Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus
(Reuters) - The European Union is pushing for a global deal aimed at preventing new pandemics that could include a ban on wildlife markets and incentives for countries to report new viruses or variants, an EU official told Reuters.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
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* More than 50 people believed to have attended lockdown parties at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street will be contacted by police to explain their involvement, officers said, as they considered widening their investigation.
* Top European Union officials said low absorption of COVID-19 vaccines in African countries had become the main problem in the global vaccine rollout following a recent increase in supplies of jabs.
* Sweden scrapped almost all of its few pandemic restrictions stopped most testing for COVID-19, even as the pressure on the healthcare systems remained high and some scientists begged for more patience in fighting the disease.
* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he intended to end the legal obligation for people in England to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19 later this month.
* The governors of New York and Massachusetts announced they would end certain mask mandates in their states, joining a growing list of state leaders planning to lift face-covering rules as the latest COVID-19 surge eases.
* Students and teachers should continue to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools, even as states lift mask mandates, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
* Protesters blocking border crossings between Canada and the United States risk hurting the auto industry, the White House warned as Ottawa urged an end to the 13-day demonstration against coronavirus mandates.
* The head of the U.S. CDC said lower COVID cases and hospitalizations were encouraging as it weighs its current recommendations but that "we are not there yet", adding that localities should make any decisions regarding masks.
* Japan's prime minister said the government would extend COVID-19 restrictions in Tokyo and 12 prefectures by three weeks as the Omicron variant continued to spread.
* South Korea's parliament explored ways on Wednesday to allow people who have caught the novel coronavirus to cast their ballot in next month's presidential election, as the number of new cases spiralled to nearly 50,000 for the first time.
AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
* Palestinian authorities have ramped up COVID-19 testing and vaccinations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and warned that public indifference to their calls for masking and social distancing is hampering efforts to fight the pandemic.
* The U.S. government is planning to roll out COVID-19 shots for children under the age of 5 as soon as Feb. 21, according to a document from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
* World stocks rallied, with Wall Street rising again on a Big Tech boost and European shares gaining on strong earnings as investors put aside worries about rising interest rates for now. [MKTS/GLOB]
(Compiled by Shailesh Kuber and Krishna Chandra Eluri; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Anil D'Silva)
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