What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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People walk their dog past a sign put up to encourage social distancing along Marina Bay during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore

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

Singapore looking into unusual surge after record cases

Singapore’s health ministry said it is looking into an “unusual surge” in infections after the city-state reported 5,324 new cases of COVID-19, the most since the beginning of the pandemic. Singapore also recorded 10 new deaths from the disease, taking its toll to 349.

Singapore extended some of its social-distancing curbs last week to contain the spread of COVID-19 to ease pressure on the health system. Authorities have reimposed curbs that include limiting social interactions and dining out to two people.

COVID infections, deaths dropping across the Americas

COVID-19 is slowly retreating across most of North, Central and South America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, reporting that last week the continent’s death and infection figures were the lowest in more than a year. Many of the larger Caribbean islands are seeing downward trends, including Cuba, the site of a major months-long COVID-19 outbreak.

However, Paraguay saw a doubling of coronavirus cases in the last week and Belize had a sharp jump in COVID-related deaths, the regional branch of the World Health Organization said. Moe than 3 million more vaccine doses will arrive in the region through the COVAX facility this week, as deliveries pick up in the final months of the year, PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa said.

White House signals flexibility over Dec. 8 vaccine deadline

The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination deadline will not require immediate action on the part of employers against unvaccinated employees when it comes into force on Dec. 8, the White House coronavirus response coordinator said on Wednesday.

The White House comments suggest federal contractors employing millions of U.S. workers have significant flexibility in enforcing COVID-19 rules and will not be required to immediately lay off workers, but will have time for education, counselling and other measures before potentially ending employment.

Genes may explain critical COVID-19 in young, healthy adults

A gene that helps the coronavirus reproduce itself might contribute to life-threatening COVID-19 in young, otherwise healthy people, new findings suggest. Genetic analysis identified five genes that were significantly “upregulated”, or more active, in COVID-19 patients with critical illness, of which the most frequent was a gene called ADAM9.

As reported on Tuesday in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers saw the same genetic pattern in a separate group of COVID-19 patients. Later, in lab experiments using human lung cells infected with the coronavirus, they found that blocking the activity of the ADAM9 gene made it harder for the virus to make copies of itself. More research is needed, they say, to confirm their findings and to determine whether it would be worthwhile to develop treatments to block ADAM9.

Coronavirus found to infect fat cells

Obesity is a known risk factor for more severe COVID-19. One likely reason may be that the virus can infect fat cells, researchers have discovered. In lab experiments and in autopsies of patients who died of COVID-19, they found the virus infects two types of cells found in fat tissue: mature fat cells, called adipocytes, and immune cells called macrophages.

“Infection of fat cells led to a marked inflammatory response, consistent with the type of immune response that is seen in severe cases of COVID-19,” said Dr Catherine Blish of Stanford University School of Medicine, whose team reported the findings on bioRxiv on Monday ahead of peer review.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Robert Birsel)