HERE'S what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Sydney pubs set for mid-Oct reopening

Sydney's cafes, restaurants and pubs are set to reopen in the second half of October after months of strict COVID-19 lockdown, according to an exit roadmap published by New South Wales state officials on Thursday.

They said bars and eateries, as well as gyms, across the city of five million people will be able to reopen at reduced capacity within days of the state reaching a 70% double-vaccination target, now expected around mid-October. Stay-at-home orders for the fully vaccinated will be lifted on the Monday after the target is achieved, the officials said.

Scientists are watching new coronavirus variants

The continued spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spawned a Greek alphabet of variants - a naming system used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to track concerning new mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19. Some have equipped the virus with better ways of infecting humans or evading vaccine protection.

Scientists remain focused on Delta, now the dominant variant around the world, but are tracking others to see what may one day take its place, such as Mu, the variant formerly known as B.1.621, which was first identified in Colombia in January. Mu carries key mutations that have been linked with increased transmissibility and reduced immune protection.

London's financial workers flock back to office

London's financial sector, keen to return to a semblance of normality after the worst of the pandemic, is leading the charge to encourage employees back to their old lives, with some companies even offering free food and social events. A similar office influx is happening in the United States, albeit cautiously amid fears about the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant.

Senior executives face a tricky task in encouraging staff back to work at a time when cases of COVID-19 are still on the rise in Britain and commuter trains above and below ground are baking under near-record temperatures for September.

Japan to extend COVID emergency curbs in Tokyo, other areas

Japan said on Thursday it will extend emergency COVID-19 restrictions in Tokyo and other regions until the end of this month to curb infections and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, saying it was too early to let down its guard.

The country's emergency curbs have centred on asking restaurants to close early and refrain from serving alcohol. Some signs of improvement around the nation mean that two prefectures out of 21 will move from the state of emergency measures to more targeted restrictions, while a number of other prefectures will remove all curbs.

EU lists rare nerve disorder as possible side-effect of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Europe's medicines regulator has added an extremely rare nerve-damaging disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome, as a possible side-effect of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, regular safety updates from the watchdog showed on Wednesday.

The European Medicines Agency said a causal relationship between GBS and the AstraZeneca shot, known as Vaxzevria, was a "at least a reasonable possibility" after 833 cases of GBS were reported out of 592 million doses of the vaccine given worldwide by July 31. The EMA categorised the side-effect as "very rare", the lowest frequency of side-effect category it has, and has emphasised that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.