What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

Starved of the travel experience during the coronavirus lockdown?

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

Did the Beijing outbreak strain come from South Asia?

A strain of COVID-19 that has infected more than 300 people in Beijing since early June could have originated in South or Southeast Asia, according to a study by Harvard University researchers.

The virus found in the Beijing cases is an imported strain of COVID-19, according to the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Harvard study took three of the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences collected in Beijing last month and compared them to 7,643 samples worldwide. The three genomes showed the greatest resemblance to cases in Europe from February to May, and to cases in South and Southeast Asia from May to June.

They were also similar to a small number of infections seen in China in March, suggesting the strain could have appeared first in China and then returned to the country three months later, the authors said.

Vaccine potential

A COVID-19 vaccine developed by German biotech firm BioNTech and U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has shown potential and was found to be well tolerated in early-stage human trials, the companies said.

The drug is one of 17 being tested on humans in a frantic global race to find a vaccine. The potential treatment is the fourth early-stage COVID-19 drug to show promise in human testing, along with projects involving Moderna, CanSino Biologics and Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

No COVID-19 vaccine has yet been approved for commercial use.

“Ominous signals” in India

A large Indian city badly hit by the coronavirus has recorded a sharp rise in deaths not attributed to the outbreak, according to official data and burial records, highlighting how the pandemic has affected general healthcare.

The increase in deaths in Ahmedabad, the most populous city in western Gujarat state, is due to patients with serious illnesses either not able to go to hospitals or being afraid to visit them because of the virus, doctors said.

The numbers contain “ominous signals” for the rest of the country, said Dr Rajib Dasgupta, a professor of community health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India has the world’s fourth-biggest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 600,000 confirmed cases and 17,800 deaths, and some of its largest cities are still reeling from rising infections.

COVID-19 testing at Republican convention

The U.S. Republican National Committee (RNC) plans to make coronavirus testing available to everyone attending the party’s convention in August and is discussing whether to make testing mandatory, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The RNC is scrambling to put together plans to hold a largely in-person convention in Florida and North Carolina amid mounting concerns about the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 127,000 Americans.

Some 330 delegates will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to nominate President Donald Trump as the Republican candidate to take on Democrat Joe Biden on Nov. 3, while the more than 2,000 remaining delegates will perform a ceremonial vote in Jacksonville, Florida, to confirm the nomination, according to the RNC.

Check in but never leave

Starved of the travel experience during the coronavirus lockdown? One Taiwan airport has the solution – a fake itinerary where you check in, go through passport control and security and even board the aircraft. You just never leave.

Taipei’s Songshan airport on Thursday began offering travellers the chance to do just that, with some 60 people eager to get going, albeit to nowhere.

Around 7,000 people applied to take part, the winners chosen by random. More fake flight experiences will take place in coming weeks.

Taiwan has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic thanks to early and effective prevention steps, but has largely closed its borders since mid-March.