What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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

Beijing raises vigilance as local cases tick higher

China's capital Beijing ramped up efforts to curb COVID-19 infections, ordering checks among cold-chain firms and urging residents to cut unnecessary gatherings, as the city reported an uptick in local cases weeks before the Winter Olympics.

Beijing had three domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms on Wednesday, including one previously reported as a local asymptomatic carrier for Jan. 18, according to local health authority data on Thursday.

New Zealand rules out lockdowns as it prepares for Omicron

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that restrictions will be tightened across the country if there is a community transmission of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus but she ruled out lockdowns.

A "red" traffic light setting would be imposed within 24 to 48 hours of Omicron arriving in the community, Ardern told a news conference, which would mean masks would be mandated and there would be limits on public gatherings.

Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID fears

Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from Jan. 24, the Education Bureau said on Thursday, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools in the Chinese-ruled territory.

The government halted classes in primary schools and kindergartens early this month, and imposed curbs, such as a ban on restaurant dining after 6 p.m. and the closure of venues such as gyms, cinemas and beauty salons.

U.S. to distribute 400 million free N95 masks

The U.S. government will make 400 million non-surgical "N95" masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public starting next week, a White House official said, as the Biden administration tries to curb the pandemic.

Snug-fitting N95 face masks, so-called because they filter at least 95% of particulate matter from the air, will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centres this week, the official said, and will be available for pickup late next week.

Swiss researchers launch trial for COVID "patch" vaccine

Swiss medical researchers said on Wednesday they have launched an early-stage study to test a next-generation COVID vaccine candidate which would be administered via an arm patch, the latest to look at alternative methods of giving injections.

Unlike conventional vaccines that stimulate antibody production, the new PepGNP-Covid19 vaccine candidate focuses on T-cells, which are responsible for cellular immunity, to eliminate cells infected by the virus and prevent it from replicating. The possible vaccine will be administered via micro-needles in the patch that are less than one millimetre deep that they hope will provide long-term immunity from COVID-19 and do away with the need for seasonal booster shots.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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