(Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) voiced concern on Tuesday that some countries were introducing blanket measures against the Omicron coronavirus variant that may not be necessary and penalised African nations unfairly.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
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* The EU drug regulator said it could approve vaccines adapted to target the Omicron variant of the coronavirus within three to four months if needed, but that existing shots would continue to provide protection.
* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a new COVID-19 lockdown was unlikely despite worries about the new Omicron coronavirus variant, after eight new cases were identified in England, taking the total number to 13.
* France has registered 47,177 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, the highest one-day tally since early April at the height of the third wave of the pandemic.
* Germany’s federal and regional governments agreed to take action to counter a fourth wave of COVID-19, including stepping up the vaccination campaign and restricting contact, especially for unvaccinated people.
* Portugal will open its biggest vaccination centre yet on Wednesday as a surge in COVID-19 infections forced authorities to impose new restrictions to stop the spread, including strict travel curbs to enter the country by air.
* Spain detected a second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant and expects to confirm another two by the end of the week, while Basque authorities said they planned to declare a health emergency amid a rapidly rising caseload.
* Ireland will require all arrivals to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test – regardless of their vaccination status – to slow the potential spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the government announced.
* Switzerland is considering tighter restrictions to contain the rising number of new COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant, the government said following an emergency meeting.
* The nine cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in Scotland were all linked to the same private event, and none of the people who had tested positive for the variant had required hospital treatment, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* The Omicron coronavirus variant detected in southern Africa could be the most likely candidate to displace the highly contagious Delta variant, the director of South Africa’s communicable disease institute said.
* South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare signed a non-binding agreement with subsidiary firms of Johnson & Johnson as part of its negotiations for a licensing deal to package, market and sell the latter’s vaccine in Africa.
* The Biden administration extended the comment period on its sweeping workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule by 45 days as it seeks feedback from various stakeholders including private employers on whether a recently issued emergency temporary standard should become a permanent rule.
* A panel of expert advisers to the U.S. FDA will vote later on whether to recommend authorization of Merck & Co’s antiviral pill to treat COVID-19.
* Hong Kong expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries as global health authorities raced to curb a potential outbreak of the Omicron virus, while Australia is set to review containment steps after five persons tested positive.
* Slovenia said it may ban Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine except when people request it, after concluding a young woman’s death was linked to the shot.
* BioNTech and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will likely offer strong protection against any severe disease from the new Omicron virus variant, BioNTech’s Chief Executive told Reuters, as the firm weighs the need to upgrade its commonly used shot.
* Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc’s COVID-19 antibody drug could be less effective against Omicron, adding to fears about the efficacy of existing treatments after Moderna’s top boss raised similar concerns about the company’s vaccine.
* An experimental COVID-19 vaccine currently under development by Spanish pharmaceutical firm Hipra could be effective as a booster against variants of the virus, Spain’s Science Minister Diana Morant said.
* Global stock benchmarks and oil prices fell sharply after drugmaker Moderna warned existing vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the new coronavirus variant, which spurred investors to pile into safe-haven assets such as government bonds and the yen. [MKTS/GLOB]
(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Anita Kobylinska and Rashmi Aich; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Anil D’Silva)