(Reuters) – Omicron was making strides around the world, and health experts warned that the fight against the COVID-19 variant was far from over, despite two drug companies saying their vaccines protected it and brought it less risk of hospitalization.
* Rising infections in the Chinese city of Xian have triggered a lockdown of its 13 million residents with an incredibly bare stretch of highway, as many people queued in the cold to have their noses wiped at test sites.
* Australia re-introduced restrictions like wearing masks indoors, capacity limits and QR code check-ins to cover most of the population as daily infections hit a record.
* France had its worst day in terms of new COVID-19 cases, with more than 91,000 new cases recorded while the number of deaths also rose.
* The UK saw a record number of new coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant spread across the country.
* Italy tightened restrictions to contain rising COVID-19 infections, including banning all public New Year’s Eve celebrations as daily infections hit record highs.
* The northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia received court approval for a night curfew when Madrid promised to distribute millions more test kits to combat the variant of Omicron.
* President Vladimir Putin said he hoped Russia could vaccinate enough people to achieve collective immunity next year and urged more Russians to get vaccinated as the death toll exceeded 600,000.
* US President Joe Biden’s moves to support hospitals and distribute coronavirus test kits are welcome, but too late to stem an increase in Omicron-related cases over Christmas and New Years, health experts said.
* The rapid spread of Omicron infections has “prepared” hospitals in the American Midwest “for the worst,” with their intensive care units and medical staff already heavily burdened by a wave of the potent Delta variant of COVID-19.
* Seven U.S. Department of Defense employees who traveled to several American bases last week, including Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, tested positive for COVID-19.
* Honduras began offering booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults to counter the threat posed by the Omicron variant.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* Kenya‘s sudden decision to require proof of vaccination for access to public places and transportation has been faced with a combination of confusion, dismissal and the occasional enforcement.
* Zambia will introduce booster vaccines to tackle the respiratory disease that has infected over 200,000 people and killed more than 3,000 people.
* The Lebanese Ministry of Tourism ordered that visitors to restaurants, hotels, fitness centers and entertainment venues must present either a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test before entering.
* The Moroccan government has extended the nationwide health emergency to January 31.
* Merck & Co’s US-approved antiviral pill for COVID-19 for certain high-risk adult patients, one day after a similar but more effective treatment from Pfizer Inc.
* Both US stock indices and US Treasury bond yields rose as investors and traders were optimistic about positive economic data and the impact of the Omicron variant on the economy, even as the number of COVID-19 cases rose sharply. [MKTS/GLOB]
* The number of Americans filing new unemployment benefits last week was below pre-pandemic levels while consumer spending rose solidly, bringing the economy to a strong close by 2021.
(Compiled by Aditya Soni and Milla Nissi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Dan Grebler and Maju Samuel)