(Reuters) – Pfizer said the COVID-19 pandemic could extend through next year and announced plans to develop a three-dose vaccine regimen for children aged 2 to 16, a move that could delay its authorisation.
* Britain’s top civil servant Simon Case has stepped down from leading an investigation into alleged parties in government offices in breach of COVID-19 lockdowns after an event was held in his own office.
* France will from next month reduce the time between second and third COVID-19 vaccination injections to four months and require people to show proof of vaccination to enter some venues.
* Spain’s coronavirus infection rate rose above 500 cases per 100,000 people on Friday, crossing over the threshold considered “very high risk” by the Health Ministry.
* India has detected a total of 101 cases of the Omicron variant, a health ministry official said.
* Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had spoken with the head of Pfizer to secure oral treatments for COVID-19, and that vaccine boosters for the elderly would be accelerated.
* Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a spike in cases of the Omicron variant was “scary”, while the country’s top medical official made clear the healthcare system could soon be swamped.
* Brazil’s federal health regulator pushed back against pressure by President Jair Bolsonaro over its decision to broaden coronavirus vaccine access to younger children. saying it was facing “violent political activism” amid death threats.
* The National Football League has postponed games for the first time all season due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
* American athletes competing at the Beijing Winter Games will not be required to have booster shots.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* Qatar has registered its first four cases of the Omicron variant, the state news agency QNA said.
* South Africa’s health minister said the government believed vaccines and high levels of prior infection were helping to keep disease milder, while the country plans to donate roughly 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to other African countries.
* The risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant is more than five times higher and it has shown no sign of being milder than Delta, a study by Imperial College London showed.
* Vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and China’s Sinopharm, as well as Russia’s Sputnik V shot had no neutralising activity against the Omicron variant, according to a study which has not yet been peer reviewed.
* A new study considers why COVID-19 patients on mechanical ventilators have trouble breathing and how refining a common treatment could help save lives.
* Global stock benchmarks and oil prices fell on Friday while safe havens such as the dollar and Treasury bonds rose as investors wrestled with rising numbers of Omicron cases and a hawkish turn from major central banks in the fight against inflation.
* The European Central Bank may be underestimating inflation risks, a diverse group of policymakers said on Friday, just hours after the bank extended stimulus measures to keep boosting price pressures.
* German business morale declined for a sixth straight month as Europe’s largest economy feels the effects of supply bottlenecks and COVID-19 restrictions, a survey showed on Friday.
(Compiled by Ramakrishnan M., Juliette Portala and Boleslaw Lasocki; Edited by Robert Birsel, Jonathan Oatis and Shounak Dasgupta)