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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Dec. 19 to Dec. 25, cases in China's Xi'an hit high for year

Japan approves Merck's oral pill; South Korea's serious infections reach record

Police and staff members inspect a traveler's documents at a railway station entrance in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China, on Dec. 23. (China Daily via Reuters) 

Nikkei Asia is tracking the spread of the coronavirus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Cumulative global cases have reached 278,970,424, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,392,821.

For more information about the spread of COVID-19 and vaccination progress around the world, please see our interactive charts and maps.

-- Global coronavirus tracker charts

-- Status of vaccinations around the world


Saturday, Dec. 25 (Tokyo time)

2:03 p.m. China's Xi'an detects 75 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for Dec. 24, its highest daily count of the year and reversing the previous day's decline, official data shows, according to a Reuters report. Residents in the city of 13 million in the country's northwest are in their third day under lockdown. They have been banned from leaving Xi'an without clearance from employers or local authorities. Households can send only one person to shop for necessities every two days. Other family members may not leave home unless they have essential jobs or urgent matters approved by employers or communities.

10:20 a.m. China reports 140 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Dec. 24, up from 87 a day earlier, according to its health authority. Of the new infections, 87 were locally transmitted, a statement by the National Health Commission says, compared with 55 a day earlier. Most of the new local cases were in the northwestern province of Shaanxi. China reported 24 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, down from 26 a day earlier.

5:15 a.m. Commercial airlines around the world cancel more than 4,000 flights over the Christmas weekend, citing personnel shortages stemming from the surge of COVID-19 infections.

At least 2,300 flights were scrapped on Friday, with another 1,400 called off for Christmas Day and 340 more scheduled for Sunday, according to a running tally on the flight-tracking website

COVID-19 infections have surged in the U.S. and Europe in recent days due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Friday, Dec. 24

7:00 p.m. A Japanese government expert panel gives the green light to Merck's antiviral pill molnupiravir, making it the country's first oral treatment against COVID. Molnupiravir so far has been authorized for use in the U.S., U.K. and the Philippines, among others. Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia have also expressed interest in the drug, according to Reuters, though France has canceled its order.

4:00 p.m. Thailand reports its first domestic cluster of coronavirus infections from the omicron variant, in Kalasin Province in the northeast. The 21 cases confirmed so far stem from a couple who traveled from Belgium under the country's Test and Go program, which waived quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, a government official says. The announcement comes as Bangkok canceled government-sponsored New Year's activities, including midnight prayers. Fireworks and countdown events organized by malls were still going forward but would require proof of vaccination and antigen test results.

2:30 p.m. Tokyo reports its first case of community transmission of the omicron variant. A doctor at a clinic in the capital with no history of recent travel overseas was confirmed to be infected with the variant through an unknown route, the metropolitan government says.

1:34 p.m. Daily confirmed cases of the omicron variant in India climb to 358 from 236 a day ago, with the state of Maharashtra accounting for most such cases (88) followed by Delhi (67), the health ministry says.

The country reported 6,650 new COVID-19 infections overall in the last 24 hours, down from 7,495 the previous day, bringing the total caseload to 34.77 million. Deaths jumped by 374 to 479,133.

India's cumulative vaccination coverage has crossed 1.4 billion doses, with over 88% of its eligible adult population receiving at least one shot, while 60% have gotten both doses.

A South Korean is tested for COVID-19 in Seoul on Dec. 15. The number of patients in serious condition rose to 1,084 on Dec. 23, a record high for a third straight day.   © Reuters

12:00 p.m. South Korea reports 6,233 new coronavirus cases for Thursday, bringing the cumulative total to 596,209, according to the Yonhap news agency. The number of patients in serious condition rose to 1,084, a record high for a third straight day, adding pressure on the country's already reeling hospitals.

11:30 a.m. 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 Phase 3 trial show. The single-shot Ad5-nCoV vaccine, which CanSinoBIO co-developed with the Chinese military-backed Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, has been approved for use in countries such as China, Mexico and Pakistan.

10:30 a.m. Japan's Cabinet approves a 107.60 trillion yen ($940 billion) draft budget for fiscal 2022, the largest ever, to finance measures against the coronavirus pandemic plus higher social security costs and spend a record amount on defense. Fiscal 2021's initial budget was 106.61 trillion yen. The budget for the new fiscal year starting in April will be a record high for the 10th year in a row.

10:00 a.m. China reports 87 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Thursday, down from 100 a day earlier, its health authority says. Of the new infections, 55 were locally transmitted, compared with 71 from a day earlier. Most of the new local cases were in the northwestern province of Shaanxi. China also reports 26 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from 19 a day earlier.

Health care workers at a drive-thru testing site in Hammond, Louisiana, earlier this year. New U.S. guidance cuts quarantine time to seven days for health care workers who contract COVID-19 but are asymptomatic and now test negative.   © Reuters

9:20 a.m. Health care workers in the United States who contract COVID-19 but are asymptomatic can return to work after seven days in isolation if they now test negative, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The new guidance cuts the quarantine time from a previously recommended 10 days, which the CDC said was in preparation for an anticipated increase in omicron cases. Omicron now accounts for 73% of coronavirus infections in the United States. The CDC said the quarantine time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages due to COVID-19.

8:50 a.m. Japan's core consumer prices rose 0.5% in November from a year earlier, government data shows, the fastest pace of increase in nearly two years and a sign that the fallout from global commodity price inflation is broadening. The rise in the nationwide core consumer price index, which excludes volatile fresh food but includes oil, was the biggest since February 2020 and followed a 0.1% rise in October.

2:30 a.m. Britain has a record number of new coronavirus cases as the omicron variant sweeps across the country, with the daily tally reaching 119,789, from 106,122 a day earlier. Many industries and transport networks are struggling with staff shortages as sick workers self-isolate, and hospitals have warned of the risk of an impact on patient safety. Omicron's rapid advance has driven a surge in cases over the last seven days, with the total rising by 678,165.

A U.S. Army soldier prepares a Pfizer shot at a mass vaccination site in Miami on March 10. The army has developed a universal COVID-19 vaccine also meant to work against SARS, with a full announcement expected soon on results from Phase 1 clinical trials.   © Reuters

1:34 a.m. The U.S. Army has developed a COVID-19 vaccine meant to work against not only all variants, but also the closely related coronavirus behind SARS.

The spike ferritin nanoparticle (SpFN) technology showed promising results in Chinese-origin rhesus macaques in preclinical research recently published by Science Translational Medicine. It was not tested on the omicron variant specifically there, but laboratory testing on variants is ongoing, and data from Phase 1 trials in humans is still being analyzed, according to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. A full official announcement could come "within weeks," the Defense One website reports.

12:30 a.m. A third dose of Sinovac's COVID vaccine does not provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, new research indicates, contradicting the Chinese vaccine maker's claim that it does. Read more here.

Thursday, Dec. 23

11:34 p.m. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes Merck's antiviral pill for COVID-19, after giving the go-ahead to a similar treatment from Pfizer a day earlier. Merck's drug, molnupiravir, developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, was shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by around 30% in a clinical trial of high-risk individuals early in the course of the illness. The drug is not authorized for patients younger than 18 because molnupiravir may affect bone and cartilage growth, the FDA says.

10:43 p.m. The omicron coronavirus variant appears unlikely to have a long-term impact on manufacturing supply chains in the coming months, but that will depend on how many people get vaccinated, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says.

The U.S. Labor Department reports that new claims for jobless benefits held below pre-pandemic levels last week, unchanged at a seasonally adjusted 205,000, leaving the unemployment rate at a 21-month low of 4.2%. Consumer spending increased solidly, at 0.6% in November, putting the U.S. economy on track for a strong finish to 2021. But inflation pressures continue, as the personal consumption expenditures price index, excluding the volatile food and energy components, rose 0.5% last month.

10:14 p.m. Germany's Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases confirms the country's first death due to the omicron variant, an individual between age 60 and 79.

National Hockey League players will not be competing at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games.   © Reuters

6:00 p.m. Beijing Olympics organizers say they "regret" the National Hockey League's decision to ban its players from competing at the Winter Games because of disruption to the league schedule caused by the pandemic. The withdrawal means some of the sport's best-known athletes will not appear at the Games.

"We express regret that they cannot take part in the Games because of COVID," said Huang Chun, an official of the Beijing organizing committee. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the postponement of 50 regular-season games since the omicron variant started to spread through teams had made participation in the Olympics "no longer feasible."

4:20 p.m. The Kyoto local government has confirmed that a local woman in her 20s has been infected with the omicron variant, adding that she had not traveled overseas recently. Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki says the infection appears to be the prefecture's first community-transmitted case. The woman, who had been fully vaccinated, showed symptoms such as a high temperature on Sunday and has been hospitalized since Monday. Her symptoms are now mild. Authorities are checking seven people who had close contact with her. On Wednesday, Osaka Prefecture found three family members who had no travel history infected with the new variant -- the first community-transmitted cases confirmed in Japan.

2:30 p.m. Australia's two most populous states reintroduce curbs as daily infections hit their highest point amid an omicron outbreak and a rush on already-stretched testing clinics. New South Wales, home to a third of Australia's 25 million people, is again making it mandatory to wear masks indoors in public places. In addition, venues have been told to limit the number of visitors and reactivate QR code check-ins for customers. Victoria, with nearly the same population, also reintroduced a mask mandate.

1:59 p.m. India's omicron case tally rises to 236 from 213 a day ago, with western Maharashtra state reporting 65 infections and the national capital territory of Delhi 64, the health ministry says. Overall COVID infections across the nation surged to 7,495 for the past 24 hours, up from 6,317 the previous day, bringing India's total caseload to over 34.76 million. Fatalities rose by 434 to 478,759.

Children in Manila queue for free food from a relief program amid the coronavirus disease. The country's food and drug agency has now granted emergency approval to administer the Pfizer vaccine to children aged 5 to 11.    © Reuters

12:30 p.m. The Philippines' food and drug agency has granted emergency approval to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11. Agency chief Enrique Domingo says the benefits outweigh the risks, with children in countries like the United States and Canada already receiving shots.

12:10 p.m. Organizers of the Beijing Winter Olympics say they expect a "certain number" of COVID-19 cases in China as foreigners arrive for the Games, and are strongly urging participants to get vaccination boosters due to the spread of the omicron variant. The Games, set to run from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20, will take place in a "closed loop" to contain the spread of the virus in China, which has some of the world's strictest COVID curbs and has largely managed to control local outbreaks.

11:30 a.m. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says his government has taken full-blown measures against the omicron variant, a day after Japan reported its first case of community transmission of the new variant. "Using the time we bought through strengthened border control (since late November), we have accelerated efforts to enhance the process of prevention, testing and early treatment," he said. Japan banned new entries by foreigners globally from Nov. 30, with the step continuing at least until early next year.

11:00 a.m. Australia reports a spike in coronavirus infections a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected lockdowns to slow the spread of the omicron variant. The country's most populous state, New South Wales, reports 5,715 new cases, up from 3,763 a day earlier. Cases requiring hospital treatment jump to 347 people in New South Wales from 302 the previous day, with 45 in intensive care units, up from 40. Victoria state has also seen a sharp increase in infections, reporting 2,005 new cases.

10:30 a.m. Japan has upgraded its growth projections for the fiscal year starting next April, with the Cabinet Office predicting gross domestic product will hit a record despite risks from the omicron variant of the coronavirus and supply constraints. Projected real GDP growth for fiscal 2022 has been raised to 3.2% from the 2.2% forecast in July, buoyed after parliament this week approved a record extra stimulus budget.

6:20 a.m. A smaller percentage of people infected with the omicron coronavirus variant are likely to require hospital treatment compared with cases of the delta strain, health care data from South Africa, Denmark and the U.K. shows. The findings by separate research teams raise hopes that there will be fewer cases of severe disease than those caused by other strains of the virus, but the researchers cautioned that omicron's high degree of infectiousness could still strain health services.

3:21 a.m. Scientists in South Africa say COVID-19 cases look to have peaked in Gauteng Province about 30 days after the omicron variant was first detected there and the impact of surging infections has been less severe than previous waves. While more research was needed, the scientists say, the data from South Africa tells a "positive story" about the variant's severity. Gauteng -- the region where omicron first emerged -- is now seeing a fall in daily cases and the percentage of positive tests.

2:55 a.m. Turkey has kicked off mass production of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccine Turkovac, after authorities gave emergency use authorization to the shot, touted as "better" than China's Sinovac.

A Pfizer sign outside the company's Manhattan offices.   © Reuters

Vaccine administration will begin before the year ends, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says. Read more here.

2:34 a.m. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency-use authorization for Pfizer's antiviral COVID-19 pill, making it the first at-home treatment for the coronavirus expected to fight the omicron variant.

The company's clinical trial indicates its two-drug antiviral regimen was 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness. Recent lab data suggests the drug is effective against omicron.

The pills will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid, and Pfizer says it is ready to begin delivery in the U.S. immediately.

12:22 a.m. Christmas and New Year's gatherings are banned across the Indian capital of New Delhi. The Delhi territorial government directs that "no cultural events, gatherings [or] congregations take place for celebrating" those holidays, given the need to take all requisite measures and actions to control the spread of COVID-19.

India, which detected its first two omicron cases on Dec. 2, so far has reported 213 such infections, with Delhi accounting for the most at 57, followed by western Maharashtra state and southern Telangana.

12:08 a.m. The National Hockey League says it will not send players to compete in the men's ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, after the North American league's regular season schedule is disrupted by a surge in COVID-19 cases. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman notes that 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 and says "Olympic participation is no longer feasible."

Wednesday, Dec. 22

10:48 p.m. The Chinese city of Xi'an orders its 13 million residents to stay home and urges them not to leave town unnecessarily as it struggles to contain rising COVID-19 cases under Beijing's guideline that flare-ups must be curbed as quickly as possible.

Xi'an, in China's northwest, has reported more than 140 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms since Dec. 12 in its latest cluster caused by the delta variant. Starting Thursday, only one person in each household can go out for necessary shopping every two days, while other family members must stay home unless they have essential jobs, a city official says.

4:28 p.m. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rules out a Christmas lockdown, saying hospitals are coping well despite a record surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant. Australia is grappling with the more transmissible variant as the government eased restrictions ahead of the Christmas holidays having achieved a higher rate of vaccination. "Despite these rising cases, hospitals and health systems remain in a strong position but of course they will be tested," Morrison told reporters in Canberra after an emergency cabinet meeting.

Authorities in the Japanese city of Osaka say they have found 'community-acquired' omicron infections in a family of three. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

2:45 p.m. Three members of a family in Osaka with no history of travel abroad have been infected with omicron, local authorities say. These cases represent Japan's first community transmission of the variant. The three are a man and a woman in their 30s and a girl under the age of 10, who had fever and other symptoms, the Osaka prefectural government said. Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura describes the cases as a "community-acquired infection," adding that all three have been hospitalized.

1:40 p.m. India logs 6,317 new cases in the last 24 hours, up from 5,326 the previous day, bringing the country's total to 34.76 million. Deaths jumped by 318 to 478,325. Meanwhile, the country's omicron case count has risen to 213 from 200 a day ago, according to a health ministry statement.

12:46 p.m. Singapore will stop sales of tickets for designated flights for its quarantine-free entry program for a month starting on Thursday, due to concerns over the omicron coronavirus variant. The new measures are "proactive and preemptive steps to manage the inflow of vaccinated travel lane travelers and mitigate the risk to the Singapore community while we observe and assess the emerging situation," the civil aviation authority said.

12:28 p.m. Ten employees of the sushi chain Sushiro at the ongoing Expo 2020 in Dubai were infected with COVID-19, according to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The restaurant will refrain from operating until its safety is confirmed. The conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, which stands right by the Japan Pavilion, has been closed since Dec. 20.

9:53 a.m. South Korea's new daily cases rebound to 7,456 after falling for three consecutive days. Total infections reach 583,065, with 4,906 deaths. The death toll is expected to increase further, as the number of hospitalized patients in serious condition hit a fresh record of 1,063.

9:32 a.m. Israel will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people older than 60 amid concern about the spread of the omicron variant. The decision follows the first known death in Israel of a patient with omicron. An Israeli hospital on Tuesday confirmed the death but said he had suffered from a number of serious preexisting conditions.

U.S. President Joe Biden has come under fire for his handling of the coronavirus.   © Reuters

5:00 a.m. U.S. President Joe Biden announces additional federal COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites to push back a surge of the omicron variant, adding that 500 million at-home rapid tests will be available for Americans to order free online starting next month.

Addressing the nation from the White House, Biden said the 1 in 4 American adults who are not fully vaccinated "have a significantly higher risk of ending up in the hospital or even dying."

"No, this is not March of 2020," Biden said. "Two hundred million people are fully vaccinated, we're prepared, we know more."

New measures also include activating some 1,000 military medical personnel to support hospitals already being overwhelmed by COVID patients in some areas, according to a senior administration official cited by Reuters. The speech came as the president faces heavy criticism for his handling of the virus, which has killed more Americans this year than it did last year. Omicron now accounts for 73% of all new cases, according to the latest U.S. data, up from less than 1% at the beginning of the month.

3:43 a.m. The World Health Organization tells European countries to brace for a "significant surge" in COVID-19 cases as omicron spreads and advises the widespread use of boosters. Omicron has been detected in at least 38 of the 53 countries in the WHO's European region since it emerged last month. It is already dominant in several of them, including Denmark, Portugal and the U.K., WHO's Europe chief, Hans Kluge, told a news conference. "We can see another storm coming," he said. "Within weeks, omicron will dominate in more countries of the region, pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink."

3:22 a.m. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces a $100 incentive for residents who get a COVID-19 vaccine booster at city-run sites by the end of the year. Elsewhere in New York, where the omicron variant is surging, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is limiting attendance and Mayor-elect Eric Adams will postpone his inaugural ceremony.

Tuesday, Dec. 21

9:15 p.m. Philippine health authorities push forward the wait time for vaccine booster shots to three months in a bid to stop the spread of the omicron variant. The Philippines follows similar moves by South Korea, the U.K. and other countries that are lowering the intervals of boosters to prevent new surges in infections. Adults who received a two-dose regiment no longer have to wait six months to get a third shot. Filipinos who received a single-dose vaccine now can get a second booster shot after two months, the Health Ministry says.

6:10 p.m. Thailand halts its Test and Go waiver, meaning foreign arrivals will have to quarantine at hotels for between seven to 10 days. Meanwhile, the country's so-called "sandbox" program, which allows visitors to leave their hotels but remain in a specific geographic location, will also be suspended except on the resort island of Phuket.

4:30 p.m. About 11 million, or 15%, of the remaining inventory of "Abenomasks," the washable cloth masks accumulated by the administration of then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have been found to be defective in a recent inspection, says Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. It has cost the government about 2 billion yen ($18m) to store and inspect the inventory, he says. From March 2020, the government procured around 260 million such masks to be distributed to households as well as nursing care and child care facilities. However, the masks proved unpopular and 71 million have not been handed out.

Japan's then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enters a venue for a news conference in May 2020. Now, around 11 million 'Abenomasks' have been found to be defective.   © Reuters

3:08 p.m. India has so far detected 200 omicron cases, with the states of Delhi and Maharashtra reporting the most infections, at 54 each, the health ministry says. The country reported its first two cases of the new variant on Dec. 2. India has logged 5,326 COVID-19 cases since Monday morning, the lowest daily count in 19 months, bringing the country's total to 34.75 million. Fatalities rose by 453 to 478,007.

2:00 p.m. Japan raises its overall economic assessment for the first time in 17 months in December as consumers and companies turned more optimistic about the outlook on falling COVID-19 cases at home. Authorities raised their assessments for private consumption and business conditions, with the services sector underpinned by easing coronavirus restrictions, but they signaled ongoing risks from supply constraints and raw material prices.

1:00 p.m. A cluster linked to a U.S. military base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa has grown to around 200, Japan's government says. The Camp Hansen cluster has hit American soldiers and local workers. The Japanese government has requested the U.S. armed forces test for the omicron variant, do genome analysis and take more thorough measures to prevent the cluster's spread.

12:00 p.m. South Korea reports 5,202 new cases for Monday, with 49 omicron infections, according to the Yonhap News Agency. While the total number of cases fell, the number of patients in serious condition rebounded to exceed 1,000, putting more pressure on a health system scrambling to secure hospital beds.

10:30 a.m. Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials say. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers show nearly a sixfold increase in omicron's share of infections in only one week.

5:04 a.m. The White House is considering easing travel restrictions to southern African countries as U.S. infection rates of the fast-spreading omicron variant rise, top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says. "We're letting in people from other countries that have as much or more infection than the southern African countries," he tells the National Press Club. "So likely we are going to look at that very carefully to see if we can pull back."

4:37 a.m. Quebec, Canada's second-most populous province, orders bars, gyms and casinos shut and directs people to work only from home to fight the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Christian Dube, the province's health minister, says Quebec had a record 4,500 new daily cases of the coronavirus.

Moderna aims to develop an omicron-specific vaccine, with clinical trials hoped for early 2022.   © Reuters

3:30 a.m. Moderna says a booster dose of its vaccine appears to protect against the fast-spreading omicron variant in laboratory tests. The company says its decision to focus on the current vaccine, mRNA-1273, was driven in part by how quickly the recently discovered variant is spreading. Moderna says it still plans to develop a vaccine to protect against omicron specifically and hopes to start clinical trials early next year.

12:39 a.m. The European Commission authorizes the use of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union. The decision came shortly after the EU drugs regulator had recommended its approval. "With five approved vaccines, the EU has a varied portfolio, based both on novel technologies, such as mRNA, and classic ones, like Novavax, which is protein-based," tweeted the head of the bloc's executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Monday, Dec. 20

10:36 p.m. India, which reported its first two omicron infections on Dec. 2, says the new variant case count has risen to 161. "We have already arranged a buffer stock of important medicines so that we don't face any problem when the variant spreads [further]," health minister Mansukh Mandaviya tells India's parliament. The country, which launched the world's largest COVID-19 inoculation drive on Jan. 16, has administered over 1.37 billion vaccine doses, with 88% of its eligible adult population of 944 million having received at least one shot while 58% have gotten both doses, he says.

10:17 p.m. The European Union's drug regulator approves use of the COVID-19 vaccine from U.S.-based Novavax in people 18 and older, paving the way for a fifth coronavirus shot in the region. Data from two large studies shows the vaccine has an efficacy of around 90%, the European Medicines Agency says, noting that data is limited on efficacy against some variants of concern, including omicron.

Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum is seen hosting an event in Geneva, Switzerland in January. (Photo courtesy of the WEF)

10:02 p.m. The World Economic Forum postpones its 2022 meeting of global business and political leaders in the Swiss town of Davos due to the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, saying it will put off the event scheduled for January 17-21 until "early summer."

"Despite the meeting's stringent health protocols, the transmissibility of Omicron and its impact on travel and mobility have made deferral necessary," the organization said in a news release.

6:10 p.m. A cluster linked to a U.S. military base in Japan has grown to at least 180 cases, Japan's government says. A Japanese worker at Camp Hansen, on the southern island of Okinawa, on Friday tested positive for the omicron variant. The cluster has grown to 180 cases, though it is not clear how many are of the highly contagious variant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.

Ben Gurion international airport, near Tel Aviv. Israel is adding the United States to a no-fly list.   © Reuters

5:20 p.m. Israel has added the United States to its "no fly" list, citing concerns over the spread of the omicron variant. Under the edict, which takes effect on Tuesday night, Israelis will need special permission to fly to the country, which becomes one of more than 50 on the list. In a televised address on Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was able to buy some time by quickly throttling travel when omicron first surfaced last month but that the variant is now catching up. He predicted a surge of sicknesses within a few weeks.

4:00 p.m. Toyota Motor says it will suspend production at five domestic factories in January due to supply chain issues, chip shortages and the pandemic. The Japanese automaker says the stoppage will affect about 20,000 vehicles but won't impact the company's 9 million vehicle manufacturing target this year.

3:30 p.m. Thailand finds its first locally transmitted case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a Thai woman, the health ministry says. She tested positive for omicron after contracting the virus from her husband, a Colombian who returned to Thailand from Nigeria in late November. The ministry will propose scrapping a quarantine waiver for vaccinated visitors and revert to hotel quarantine and a "sandbox" program, which allows free movement in specific locations, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said. In total, Thailand has detected 63 people infected with the variant so far, Anutin said.

2:00 p.m. New Zealand authorities say they have linked a 26-year-old man's death to Pfizer's vaccine; he had suffered myocarditis, a rare inflammation of the heart muscle, after taking his first dose. The death is New Zealand's second linked to a known but rare side effect. In August a woman had died after taking her doses. "With the current available information, the board has considered that the myocarditis was probably due to vaccination in this individual," the COVID-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board said. The man, who died within two weeks of his first dose, had not sought medical advice or treatment for his symptoms.

The Nikkei Stock Average closed the morning session at 28,055 on Dec. 20, down 1.7% from the previous close, on concerns over the spread of the omicron variant. (File photo by Kai Fujii)

12:00 p.m. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average fell in morning trade, tracking Wall Street's weak finish over the weekend, as worries about the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant dented investor sentiment. It closed the morning session at 28,055, down 1.7% from Friday's close. China's announcement during the session that it had cut its key lending rate fueled concerns over weakness in the Chinese economy, accelerating the sell-off.

10:55 a.m. China's central bank cuts its benchmark lending rate for the first time in 20 months, as the country's economy slows. The People's Bank of China reduced the one-year loan prime rate, or LPR, to 3.8%, down from 3.85%, at its December meeting. The cut came after the PBOC decreased the reserve requirement ratio imposed on commercial banks by 0.5% earlier this month, the second reduction this year.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren says on Twitter she is vaccinated and has received a booster shot.   © Reuters

6:47 a.m. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 72, tests positive for COVID-19 and says she is experiencing mild symptoms. The progressive Massachusetts Democrat says on Twitter she is vaccinated and received a booster shot.

Sunday, Dec. 19

11:10 p.m. The European Commission says it reached an agreement with BioNTech and Pfizer for the delivery of an extra 20 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to European Union states in the first quarter of 2022. This comes on top of an already scheduled 195 million doses from BioNTech-Pfizer, bringing the total number of deliveries in the first quarter to 215 million, the commission says.

8:45 p.m. Iran confirms its first case of the omicron COVID-19 variant. Kamal Heidari, the nation's deputy health minister, tells state TV that the infected person is a middle-aged Iranian man who returned recently from the United Arab Emirates.

7:50 p.m. Britain's health minister declines to rule out further COVID-19 restrictions before Christmas, according to Reuters. "There are no guarantees in this pandemic, I don't think. At this point, we just have to keep everything under review," Sajid Javid tells BBC Television.

7:36 p.m. Italy is considering new measures to avoid a surge in COVID-19 infections during the holiday period, daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reports. Prime Minister Mario Draghi plans to meet with ministers on Thursday, after which he might require vaccinated individuals to show a negative test to enter crowded places including discos and stadiums. Negative tests also could be required to enter cinemas and theaters, along with wearing masks outdoors, the daily added.

3:05 a.m. The Netherlands will go into a strict lockdown over the Christmas and New Year's period to try to contain the highly contagious omicron variant, Prime Minister Mark Rutte says. All nonessential shops and services, including restaurants, hairdressers, museums and gyms will be closed from Sunday until Jan. 14. All schools will be shut until at least Jan. 9. "The Netherlands is again shutting down. That is unavoidable because of the fifth wave that is coming at us with the omicron variant," Rutte tells a news conference.

2:24 a.m. Two U.S. Air Force crew members supporting Secretary of State Antony Blinken's travel last week to the U.K. and Southeast Asia have tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson for the air force says. The new cases, which had not been previously disclosed, bring the total number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 traveling on Blinken's plane last week to three.

Saturday, Dec. 18

11:29 p.m. Britain reports a surge in omicron cases that government advisers say could be just the tip of the iceberg, and London's mayor declared a "major incident" to help the city's hospitals cope. Omicron cases across the country hit almost 25,000 as of 1800 GMT on Friday, up by more than 10,000 cases from 24 hours earlier, the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says. Seven people believed to have had the omicron variant had died as of Thursday, up from one death in the UKHSA's previous data which ran up to Tuesday. Admissions to hospital of people thought to have the variant increased to 85 from 65.

8:07 p.m. Beijing city says it is advising residents not to leave town during a major holiday season in early 2022, part of efforts to limit coronavirus risks while the Winter Olympics Games are being held. In addition to encouraging people not to take unnecessary trips outside the city, it will also call for some gatherings to be held online, according to its statement. The northern Hebei Province that will co-host the Games with Beijing as well as several other cities have issued similar advisories.

7:02 p.m. The omicron variant is spreading significantly faster than the delta strain in countries with documented community transmission, with a doubling time of 1.5 to 3 days, the World Health Organization says. Omicron, which was designated as a variant of concern on Nov. 26, has been identified in 89 countries across all six WHO regions as of Thursday, the WHO said.

6:18 p.m. Paris cancels fireworks and other festivities on the Champs Elysees avenue on New Year's Eve in line with new government rules to prevent the spread of the omicron variant, BFM TV reports. French Prime Minister Jean Castex says major public parties and fireworks would be banned on New Year's Eve and recommended that people -- even if vaccinated -- take a COVID-19 self-test before getting together for year-end parties.

11:52 a.m. A U.S. federal appeals court panel allows President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for larger private employers to move ahead, reversing a previous decision on a requirement that could affect some 84 million U.S workers, The Associated Press reports. The 2-1 decision overrules a decision by a federal judge in a separate court that had paused the mandate nationwide.

The mandate from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration was to take effect Jan. 4. With the latest ruling, it is not clear when the requirement might be put in place, but the White House said in a statement that it will protect workers: "Especially as the U.S. faces the highly transmissible omicron variant, it's critical we move forward with vaccination requirements and protections for workers with the urgency needed in this moment."


To catch up on earlier developments, see last week's latest updates.

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