(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
S.Africa scraps isolation for those without symptoms
South Africans without symptoms of COVID-19 will no longer need to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government announced on Friday, saying developments around the virus justified a shift from containment measures towards mitigation.
The country has led the continent in terms of COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as vaccinations, and its experience has been closely watched around the world after it was among the first countries to identify the more transmissible Omicron variant.
Australia shortens booster wait
Australia on Friday narrowed the wait time for people to receive booster shots as another record jump in daily infections resulted in cancelled flights and sent Christmas travel plans into disarray.
From Jan. 4, the country would offer booster shots to every person aged over 18 who had their second shot four months earlier and the interval would be further reduced to three months by the end of the month, said federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Japan health panel approves Merck’s oral COVID-19 treatment
A Japanese health ministry panel on Friday recommended approval of the COVID-19 antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co, part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s plan to roll out new treatments by year-end as concerns rise about Omicron.
The panel’s decision sets the stage for shipments of 200,000 doses across the country from this weekend, based on preparations announced earlier by Kishida.
Indian court urges delay in state elections
An Indian court urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to suspend political rallies and election campaigns in poll-bound states given the rising number of Omicron cases.
Judges of the Allahabad High Court in the country’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state said on Thursday the number of people infected with Omicron has risen and could result in a third wave of the coronavirus.
Bhutan has started giving booster shots to senior citizens and priority groups as the Himalayan kingdom tries to stave off the Omicron variant, health ministry officials said on Friday.
Thailand reports first Omicron cluster
Thailand reported on Friday its first domestic cluster of coronavirus infections from the Omicron variant in Kalasin province in northeastern Thailand, officials said.
The 21 new infections stem from a couple who travelled from Belgium through the country’s Test & Go scheme that waived quarantine for vaccinated arrivals.
Biden Omicron measures too little, too late – experts
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 coronavirus cases over Christmas and New Year, health experts said.
A day after Biden outlined plans to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus test kits, Anne Rimoin, a UCLA professor of epidemiology, praised his focus on testing, a “critical tool” that the United States was “woefully” behind on.
Chinese officials punished over COVID outbreak
Officials in the northwestern Chinese city of Xian face punishment after a COVID-19 outbreak led to the lockdown of its 13 million residents, authorities said on Friday, as the number of new cases declined.
All domestic flights out of Xian and most trains originating from the city scheduled for Friday were cancelled. Officials in Xian say the outbreak has been traced to the arrival of a plane from Pakistan.
(Compiled by Linda Noakes; editing by Barbara Lewis)