What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

Jan 4 (Reuters) - Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

UK first to roll out AstraZeneca shots

Britain began vaccinating its population with Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot on Monday in a world first, as a new surge of cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals.

Britain touted a scientific “triumph” that puts it at the vanguard of the West as dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person to get the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot outside of a trial.

As major powers eye the benefits of being first out of the pandemic, Britain is rushing to vaccinate its population faster than the United States and the rest of Europe, though Russia and China have been inoculating their citizens for months.

France tries to speed up vaccinations

France sought to accelerate inoculations on Monday after an initial roll-out slowed by bureaucracy and government wariness in one of the most vaccine-sceptical countries in the world.

It began vaccinating medical staff over the age of 50 after delivering just 516 COVID shots developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech during the first week of a campaign that focused on the elderly in nursing homes.

U.S. may cut some Moderna vaccine doses in half

The U.S. government is considering giving some people half the dose of Moderna’s vaccine in order to speed vaccinations, a federal official said on Sunday.

Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine program, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that officials were in talks with Moderna and the Food and Drug Administration about the idea. Moderna’s vaccine requires two injections.

“We know that for the Moderna vaccine, giving half of the dose to people between the ages of 18 and 55, two doses, half the dose, which means exactly achieving the objective of immunizing double the number of people with the doses we have,” Slaoui said.

Singapore may relax curbs for vaccinated travellers

Singapore said on Monday it will consider relaxing travel restrictions for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, including for those planning to visit the city-state for the World Economic Forum in May.

The Southeast Asian business and tourism hub has largely banned leisure travel because of the pandemic, and has limited business and official travel agreements with certain countries. Most returning residents have to isolate in designated hotels or at home for up to two weeks.

‘Just stay home’

Thailand’s prime minister on Monday urged the public to stay at home to help contain its biggest coronavirus outbreak yet and avoid a strict lockdown, as authorities confirmed a daily record of 745 new infections.

The government has declared 28 provinces, including Bangkok, as high-risk zones and asked people to work from home and avoid gathering or travelling beyond provincial borders, as infection numbers climb after an outbreak was detected last month at a seafood market near the capital.

“This is up to everyone,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said. “If we don’t want to get infected, just stay home for 14 to 15 days.” (Compiled by Linda Noakes; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)