(Reuters) – The Omicron coronavirus variant has been reported in 57 nations and the number of patients needing hospitalisation is likely to rise as it spreads, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
* Vaccine plants in the European Union are expected to produce 3.6 billion COVID-19 shots next year, out of a global output of more than 20 billion, two senior EU officials said.
* Britain could implement tougher COVID-19 measures, including advice to work from home, as early as Thursday in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, according to media reports.
* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a backlash on Wednesday after a video surfaced showing his staff laughing over how they would explain having held a Christmas gathering in Downing Street during a COVID lockdown last year when such festivities were banned.
* EU health ministers discussed measures to try to halt the spread of the Omicron variant, with the Netherlands calling for negative tests for incoming travellers from outside the bloc and France urging tests even for those arriving from EU states.
* Americans are lining up for booster doses of vaccines at a record pace, spurred by concerns about the newly detected Omicron variant.
* Brazil will require that unvaccinated travelers entering the country go on a five-day quarantine followed by a COVID-19 test, after its president said he opposed the use of a vaccine passport.
* Indian COVID-19 vaccine makers are lobbying the government to authorise boosters as supplies have so outstripped demand that one drugmaker told Reuters it had suspended a plan to produce more than 100 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik shot.
* South Korea will consider expanding home treatment of COVID-19 patients, as both new daily infections and severe cases hit record highs, putting hospital capacity under strain.
* A nascent recovery in Asia-Pacific international travel demand has been set back by the Omicron variant as governments tighten rules, but airline bosses say they hope any backward moves will be short-lived.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* Up to one million COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have expired in Nigeria last month without being used, two sources told Reuters, one of the biggest single losses of doses that shows the difficulty African nations have getting shots in arms.
* The African Union called for an urgent end to travel restrictions imposed on some of its member states, saying the measures effectively penalize governments for timely data sharing in line with international health regulations.
* The Omicron variant can partially evade protection from two doses of Pfizer and partner BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, the research head of a laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa said on Tuesday.
* The head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Tuesday said it could soon approve the COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. biotech company Novavax.
* Preliminary evidence indicates that the Omicron variant likely has a higher degree of transmissibility but is less severe, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said.
* A rebound in market sentiment continued in early European trading on Wednesday, with world shares set for their biggest two-day jump since November last year as investors became less concerned about the Omicron variant.[MKTS/GLOB]
* Japan’s economy shrank slightly more than initially reported in the third quarter, as a jump in local cases hit private consumption and a global chip supply shortage hurt corporate sentiment.
(Compiled by Federico Maccioni and Devika Samnath; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Bernadette Baum)