Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

US reaches 500 000 deaths

The United States on Monday crossed the milestone of 500 000 COVID-19 deaths just over a year since the pandemic claimed its first known victim in Santa Clara County, California.

In a proclamation honouring the dead, President Joe Biden ordered the US flag to be flown at half-staff on public buildings and grounds until sunset on Friday.

“On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind,” Biden said in the proclamation.

“We, as a Nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one Nation to defeat this pandemic.”

One-way to freedom

Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a map out of lockdown for England on Monday that would keep some businesses shuttered until the summer, saying caution was necessary to ensure there were no reversals on a “one-way road to freedom”.

After imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in the western world in January to counter a highly contagious variant of the novel coronavirus, Johnson said Britain was in a position to enjoy the results of one of the world’s fastest vaccine programmes.

Starting in two weeks with the reopening of schools, the phased plan will go through four stages, with at least five weeks in between each stage.

Afghanistan begins vaccination drive

Afghanistan began its first COVID-19 vaccinations on Tuesday, administering doses initially to security force members, health workers and journalists, in a campaign that may face challenges from a sharp rise in violence.

The war-damaged country received 500 000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, which is producing the vaccine for mid- and low-income countries, earlier this month.

Taliban insurgents fighting the foreign-backed Afghan government have announced their backing for the vaccination campaign.

Compensation for serious vaccine side effects

The World Health Organisation has agreed on a no-fault compensation plan for claims of serious side effects in people in 92 poorer countries due to get vaccines via the COVAX sharing scheme, resolving a big concern among recipient governments.

The programme, which the WHO said was the first and only vaccine injury compensation mechanism operating on an international scale, will offer eligible people “a fast, fair, robust and transparent process,” the WHO said in a statement.

“By providing a no-fault lump-sum compensation in full and final settlement of any claims, the COVAX programme aims to significantly reduce the need for recourse to the law courts, a potentially lengthy and costly process,” the statement said.

Nurses in exchange for vaccines

The Philippines will let thousands of its healthcare workers, mostly nurses, take up jobs in Britain and Germany if the two countries agree to donate much-needed coronavirus vaccines, a senior official said on Tuesday.

The Philippines, which has among Asia’s highest number of coronavirus cases, has relaxed a ban on deploying its healthcare workers overseas, but still limits the number of medical professionals leaving the country to 5 000 a year.