(Reuters) – Omicron advanced across the world, with health experts warning the battle against the COVID-19 variant was far from over despite two drugmakers saying their vaccines protected against it and signs it carries a lower risk of hospitalisation.
* Rising infections in China’s city of Xian have spurred a lockdown of its 13 million residents, with stretches of highway eerily bare, as many people queued in the cold to get their noses swabbed at testing sites.
* Australia re-introduced curbs such as indoor mask-wearing, capacity limits and QR code check-ins to cover most of the population as daily infections hit a record.
* France had its worst-ever day in terms of new COVID-19 cases, with more than 91,000 new cases being recorded while the number of deaths also climbed.
* Britain recorded a record number of new coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant swept across the country.
* Italy has tightened restrictions to curb surging COVID-19 infections, including banning all public New Year’s Eve celebrations, as daily infections hit a record high.
* The northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia won court approval for a night curfew as Madrid pledged to distribute millions more test kits to tackle the Omicron variant.
* President Vladimir Putin said he hoped Russia could vaccinate enough people to reach collective immunity next year, urging more Russians to get inoculated as the death toll crossed 600,000.
* U.S. President Joe Biden’s steps to backstop hospitals and distribute coronavirus test kits, however welcome, are too little too late to stem a surge of Omicron-related cases over Christmas and New Year’s, health experts said.
* The rapid spread of Omicron infections has hospitals in the U.S. Midwest “preparing for the worst,” with their intensive care units and medical personnel already severely strained from a wave of the potent Delta variant of COVID-19.
* Seven U.S. Department of Defense staff who travelled last week to multiple American bases, including Indo-Pacific Command on Hawaii, have tested positive for COVID-19.
* Honduras began offering booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults as it seeks to counter the threat posed by the Omicron variant.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* Kenya’s sudden decision to demand proof of vaccination to access public places and transport was met by a combination of bemusement, dismissal and the occasional spot of enforcement.
* Zambia will introduce booster vaccines as it battles the respiratory disease which has infected over 200,000 people and killed more than 3,000.
* Lebanon’s tourism ministry ordered restaurants, hotels, fitness centres and entertainment venues to require visitors to present either a certificate of vaccination or a negative PCR test before entering.
* The Moroccan government has extended the nationwide health state of emergency to Jan. 31.
* The U.S. authorized Merck & Co’s antiviral pill for COVID-19 for certain high-risk adult patients, a day after giving a broader go-ahead to a similar but more effective treatment from Pfizer Inc.
* U.S. stock indexes and yields on U.S. Treasuries both climbed as investors and traders were optimistic about positive economic data and the impact of the Omicron variant on the economy, even as COVID-19 case counts soar. [MKTS/GLOB]
* The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits held below pre-pandemic levels last week, while consumer spending increased solidly, putting the economy on track for a strong finish to 2021.
(Compiled by Aditya Soni and Milla Nissi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Dan Grebler and Maju Samuel)