Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination, at Jordan Downs in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination, at Jordan Downs in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) - Millions of Americans carried on warily with holiday travel plans as the Omicron variant drove a surge in COVID-19 cases across the world, while a Japanese health ministry panel recommended approval of Merck & Co's antiviral pill.


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* Austria should offer some healthcare staff and other key workers a fourth COVID-19 jab, the National Vaccination Board said in updated guidance published late on Thursday.

* Britain recorded a record number of new cases on Thursday and France had its worst-ever day in terms of new infections, while Italy tightened restrictions as daily infections hit a record high.

* A fire in the intensive care unit of a COVID-19 hospital killed two people in Russia's southern city of Astrakhan, the TASS news agency said.

* The Czech Republic will require all foreign visitors to have a negative PCR test prior to entry starting from Dec. 27, unless they had a booster vaccine dose.


* Four infections with the Omicron variant have been confirmed in Tokyo, its governor said on Friday, while Thailand reported its first domestic cluster of infections from the variant in Kalasin province in the North East.

* Bhutan started giving booster shots to senior citizens and priority groups as the Himalayan kingdom counters the spread of the Omicron variant.

* An Indian court urged government to suspend political rallies and election campaigns in poll-bound states amid the rising number of Omicron cases.

* Vietnam aims to vaccinate all of its adult population with a booster shot by the end of the first quarter of next year.


* United Airlines and Delta Air Lines on Thursday said they had each canceled dozens of Christmas Eve flights, as the spreading Omicron variant takes a toll on its flight crews and other workers.

* U.S. healthcare workers who test positive but are asymptomatic can now return to work after seven days in isolation, provided they test negative.

* Ecuador has made it obligatory for eligible people to be vaccinated.

* New York will sharply limit the number of people it allows in Times Square for its New Year's Eve celebration, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.


* South Africa will start offering booster shots of Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) vaccine from Friday, the health department said, following its approval for use as a booster by the health regulator a day earlier.

* Kenya's sudden decision to demand proof of vaccination to access public places and transport was met by a combination of bemusement, dismissal and the occasional spot of enforcement.


* A Japanese health ministry panel recommended approval of the COVID-19 antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co Inc, part of plans to roll out new treatments by yearend as concerns rise about the Omicron variant.

* CanSino Biologics' vaccine was 57.5% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and 91.7% against severe disease four weeks or longer after one dose, while its protection appeared lower in older people, peer-reviewed results from a large trial showed.


* Stock markets in Europe and Asia cemented gains in light holiday trade on Friday, while the safe-haven dollar eased on signs the Omicron variant would not significantly derail global economic growth.

* The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits held below pre-pandemic levels last week as the labor market tightens, while consumer spending increased solidly, putting the economy on track for a strong finish to 2021.

* Japan's cabinet approved an annual budget of $940 billion that is a record for a tenth straight year, prioritising the COVID-19 response and the prime minister's aim of growth and wealth distribution.

(Compiled by Anita Kobylinska and Devika Syamnath; Edited by Shounak Dasgupta and Toby Chopra)

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