What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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FILE PHOTO: People queue to receive COVID-19 vaccines inside Lichfield Cathedral in Birmingham, Britain

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

Biden to tackle COVID on first full day in White House

President Joe Biden will sign 10 executive orders on Thursday to fight the pandemic, including directing that disaster funds be used to help reopen schools and requiring that people wear masks on planes and buses, officials said.

"We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus and must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation," the president said in his inauguration speech.

One order will require mask-wearing in airports and on certain modes of public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.

WHO plans slew of vaccine approvals

The World Health Organization (WHO) plans to approve several vaccines from Western and Chinese manufacturers in coming weeks and months, a document published on Wednesday shows, as it aims for rapid rollouts in poorer countries.

COVAX, a global scheme co-led by the WHO, wants to deliver at least 2 billion doses across the world this year, with at least 1.3 billion going to poorer countries.

But it has so far struggled to secure enough shots due to a shortage of funds, while wealthy nations have booked large volumes of vaccines for themselves.

Africa's COVID death rate now higher than global rate

Africa's coronavirus case fatality rate stands at 2.5%, higher than the global level of 2.2%, a trend that is alarming experts, the head of the continent's disease control body said on Thursday.

Earlier in the pandemic, Africa's death rate had been below the global average, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention head John Nkengasong told reporters.

"The case fatality rate is beginning to be very worrying and concerning for all of us," he said.

England's lockdown having little impact

A third pandemic lockdown appears to be having little impact on rates of COVID-19 in England, researchers warned on Thursday, with prevalence of the disease "very high" and "no evidence of decline" in the first 10 days of renewed restrictions.

Until rates of COVID-19 are reduced substantially, health services "will remain under extreme pressure" and the number of deaths will continue to rise rapidly, researchers leading Imperial College London's REACT-1 prevalence study said.

"The number of COVID-19 in-patients (in hospital) is extremely high at the moment, and we can't expect that to drop unless we can achieve lower levels of prevalence," said Steven Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics who co-led the work.

Moscow restrictions relaxed

Moscow will relax some restrictions from Friday, including fully reopening colleges and specialist education institutions, the mayor of the Russian capital said.

The number of daily new cases has started to fall in Russia, which launched a voluntary vaccination programme with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine last month. It has resisted imposing a strict new lockdown, relying instead on targeted measures.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said new daily cases were considerably lower than at the end of December and that a tangible drop in daily hospital admissions to 1,200-1,300 people from 1,500-1,800 had made him cautiously optimistic.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)