What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

FILE PHOTO: COVID-19 outbreak in Shanghai
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(Reuters) - Here's what you need to know about the pandemic right now:

Shanghai takes baby steps towards ending lockdown

Shanghai took more gradual steps on Friday towards lifting its COVID-19 lockdown while Beijing was investigating cases where its strict curbs were affecting other medical treatments as China soldiered on with its uneven exit from restrictions.

The two cities have been hot spots, with a harsh two-month lockdown to arrest a coronavirus spike in Shanghai and tight movement restrictions to stamp out a small but stubborn outbreak in the capital, Beijing.

Some border areas in the northeastern province of Jilin reported transmissions of the virus with an unclear source. Jilin borders Russia and North Korea.

Beijing is offering elderly residents state-backed insurance for "medical accidents" linked to COVID-19 shots to ease vaccination hesitancy among those most vulnerable.

North Korea tests rivers, air, garbage as anti-COVID efforts gather steam

North Korean health officials are testing rivers, lakes, the air and household wastewater and garbage for the coronavirus as the country intensifies its fight against its first outbreak, state media said on Friday.

The isolated country has been in a heated battle against an unprecedented COVID wave since declaring a state of emergency and imposing a nationwide lockdown this month, fuelling concerns about a lack of vaccines, medical supplies and food shortages.

In the months before it acknowledged its first official COVID-19 outbreak, North Korea suddenly imported millions of face masks, 1,000 ventilators, and possibly vaccines from China, trade data released by Beijing showed.

Taiwan's COVID cases reach plateau

The pandemic in Taiwan has reached a plateau, with cases at a high but stable level, the government said on Friday, as it maintained a policy of gradually easing restrictions and letting the island live with the virus.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said infections could stay near the current level for a while before declining. He has previously forecast a peak could appear in late May.

Japan PM to double border entries to 20,000/day from June

Japan will double the maximum number of people allowed every day to enter at border crossings to 20,000 from June 1 as part of a phased easing of restrictions, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday.

Japan has maintained some of the strictest border controls in the world over the past two years in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, hammering inbound tourism which had been a major driver of economic growth.

South Africa COVID vaccine hesitancy due to side-effect fears

Fears over the possible side-effects and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines have been the main drivers of hesitancy among thousands of South Africans, a government-backed survey showed on Thursday.

South Africa, where around half of the 40 million adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine, has been the worst hit by the pandemic across Africa in terms of confirmed infections and deaths.

Swiss to destroy more than 620,000 expired Moderna doses

Switzerland will destroy more than 620,000 expired doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, health officials said on Friday, as demand for the shots drops dramatically.

"It was consciously accepted that under certain circumstances too much vaccine was procured for Switzerland's needs," a spokesperson for the Federal Office of Public Heath said.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes)