What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

·3-min read

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

UK approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Britain approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, becoming the West's first country to formally endorse a jab it said should reach the most vulnerable people by early next week.

Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency granted emergency use approval to the vaccine, which they say is 95% effective, in record time - just 23 days since Pfizer published the first data from its final stage clinical trial.

"With 450 people dying of COVID-19 infection every day in the UK, the benefits of rapid vaccine approval outweigh the potential risks," said Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Liverpool.

U.S. ready for domestic shipment of vaccines

The U.S. Transportation Department said Tuesday it had made preparations to enable the "immediate mass shipment" of COVID-19 vaccines and completed all necessary regulatory measures.

U.S. agencies have been coordinating with private sector companies that will carry vaccines from manufacturing facilities to distribution centers and inoculation points.

The department is preparing to ensure deliveries of vaccine doses for about 40 million U.S. residents through January, or about 20 million a month, officials told Reuters.

WHO tightens guidelines on mask-wearing

People living in areas with where COVID-19 is spreading should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

If they cannot maintain physical distancing of at least one meter (3 ft), people in those indoor locations - including children and students aged 12 or over - should wear a mask even if the spaces are well ventilated, it said in a tightening of its guidelines.

They should also wear masks outdoors if physical distancing cannot be maintained, it said.

Swiss plough ahead with skiing despite neighbours' fears

Swiss ski resorts are ploughing ahead with preparations for the year-end holiday season despite pressure from neighbouring Italy, France and Germany to stay shut until the latest coronavirus wave passes.

Health Minister Alain Berset has proposed limits on the capacity of ski lifts at Christmas and the New Year, but lift operators and mountain regions who already expect many foreign visitors to stay away during the festive period bristle at the added restrictions.

Verbier Mayor Eloi Rossier acknowledged feeling the heat from other countries, but said his town's ski economy was too important to simply call off the season.

Australian state dances again

Australia's most populous state said that from Monday it would remove limits on the number of people at weddings, bars and religious services and end a ban on public venue dancing as a run of coronavirus-free days prompted a broad downgrade of social distancing rules.

The changes announced by New South Wales on Wednesday come in time for Australia's summer holidays, and mark the biggest lifting of precautionary measures since a nationwide lockdowns began in March.

People in the state, where a third of Australia's 25 million population lives, would also be allowed to drink standing up at pubs, while seated outdoor events could host up to 5,000 people.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Bernadette Baum)