South African data offered a glimmer of hope about the severity of the Omicron coronavirus variant, but World Health Organization officials cautioned that it was too soon to draw firm conclusions as the strain spread across the globe.
* Omicron will become the dominant variant in Europe by the start of 2022 and three to four weeks are needed to determine the severity of the COVID-19 it causes, the WHO’s European head said.
* Spain will make it compulsory to wear a face mask outdoors again as part of a package aimed at containing the Omicron variant.
* France has cancelled its order for Merck & Co’s COVID-19 antiviral drug following disappointing trial data and hopes instead to receive Pfizer’s competing drug before the end of January, the health minister said.
* The British government said it was reducing the COVID-19 self-isolation period to seven days from 10 days for people in England who get a negative result on a lateral flow test two days in a row.
* Britain said it would start vaccinating vulnerable children aged five to 11 against COVID-19 after the country’s medicines regulator approved the use of a lower dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in that age group.
* Northern Ireland ordered the closure of nightclubs from Sunday after reporting an all-time high of 3,231 COVID-19 cases.
* The United States authorized Pfizer Inc’s antiviral COVID-19 pill for at-risk people aged 12 and above, making it the first oral treatment and which can be taken at home.
* Americans are facing a second Christmas of disrupted holiday plans, with a surge in infections caused by the now-dominant Omicron variant forcing some people to cancel plans.
* The National Hockey League will not send its players to compete in the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns.
* The Philippines has halved to three months the waiting time for a booster dose of vaccine.
* Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ruled out a Christmas lockdown, saying hospitals were coping well with a record surge in cases fuelled by Omicron.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* Israel is to offer a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to people older than 60 or with compromised immune systems, and to health workers.
* Novavax Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine is effective in generating an immune response against the Omicron variant, early data showed.
* The risk of needing to stay in hospital for patients with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is 40% to 45% lower than for patients with the Delta variant, according to research by London’s Imperial College.
* U.S. stock indexes and oil prices made gains after investors cheered positive economic data and the White House said it was resuming talks on a major social spending bill with a senator crucial to passing the legislation.[MKTS/GLOB]
* U.S. consumer confidence improved further in December, suggesting the economy would continue to expand in 2022 despite a resurgence in COVID-19 infections and reduced fiscal stimulus.
* Canada will expand support programs to help people and businesses hit by the Omicron variant of COVID-19.