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Coronavirus: Free to read

Coronavirus: Week of Dec. 5 to Dec. 11, Singapore approves vaccination of kids 5-11 years old

Japan confirms 8 more omicron cases; South Africa to offer Pfizer and J&J booster shots

Students have their temperature checked at a secondary school in Singapore in June 2020.   © 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 268,464,017, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,286,504.

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

UPDATE CLOSED

Saturday, Dec. 11 (Tokyo time)

2:15 a.m. Singapore will start COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 years before the end of this year, its health ministry says.

Friday, Dec. 10

5:54 p.m. Japan has confirmed eight more cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the government says, bringing the total number of infections from the new strain in the country to 12. All eight entered Japan from late November to early this month, according to a government official.

4:25 p.m. South Africa is preparing to offer booster doses of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, a senior health official says. The health department's Nicholas Crisp says Pfizer booster shots will be offered six months from a second dose and that Johnson & Johnson boosters, initially only available for health workers, will soon be given to others.

4:10 p.m. AstraZeneca says it will supply Singapore with its COVID antibody cocktail, Evusheld, by year-end. Evusheld can offer another layer of protection, alongside vaccines, to people who are at high risk of infection, the drug maker said in a statement. The company did not specify how many courses of the treatment it will supply to the city-state.

1:53 p.m. India reports 8,503 new cases in the last 24 hours, down from 9,419 the previous day and remaining below 10,000 for the 14th consecutive day, bringing the country's total to 34.67 million. Fatalities rose by 624 to 474,735. The country -- which has so far reported 23 omicron variant cases - has vaccinated over 85% of its eligible adult population of 944 million with at least one dose, while over 50% have received both shots.

12:00 p.m. South Korea reports 7,022 new coronavirus infections, pushing the country's cumulative total to 503,606 cases. The daily count was down slightly from 7,102 a day earlier, but exceeded the 7,000 mark for the third straight day.

A woman takes a COVID-19 test in Singapore in September. The city state has now detected its first locally transmitted case of the omicron variant.   © Reuters

10:50 a.m. Singapore has detected its first locally transmitted case of the COVID-19 variant omicron in a member of staff at the city-state's airport, authorities say, warning that more omicron infections will likely be discovered. The 24-year-old Singaporean woman, who works in a service role in the airport, "may have interacted with transit passengers from omicron-affected countries," the health ministry says. She tested preliminarily positive for omicron as part of routine testing for frontline workers, it says, noting she was fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

10:30 a.m. Japan's wholesale inflation hit a record 9.0% in November, pushing gains into a ninth straight month, a sign upward pressure on prices from supply bottlenecks and climbing raw material costs were broadening. The rising cost pressures, coupled with a weak yen that inflates the price of imported goods, add to pain for the world's third-largest economy as it emerges from a consumption slump driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

8:00 a.m. Australia will begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 5 to 11 from Jan. 10, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says. After reviewing clinical data from Canada, the country's vaccination advisory group recommended an eight-week interval between the two doses. Pfizer doses will be administered in the initial phase, while regulators assess the suitability of Moderna shots. Some 70% of children aged 12 to 15 have been fully vaccinated.

Australia plans to offer COVID vaccines to children aged 5 to 11 from Jan. 10. Pfizer doses will be administered at first, while regulators assess the suitability of Moderna shots.   © Reuters

1:20 a.m. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The decision comes the day after the drugmakers offered new data suggesting that boosters likely bolster immune defenses against the new omicron variant.

Thursday, Dec. 9

6:00 p.m. Thailand's economy is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023 but its recovery will be slower than some other countries in the region, the central bank governor told a business forum. "Recovery will be slow and uneven ... because COVID hit us in the soft underbelly in the tourism sector," Bank of Thailand Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said.

3:00 p.m. Authorities in Pakistan have detected the first case of the omicron variant, a provincial health ministry official told Reuters. The spokesperson in the southern province of Sindh said the infection was discovered in an unvaccinated patient being treated at a private hospital in Karachi. The patient had traveled abroad, said the official, who gave no details of the location, but added that contact tracing was underway.

COVID-19 infections have been spreading in pubs and clubs in Sydney, including three new cases of the omicron variant found among people who went on a harbor party cruise.   © Reuters

1:30 p.m. COVID-19 infections have been spreading in pubs and clubs in Sydney, Australia's biggest city, including three new cases of the omicron variant found among people who went on a harbor party cruise, sending officials rushing to trace contacts. Authorities have been easing restrictions in Sydney since early October, when the city emerged from a nearly four-month lockdown to contain the delta variant after the population reached higher vaccination levels. "We have seen recently increased transmission in larger social venues ... and that is certainly a contributing factor to the increase in cases," said New South Wales Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale.

12:11 p.m. China's drug regulator approves two local COVID-19 medicines. The neutralizing antibody drugs are targeted at minors older than 12 and adults with mild COVID symptoms, according to the National Medical Products Administration. Jointly developed by Tsinghua University, Brii Bioscience and the Third People's Hospital of Shenzhen, the drugs in Phase 3 trials showed they could reduce hospitalizations as well as deaths among non-hospitalized clinically vulnerable patients by 78%.

11:00 a.m. Japan's business survey index for large companies in all industries was positive at 9.6 for the October-December period, marking the second consecutive positive quarter, a government survey shows. Rising demand for semiconductors, a steep decrease in coronavirus cases and the lifting of a state of emergency contributed to the boost, according to the Business Outlook Survey by the Cabinet Office. The BSI is calculated by subtracting the percentage of companies answering "down" from the percentage answering "up" from the previous quarter.

10:56 a.m. China's producer price index eased in November, with the gauge rising 12.9% year on year, the National Bureau of Statistics reports. Lower commodity and raw material prices kept the reading below October's record 13.5%.

10:15 a.m. China reports 83 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Wednesday, up from 74 a day earlier. Of the new infections, 60 were locally transmitted, compared with 44 a day earlier. The new local cases were reported by authorities in Inner Mongolia, Zhejiang, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, and Yunnan. China also reported 33 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, compared with 23 a day earlier.

6:34 a.m. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington while on an official visit, his office says in a statement.

Pfizer and BioNTech said laboratory studies show that their COVID-19 vaccine offers protection against the omicron variant when a third shot is given as a booster.   © Reuters

5:24 a.m. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes AstraZeneca's antibody cocktail to prevent COVID-19 infections in individuals who have weak immune systems or a history of severe side effects from coronavirus vaccines. The antibody cocktail, Evusheld, is only authorized for adults and adolescents who are not currently infected with the novel coronavirus and have not recently been exposed to an infected individual.

3:30 a.m. Governments should quicken their efforts on COVID-19 vaccination, surveillance and testing as the omicron variant spreads, the World Health Organization's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says.

"Any complacency now will cost lives." Tedros tells a media briefing.

Wednesday, Dec. 8

8:58 p.m. BioNTech and Pfizer say a three-shot course of their COVID-19 vaccine was shown to generate a neutralizing effect against the new omicron variant in a laboratory test. In the first official statement from vaccine manufacturers on the likely efficacy of their shots against omicron, BioNTech and Pfizer say that two vaccine doses resulted in significantly lower neutralizing antibodies but that a third dose of their vaccine increased the neutralizing antibodies by a factor of 25.

7:29 p.m. The Philippines will ban travelers from France to prevent the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant, the presidential office says. The ban, which applies to everyone who has been in France in the past 14 days, runs from Dec. 10 to Dec. 15. This adds to an earlier ban on travelers from South Africa and 13 other countries to prevent the spread of omicron, which has yet to be detected in the Philippines.

6:23 p.m. The omicron variant has been reported in 57 nations and the number of patients needing hospitalization is likely to rise as it spreads, the World Health Organization says. The WHO, in its weekly epidemiological report, says more data is needed to assess the severity of disease caused by the omicron variant and whether its mutations might reduce protection from vaccine-derived immunity.

The Japanese government's sale of its share in Otemachi Place, center, is one of the country's economic stimulus measures designed to revive a sluggish economy.

2:49 p.m. The Japanese government is set to sell its share of Otemachi Place, a large building complex in central Tokyo, Nikkei has learned. The deal is estimated to be worth about 300 billion yen ($2.6 billion), making it one of the largest income-producing real estate sales ever in Japan. The government hopes the transaction will bolster its finances as it continues stimulus measures in response to the pandemic.

1:10 p.m. India logs 8,439 new cases in the last 24 hours, up from 6,822 the previous day, pushing the cumulative total to over 34.66 million. Deaths rise by 195, bringing the total number of fatalities to 473,952.

10:12 a.m. Japan's economy declines an annualized 3.6% in July-September, revised Cabinet Office data show, worse than the preliminary reading of a 3.0% contraction. The data, which was worse than economists' median forecast for a 3.1% drop, equals a real quarter-on-quarter contraction of 0.9% from the prior quarter, versus a preliminary 0.8% drop.

10:02 a.m. China reports 74 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Dec. 7, down from 94 a day earlier, according to Reuters. Of those, 44 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 60 a day earlier. The new local cases were reported by authorities in Inner Mongolia, Zhejiang, Heilongjiang and Shanghai. There were no new deaths, leaving the toll at 4,636. As of Dec. 7, mainland China had 99,371 confirmed cases.

South Koreans line up at a makeshift coronavirus testing site in Seoul on Dec. 8 as new daily cases hit another record high.   © AP

9:50 a.m. South Korea hits a record high for daily cases with 7,175, up from 4,954 a day ago. Total cumulative infections reach 489,484, with 4,020 deaths. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the country's medical resources are running out quickly, although the health authorities are expanding the number of beds at intensive care units.

5:57 a.m. The omicron variant's ability to evade vaccine- or infection-induced immunity is "robust but not complete," says Alex Sigal, the research head of a lab at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, per a Bloomberg report.

In the first reported experiments gauging the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the new strain, the institute found that the variant could partially evade the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation. But a booster shot could provide additional protection, Sigal says.

Researchers in South Africa say omicron may cause less serious Covid cases than other forms of the virus.   © Reuters

3:25 a.m. Preliminary evidence indicates that the omicron variant likely has a higher degree of transmissibility but is less severe, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci says.

Although more data is needed, early cases of omicron seem to require fewer hospitalizations and patients are less likely to need oxygen, Fauci tells reporters at a White House briefing, noting that it will take a few weeks to reach any definitive conclusions.

3:12 a.m. The African Union calls for an end to travel restrictions imposed on some of its member states, saying the measures penalize governments for timely data sharing in line with international health regulations.

The measures act "as a disincentive for information sharing in the future, potentially posing a threat to health security on the continent and globally," the group said. The U.S. and European Union states, among others, imposed travel curbs late last month on seven southern African countries after they reported several cases of the omicron variant, which is considered highly infectious.

3:04 a.m. A federal judge in Georgia issues a nationwide injunction that prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on federal contractors, temporarily shutting down the last remaining vaccine requirement by the Biden administration.

1:46 a.m. The omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to cause less serious illness than other forms of the virus, a report by a South African hospital suggests.

Of the 42 people hospitalized at a large hospital complex in Tshwane, the epicenter of the omicron outbreak in South Africa, 70% were not oxygen-dependent, the report said.

While the report stated that most patients were not showing respiratory symptoms, and most were admitted to the hospital for other medical reasons, the doctor behind the report warned against drawing conclusions too soon.

A World Health Organization official also told CBS News that the potential for a smaller percentage of serious infections could be balanced by a larger number of cases, still producing many hospitalizations and deaths.

12:15 a.m. The omicron variant has spread across Denmark, health authorities say after registering large outbreaks of the variant in the east and west of the country.

"We now have society-wide infection with the omicron variant," director of the Danish Patient Safety Authority, Anette Lykke Petri, told reporters. Denmark has registered a total of 398 cases of infection with the variant first identified in South Africa.

Tuesday, Dec. 7

5:30 p.m. British drugmaker GSK says its antibody-based COVID-19 therapy, developed jointly with U.S. partner Vir Biotechnology, is effective against all mutations of the new omicron variant, citing new data from early-stage studies. The data, yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, show that the companies' treatment, sotrovimab, is effective against all 37 identified mutations to date in the spike protein, GSK says. Last week, another pre-clinical data showed that the drug had worked against key mutations of the omicron variant.

Japanese stocks were up on Dec.7, with the Nikkei Stock Average climbing about 1.9% as fears over the new COVID-19 variant subsided.

3:25 p.m. Major Asian equity benchmarks rose on Tuesday, with Japan's blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average jumping over 500 points, or 1.9%, as fears over omicron eased. U.S. health officials commented that early indications suggest the variant may be less dangerous than the delta variant, buoying investor sentiment and prompting a rebound in U.S. stocks overnight. Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index jumped 1.8% while South Korea, Taiwan and Australia were among other countries that saw their benchmarks climb.

2:29 p.m. Two more cases of the omicron variant have been reported in India's western state of Maharashtra, bringing the country total to 23. A 37-year-old man, who came to India from South Africa on Nov. 25, and his 36-year-old friend, who arrived from the U.S. the same day, have both tested positive for the variant. The government added that the two patients had been vaccinated with Pfizer's jab and were asymptomatic upon admission to a hospital in Mumbai. Maharashtra has now confirmed 10 cases of omicron, while northwestern Rajasthan state has nine and southern Karnataka state two. The western state of Gujarat and the nation's capital New Delhi have reported one case each.

2:00 p.m. China's export growth lost steam in November, pressured by a strong yuan, weakening demand and higher costs. But imports unexpectedly accelerated as the country scrambled to restock depleted commodities like coal. Exports rose 22% year on year in November, customs data shows -- less than the 27.1% jump in the previous month but more than the 19.0% expected in a Reuters poll. Imports climbed 31.7%, beating the 19.8% rise in October and well above the forecast 20.6% gain.

11:48 a.m. Hong Kong's leader says business travelers and public servants entering mainland China will be first in line for quarantine exemptions, as cross-border travel between the city and Shenzhen is set to resume after being closed for more than 20 months. No quota has been set, but the government said it would begin by opening land ports only, with ferry terminals and high-speed trains remaining closed. The announcement comes as Hong Kong's 21-day quarantine list of countries grows to include Tunisia, Senegal and the Maldives.

11:30 a.m. The reaction by international governments to the omicron variant has pushed back the timing of a travel recovery, says the head of Hawaiian Airlines. "It would be naive to see we didn't take a setback, as policymakers reacted very quickly," CEO Peter Ingram said. "We are going to have to see what develops in this space in the days ahead." Before the omicron variant hit there were encouraging signs that travel restrictions in key markets like Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were beginning to ease, he said.

Olympic rings over a highway in Hebei Province leading to venues for the Beijing Winter Olympics set for February 2022.   © Reuters

10:30 a.m. New Zealand will not be sending diplomatic representatives at a ministerial level to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says, citing COVID-19 as the reason. The statement comes after the U.S. said it would not send government officials to the Games due to China's human rights "atrocities."

10:10 a.m. China reports 94 cases for Monday, up from 61 a day earlier. Of the new infections, 60 were locally transmitted, compared with 38 a day earlier. The local cases were reported in Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Yunnan and Zhejiang.

9:00 a.m. Japan's household spending posted an annual drop for the third straight month in October as consumer sentiment struggled to shake off the effects of the pandemic. Spending fell 0.6% in October from a year earlier, after a 1.9% decline in September and a 3.0% drop in August, government data shows. Analysts expect consumer sentiment to pick up this quarter as local infections have fallen.

4:57 a.m. Community transmission of the omicron variant has been confirmed in England, U.K. Health Minister Sajid Javid tells Parliament. There are 336 confirmed cases throughout the U.S., including some that have "no links to international travel," Javid says.

Monday, Dec. 6

Travelers at JFK International Airport in New York.   © Reuters

11:01 p.m. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to issue a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private-sector employers that takes effect Dec. 27, calling it a "pre-emptive strike." Data shows the spread of COVID-19 increasing in the most populous U.S. city.

In November, a U.S. appeals court upheld its decision to put on hold an order by President Joe Biden for companies with 100 workers or more to require COVID-19 vaccines, rejecting a challenge by his administration.

6:30 p.m. Nepal detects its first two cases of the omicron variant, the health ministry says. They are a 66-year-old foreigner, who had come from a country that had confirmed it had found omicron within its borders on Nov. 19, and his close contact, a 71-year-old who tested positive for the variant on Sunday. The ministry did not reveal their nationalities.

"Both of them are in isolation and getting health care under the supervision of health workers," the statement said. Sixty-six other people who had come into contact with them were tracked down and all tested negative for COVID-19, according to the statement.

5:00 p.m. A man in his 30s who had been in Italy has tested positive for the omicron COVID-19 variant in the third case to be found in Japan, the top government spokesperson says. Speaking at a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno provided no details about where the man had traveled from or his nationality.

4:30 p.m. South Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admissions as the omicron variant pushes the country into a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa says. South Africa's daily infections surged last week to over 16,000 on Friday from roughly 2,300 on Monday. Ramaphosa said in a weekly newsletter that omicron appeared to be dominating new cases in most of the country's nine provinces, and urged more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

3:30 p.m. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vows to "prepare for the worst" in dealing with the omicron variant while still moving quickly to get the economy back on track. In a policy speech marking the start of an extraordinary parliamentary session, Kishida said, "We will maintain our stance of being cautious and prudent," adding that his government will shorten the current eight-month interval for fully vaccinated people to become eligible for booster shots.

The omicron COVID-19 variant has been found in Thailand.   © Reuters

2:53 p.m. India's tally of omicron variant cases has reached 21 after it reported 17 more cases of the new COVID-19 strain on Sunday -- nine in northwestern Rajasthan state, seven in western Maharashtra and one in the national capital city. Most of those who tested positive had arrived in India from African nations or came in contact with such people. The country had confirmed its first two cases on Thursday in southern Karnataka state, while one each in Maharashtra and its neighboring Gujarat state were reported on Saturday.

2:50 p.m. Thailand has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a U.S. citizen who traveled to the country from Spain late last month, a health official says. The confirmed case in the man, who arrived on Nov. 29, makes Thailand the 47th country to have found the new variant, Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, told a news conference. "This first confirmed case of omicron variant is a 35-year-old man who is a U.S. citizen who lived in Spain for a year," Opas said, adding that the patient had mild symptoms.

1:00 p.m. South Korea confirms 12 more cases of the omicron variant for Sunday, pushing the cumulative total to 24. The country reports a total of 4,325 coronavirus cases for Sunday, down from 5,127 a day earlier. However, cases were up by 1,017 from the previous Sunday and surpassed 4,000 for the first time for that day of the week. The number of private gatherings will be limited to a maximum of six people in metropolitan areas and eight people in other places.

A medical worker guides people as they wait at a makeshift COVID-19 testing site in Seoul on Monday.   © AP

11:50 a.m. Japan's parliament will consider a supplementary budget for fiscal 2021 worth a record 36 trillion yen ($320 billion) to partially finance the country's latest economic stimulus package to help the pandemic-hit economy. The extra budget is expected to be approved by the Diet in an extraordinary parliamentary session that convenes this afternoon and runs through Dec. 21.

10:00 a.m. China reports 61 cases for Sunday, compared with 59 a day earlier. Of the new infections, 38 were locally transmitted, down from 42 a day earlier. The local cases were reported in Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Hebei and Yunnan. The country also reported for Sunday 44 asymptomatic cases -- which it classifies separately from confirmed cases -- compared with 21 a day earlier.

8:10 a.m. The omicron variant has spread to about one-third of U.S. states, but delta remains the majority of COVID-19 infections as cases rise nationwide, U.S. health officials say. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN, "Thus far it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it," adding it was too early to draw definitive conclusions. At least 16 states have reported omicron cases: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally.

A man dressed as Santa Claus with a Mickey Mouse motif poses for pictures near a coronavirus disease mobile test unit in New York on Dec. 5.   © Reuters

4:54 a.m. Germany's incoming government wants to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory as of March 16 for employees at hospitals, nursing homes and other medical practices, according to a copy of draft legislation seen by Reuters. Germany has been reticent about making vaccines compulsory for fear of exacerbating a shortage of medical and nursing home staffers, but support has grown as the country faces surging infections in a fourth wave of the pandemic. The Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, set to form the new government on Wednesday, look to present the legislation to parliament in the coming week.

2:54 a.m. A Jordanian court sentences five senior health officials to three years in jail for causing the death of 10 COVID-19 patients following an oxygen outage in a major state hospital, state media report. The court found the former director of the state hospital in Salt, a city west of the capital, and four of his senior aides responsible for the deaths. The patients, who were being treated in the hospital, died in March when staff failed to act after oxygen ran out in a COVID-19 ward for nearly an hour. The disaster, which politicians and local activists said exposed gross negligence in the state health system during a spike in COVID-19 infections, sparked anti-government protests across many cities and provincial towns.

Sunday, Dec. 5

4:25 p.m. South Korea reports three more omicron coronavirus variant cases, bringing its total confirmed to 12, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says.

2:47 p.m. India reports its highest one-day COVID-19 death toll since July after two states revise their figures. The eastern state of Bihar adds 2,426 deaths while the southern state of Kerala adds 263 to its tally, a federal health ministry spokesperson tells Reuters. The revisions raise Sunday's death toll to 2,796, the highest since July 21, according to a Reuters tally.

12:04 p.m. Germany confirms 42,055 new coronavirus cases, lifting its total to 6,158,125, the Robert Koch Institute says. The country reports 94 more deaths, raising its total to 103,040.

12:02 p.m. Australia's medicine regulator provisionally approves Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-11, and the health minister says the rollout could begin Jan. 10.

5:15 a.m. Former Dutch queen Beatrix, 83, tests positive for COVID-19, the royal information service says. Princess Beatrix, as she has been known since her abdication in 2013, was tested after coming down with "mild cold symptoms," the service says. "The princess is at home in isolation and adheres to the rules of life for people who have tested positive."

4:46 a.m. Residents light up a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, hoping a new coronavirus variant doesn't ruin another holiday season in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was all but closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season to the pandemic. This December has seen Israel shut out foreign travelers for 14 days to try to prevent the omicron variant taking hold, and the hope is that the ban will end as scheduled, in time for Christmas travel. In its last pre-pandemic winter, Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, is lit with hundreds of colored lights as red, white as green fireworks illuminate the night sky.

3:40 a.m. Chile records its first case of the omicron variant in a person who had arrived in the copper-producing South American country from Africa. The foreign patient residing in Chile arrived in the country on Nov. 25 from Ghana with a recently taken negative COVID-19 test. But a subsequent test taken upon arrival in Chile was positive and then sequenced. Health officials say the passenger, who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, is in "good health and fulfilling his isolation."

3:17 a.m. The U.K. will require all in-bound travelers to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test and arrivals from Nigeria will have to quarantine in hotels, the health minister says. The pre-departure testing requirement will come in from 0400 GMT on Tuesday, while Nigeria will be added to Britain's travel "red-list" at 0400 GMT on Monday, Sajid Javid says.

1:52 a.m. Tens of thousands of people march through several northwest European cities to protest against coronavirus restrictions imposed amid a surge in infections.

More than 40,000 demonstrators in Vienna carry signs reading: "I will decide for myself," "Make Austria Great Again" and "New Elections," after Austria last month became the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a lockdown, which is set to last 20 days, and will make vaccinations mandatory from February.

Demonstrations are also being held in Utrecht, the Netherlands; Frankfurt, Germany; and Berlin.

1:16 a.m. There is no reason to panic over the new omicron variant, the WHO's chief scientist says. While omicron is spreading at a rapid clip around much of the world, many cases appear to be mild or without symptoms, says Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at the World Health Organization.

"How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we're in a different situation to a year ago," she says at the Reuters Next Conference.

12:38 a.m. Goldman Sachs lowers its U.S. economic growth forecast to 3.8% for 2022 as risks and uncertainty crop up around the emergence of the omicron variant. Omicron could slow economic reopening, but the firm expects "only a modest drag" on service spending, economist Joseph Briggs says in a note.

Saturday, Dec. 4

11:42 p.m. Singapore detects 743 new cases, compared with 766 infections the day before, including two deaths. Of the new cases, 707 are in the community, 24 in the migrant worker dormitories and 12 are imported cases. The weekly infection growth rate is 0.63.

10:57 p.m. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will continue with its supply adjustments for the oil market, the OPEC secretary general says.

"We will continue to do what we know best to ensure we attain stability in the oil market on a sustainable basis," Mohammad Barkindo tells a webinar hosted by Italian think-tank ISPI. Oil prices fell Thursday and its allies stuck to their existing policy of monthly oil output increases despite fears a release from U.S. crude reserves and the new omicron variant would put renewed pressure on prices.

10:29 p.m. Rio de Janeiro cancels its New Year's Eve party due to renewed COVID-19 fears. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes had previously promised the biggest New Year's Eve party ever, with multiple firework displays and artists performing on a dozen stages across the city. He says on social media there is no decision about Carnival taking place in March.

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

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