(Reuters) – Countries across Europe considered new curbs on movement while U.S. President Joe Biden called on military medics to support hospitals and fight the Omicron variant sweeping the world days before the second Christmas of the pandemic.
* Biden announced the opening of more federal vaccination and testing sites to tackle a surge in COVID-19 cases, and said some 500 million at-home rapid tests will be available to Americans for free starting in January.
* The United States’ population grew at a slower rate in 2021 than in any other year on record, in part due to the pandemic.
* Panama has detected its first Omicron case, while Costa Rica and Colombia confirmed three more infections.
* The World Health Organization’s European head warned countries to brace for a “significant surge” in COVID-19 cases as Omicron spreads, and advised the widespread use of boosters for protection.
* The European Commission adopted rules that will make the EU COVID-19 certificate valid for travel nine months after the completion of the primary vaccination schedule.
* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not be introducing new COVID-19 restrictions in England before Christmas.
* Sweden will urge all employees to work from home if possible and impose tighter rules for social distancing.
* Portugal ordered nightclubs and bars to close and told people to work from home for at least two weeks starting on Saturday
* India told state governments to be proactive and on the lookout for surges of the Omicron variant after cases nearly doubled within a week across a dozen states.
* Thailand will reinstate its mandatory COVID-19 quarantine for foreign visitors and scrap a quarantine waiver.
* The Philippines’ health ministry halved the wait time for a COVID-19 vaccine booster to three months.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* The Iranian envoy to Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement has died of COVID-19, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said.
* Kuwait will require travellers arriving in the country to have the COVID-19 vaccine booster shot if more than nine months have passed since their vaccination.
* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to authorize COVID-19 treatment pills from both Pfizer Inc and Merck as early as Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported.
* The EU drug regulator said it had not established a link between changes in menstrual cycles and COVID-19 vaccines.
* The European Union’s drug regulator said early data shows a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine helps restore some protection against Omicron, although there is no evidence yet that tweaks to existing shots will be necessary.
* Wall Street recouped losses after a bruising session the previous day, with oil prices also gaining as investors sought riskier assets despite surging Omicron COVID-19 cases around the world.
* Britain announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) of extra support for businesses hit hardest by the wave of Omicron variant coronavirus cases.
(Compiled by Aditya Soni and Valentine Baldassari; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Maju Samuel)