What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

Dec 30 (Reuters) - Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Britain first to approve AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine

Britain on Wednesday became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca as it battles a winter surge driven by a highly contagious variant of the virus.

Britain has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, and the government said it had accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to grant emergency authorisation.

The approval is vindication of a shot seen as essential for mass immunisations in the developing world, as well as in Britain, but one that has been dogged by questions about its trial data that make it unlikely to be approved quickly in the European Union or the United States.

U.S. detects first case of COVID-19 variant

The first known U.S. case of the highly infectious coronavirus variant discovered in Britain was detected in Colorado on Tuesday as President-elect Joe Biden warned it could take years for most U.S. citizens to be vaccinated at current distribution rates.

Biden’s prediction of a grim winter appeared aimed at lowering public expectations that the pandemic would be over soon after he takes office on Jan. 20, while putting Congress on notice that he wants to significantly increase spending to expedite vaccine distribution, expand coronavirus testing and help reopen schools.

Biden said about 2 million people have received the initial dose of one of two newly approved two-dose vaccines, well short of the 20 million that outgoing Republican President Donald Trump had promised by year’s end.

Sinopharm’s vaccine 79% effective

An affiliate of China’s state-owned drug maker Sinopharm said on Wednesday its vaccine showed 79.34% efficacy and it has requested regulatory approval, moving a step closer to becoming China’s first approved vaccine for general public use.

The efficacy rate is lower than the 86% rate for the same vaccine announced by the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 9, based on preliminary data from trials there.

A spokeswoman declined to explain the discrepancy and said detailed results would be released later, without giving a timeline.

Tokyo governor warns of possible explosion in cases

Tokyo’s coronavirus outbreak is severe and could explode, just as Japan begins its New Year’s holiday period, in which millions of people usually move around the country, the city’s governor said on Wednesday.

The capital recorded 944 new cases on Wednesday, just under the record 949 recorded on Saturday, and medical officials said that, unless the outbreak is checked, the city could soon see more than 1,000 new patients a day.

“Please emphasise life over fun,” Governor Yuriko Koike told a news conference.

Philippine president’s guards used ‘smuggled’ vaccines

The Philippine defence minister said on Wednesday that unapproved COVID-19 vaccines given to President Rodrigo Duterte’s military security detail had been smuggled into the country, but called the move justified.

News of the special troop unit being inoculated as early as September has caused a stir among activists, with the Food and Drug Administration yet to approve any vaccine and no set timeline for when health workers would receive one.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said members of the Presidential Security Group obtained the vaccine without government authorisation and had administered them without his knowledge. (Compiled by Linda Noakes; editing by Barbara Lewis)