(Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher COVID-19 restrictions in England on Wednesday, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
* France’s Ile-de-France region said all hospitals are activating an emergency plan due to the strained COVID-19 situation.
* Christmas parties are allowed under new COVID-19 measures in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday, and seasonal children’s nativity plays should not be cancelled.
* The UK Health Security Agency said the Omicron variant was likely to outcompete Delta and replace it to become dominant, and that it could account for at least half of new COVID-19 cases in the next 2-4 weeks.
* Germany appointed Karl Lauterbach, a Harvard-educated epidemiologist, as health minister. He became a household name in the country during the pandemic by using Twitter and TV appearances to urge fast implementation of novel ideas to fight the coronavirus.
* A New York judge has temporarily blocked New York City from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public-sector workers.
* U.S. Senate Republicans were poised to try to upend President Joe Biden’s vaccine and test mandate for private businesses, in a legislative push that appeared to have enough support from Democrats to succeed.
* The Omicron variant has so far been detected in the Americas in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico and the United States, but it is just a matter of time before it circulates in more countries, the Pan American Health Organization warned.
* Brazil will require that unvaccinated travellers entering the country go on a five-day quarantine followed by a COVID-19 test, its health minister said.
* Jefferies Financial Group on Wednesday cancelled all client parties and most travel, asking employees to work from home when possible due to a spate of COVID-19 cases.
* Indian COVID-19 vaccine makers are lobbying the government to authorise boosters as supplies have outstripped demand.
* The Philippines will ban travellers coming from France to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant, the presidential office said.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA* South Africa reported nearly 20,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a record since the Omicron variant was detected, and 36 new COVID-related deaths.
* EgyptAir will resume flights with South Africa from Dec. 16 after suspending them last month due to concerns about the new COVID-19 variant, the company said.
* BioNTech and Pfizer said a three-shot course of their vaccine was able to neutralise the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test.
* Arrival of the highly-mutated Omicron variant is a wake-up call to develop vaccines less susceptible to the rapid changes of the coronavirus, leading virologists and immunologists told Reuters.
* British researchers on Wednesday started recruitment for a clinical trial to test antiviral COVID-19 treatments for use in people early on in the disease who are at higher risks of complications, starting with Merck’s molnupiravir.
* The dollar eased and global stock markets traded slightly higher on Wednesday as investors became less concerned about the Omicron variant, but looked for direction after the prior day’s big rally in equities and crude oil prices. [MKTS/GLOB]
(Compiled by Juliette Portala, Federico Maccioni and Shailesh Kuber; Edited by Bernadette Baum, Mark Heinrich and Shounak Dasgupta)