(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
Indian variant spreads around globe
India’s tally of coronavirus infections climbed past 24 million on Friday, amid reports flowed that the highly transmissible variant first detected there was spreading around the globe.
The Indian B.1.617 variant has been found in eight nations in the Americas, including Canada and the United States, said Jairo Mendez, an infectious diseases expert with the World Health Organization.
Britain will adapt its vaccine rollout to protect people more quickly in areas where the Indian variant has emerged, the vaccine minister said on Friday.
Nearly half the 150 passengers booked on Australia’s first repatriation flight from India were barred from boarding on Friday, after they or their close contacts tested positive.
Lab leak theory cannot be ruled out
The origin of the novel coronavirus is still unclear and the theory that it was caused by a laboratory leak needs to be taken seriously until there is a rigorous data-led investigation that proves it wrong, a group of leading scientists said.
“More investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic,” said the 18 scientists, including Ravindra Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, and Jesse Bloom, who studies the evolution of viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable,” the scientists said in a letter to the journal Science.
Singapore brings in strictest curbs since lockdown
Singapore announced on Friday the strictest curbs on social gatherings and public activities since easing a lockdown last year, amid a rise in locally acquired infections and with new coronavirus clusters forming in recent weeks.
The new measures announced by the health ministry, which will be in force from Sunday to mid June, include limiting social gatherings to two people and ceasing dining in at restaurants.
“This is clearly a setback in our fight against COVID-19,” said Lawrence Wong, the minister for education who co-chairs Singapore’s coronavirus taskforce.
Japan adds 3 prefectures to state of emergency
Japan said on Friday it would declare a state of emergency in three more prefectures hit hard by the pandemic, in a surprise move reflecting growing concerns about the virus’s spread.
The latest state of emergency declarations would come as Japan grapples with a surge of a more infectious strain of COVID-19 just 10 weeks before the Tokyo Olympics are due to start.
Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima will join Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures on Sunday under a state of emergency until May 31.
Taiwan community transmissions spread
Taiwan reported a record rise in domestic COVID-19 cases on Friday with 29 new infections, as community transmissions in part of central Taipei spread and the government called for people to be tested.
While Taiwan has reported just 1,291 cases, mostly imported from abroad, a recent small rise in domestic infections has spooked a population long used to the island’s relative safety.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told a news conference that of the 29 new domestic infections many were connected with an outbreak in Taipei’s Wanhua district, an often gritty area of old temples, trendy shops and hostess bars.
(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Giles Elgood)