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(Reuters) - Argentina and Brazil continued to report record spikes in daily cases, while Mexico braced for a grim death milestone, even as several nations raced to vaccinate residents amid doubts over lasting effects of booster doses.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
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* France reported 261,481 new infections on Thursday, less than the record of more than 332,000 set on Wednesday.
* Italy reported a record daily number of new cases on Thursday at 219,441 against 189,109 the day before.
* Chicago public schools cancelled classes for a second day on Thursday amid a walkout by teachers demanding tougher COVID-19 protection measures.
* Mexico is likely to surpass 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 this week — the fifth highest death toll worldwide — as infections rise after the holiday season, fuelled by the Omicron variant and largely unrestricted tourism.
* Argentina reported a record number of COVID-19 cases on Thursday for a third day in a row at nearly 110,000.
* Costa Rica said health authorities would begin vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 on Jan. 11.
* The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), an event for video games, technology, and computers, will not be held in person this year.
* India reported 117,100 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the most since early June, as the Omicron variant overtakes Delta in the cities.
* Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said people who have not taken COVID-19 shots will be arrested if they disobeyed stay-at-home orders.
* In a letter to China, North Korea blamed "hostile forces" and COVID-19 risks for not being able to attend the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, state media said.
* China reported fewer COVID cases on Friday as several cities have curbed movements, while a top official warned hospitals not to turn away patients after a woman's miscarriage during a lockdown in the city of Xian sparked outrage.
* Japan is set to declare quasi-emergency measures in three regions on Friday to stem a COVID-19 surge that some officials have linked to U.S. military bases in the country.
* The Omicron outbreak in Australia's New South Wales could peak by the end of January, official modelling showed on Friday, as authorities reinstated some restrictions in a bid to slow the record spike in infections.
* Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic spent a second day in immigration detention in Australia as his lawyers battled to secure his release to play in the Australian Open and be exempt from strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
* Africa's top public health official said severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain COVID-19, praising South Africa for adopting that approach when responding to its latest wave driven by Omicron.
* The more infectious Omicron variant appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as "mild", World Health Organization officials said.
* Johnson & Johnson said a real-world study showed its single shot COVID-19 vaccine protects against breakthrough infections and hospitalisations for up to six months.
* The efficacy of boosters against COVID-19 is likely to decline over the next few months and people may need another shot in the fall of 2022, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said at a healthcare conference.
* The Philippines' unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, as an easing of curbs allowed more business activity, though concerns are growing about the impact of the Omicron variant.
(Compiled by Shailesh Kuber, Jagoda Darlak and Uttaresh.V; Edited by Mark Potter, Arun Koyyur and Shounak Dasgupta)
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