WASHINGTON, D. C., RAW – EUROPE

* German towns have appealed to authorities for less “flying by the seat of your pants” and more “forward thinking”, as the country looks likely to miss its vaccination target for January.

* France reported 261,481 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, fewer than the record of more than 332,000 set on Wednesday, but the seven-day moving average of new cases rose above 200,000 for the first time.

* Italy reported a record daily number of new cases on Thursday at 219,441, against 189,109 the day before. The daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths fell to 198 from 231.

* Norwegian cruise and travel operator Hurtigruten Group will cut short a voyage in the Antarctica region following an outbreak of the virus, the company said on Thursday.

AMERICAS

* The White House said on Thursday the decision to enact vaccine mandates for schools is up to local school districts.

* Chile will begin offering a fourth shot of the COVID-19 vaccine next week to immunocompromised citizens, the government said on Thursday, the first country in Latin America and one of the first in the world to offer the extra dose.

* Peru, which has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 mortality rates per number of inhabitants, raised its pandemic alert level in various cities and tightened some restrictions due to a third wave of infections caused by the spread of the Omicron variant.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said people who have not taken COVID-19 shots will be arrested if they disobeyed stay-at-home orders as infections hit a three-month high.

* Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it will cut more passenger flights and operate a reduced cargo capacity after the city tightened restrictions fearing a fifth wave of the pandemic.

* More cities in central China’s Henan province imposed restrictions as infections there rose sharply.

* Indian megacities Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are experiencing a surge in cases, although without a corresponding rise in hospitalisations. Fears are growing about a spread to rural areas.

AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST

* Iraq has identified more than five cases of Omicron, the health ministry said in a statement.

* 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 infection wave driven by the Omicron variant.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* The more infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as “mild”, World Health Organization officials said.

* GlaxoSmithKline said it has signed agreements with the Canadian government to supply 20,000 doses of the COVID-19 drug Sotrovimab.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* A group of institutional investors representing $US3.5 trillion in assets under management on Thursday called on pharmaceutical companies to link their executives’ pay to making COVID-19 vaccines available around the globe.

GLOBAL

DEATHS 5,487,242

CASES 299,895,281

RECOVERED 257,291,274