set to resume overseas flights

India said on Friday it will resume international passenger flights from mid-December with COVID-19 linked curbs for "at risk" countries and ordered tightened screening at borders.

German air force to transfer COVID patients

Germany readied its air force to transfer COVID-19 patients from overwhelmed hospitals in the south as national case numbers rocketed.

The country posted a dip in the infection rate over the summer but cases have risen sharply in recent weeks and daily new infections hit a record above 76,000 on Friday.

Netherlands to impose new COVID measures

The Dutch government was set to announce new measures on Friday including early closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of infections that is threatening to overwhelm the healthcare system.

Belgium seeks to curb social life

Belgium brought in new restrictions on Friday such as the closure of nightclubs and an earlier close for bars and restaurants to reduce social contact.

Portugal reimposes rules

Portugal, which has one of the world's highest rates of vaccination against COVID-19, announced it would reimpose restrictions, ordering all passengers flying into the country to show a negative test certificate on arrival.

Shanghai cuts tourism

A handful of local COVID-19 cases in eastern parts of China have prompted Shanghai to limit tourism activities and a nearby city to cut public transport, as China insists on zero tolerance against letting clusters spread.

Merck's pill shows lower efficacy in updated data

Merck & Co said on Friday updated data from the study of its experimental COVID-19 pill showed lower efficacy in reducing the risk of hospitalisation and deaths than an earlier interim analysis, cutting them by 30% in the study.

The drugmaker released interim data in October showing a roughly 50% reduction in hospitalisations and deaths in 775 patients.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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