(Reuters) – COVID-19 vaccines appear to have become slightly less effective in preventing severe disease and death but do provide “significant protection”, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
* Almost 100 Conservative lawmakers voted against new coronavirus restrictions, dealing a major blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s authority and raising questions about his leadership.
* Britain’s National Health Service has told pharmacies that it cannot increase the number of COVID-19 rapid tests it delivers each day, The Telegraph reported.
* Italy extended a COVID-19 state of emergency to March 31 and ruled that all visitors from EU countries must take a test before departure.
* South Korea reported its highest daily total of cases, as breakthrough infections among those already vaccinated continue to spike.
* Australia reopened borders to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students after a near two-year ban on entry.
* Cambodia has detected its first case of the Omicron variant in a local woman who had travelled from Ghana.
* The Biden administration may request additional funds from Congress for COVID-19 testing, depending on the severity of the Omicron variant, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said.
* Canada is expected to toughen restrictions on international travel with new measures to be announced on Wednesday, CBC News reported.
* U.S. workers with severe COVID-19 cases may be covered by a law prohibiting disability discrimination in the workplace, while milder cases would not qualify, according to guidance issued by the agency that enforces the law.
* A fresh wave of positive tests hit three major North American sports leagues this week.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* Africa is experiencing its fastest surge in cases this year, with the number up 83% in the past week, although deaths remain low, the WHO said.
* Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has been less effective in South Africa at keeping infected people out of hospital since the Omicron variant emerged last month, a study showed.
* All three U.S.-authorized vaccines appear to be significantly less protective against Omicron in laboratory testing, but a booster dose likely restores most of the protection, a study showed.
* Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pill showed near 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients, and recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against Omicron.
* Asian markets held still on Wednesday as the world waited to hear from the U.S. Federal Reserve on when it would stop buying assets and start raising interest rates, possibly piling pressure on its peers to follow. [MKTS/GLOB]
* China’s factory output grew faster than expected in November, but new curbs to fight rising cases hit retailers.
* A measure of Australian consumer sentiment took a step back in December as an outbreak of the Omicron variant clouded the outlook for the economy and spending over the Christmas period.
(Compiled by Devika Syamnath and Ramakrishnan M.; Edited by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)