WASHINGTON, D. C., RAW – EUROPE

* The Eeropean Union’s drug regulator gave the green light to Pfizer Inc’s antiviral COVID-19 pill for treating adults at risk of severe illness.

* Booster shots could reduce future hospitalisations in Europe by at least half a million, the EU’s public health agency said.

* After a relatively brief return to coronavirus restrictions triggered by the Omicron variant, England is going back to “Plan A” – learning to live with the disease.

* Sweden has decided against recommending vaccines for children aged 5-11, the Health Agency said, arguing that the benefits did not outweigh the risks.

* Poland and Russia reported new record daily infections, while the number of new infections in Germany exceeded 200,000 in a day for the first time

* Austria’s new daily coronavirus infections have surged to a record level, Austrian media reported.

AMERICAS

* New cases in the Americas in the past week have been the highest since the pandemic began and Omicron has clearly become the predominant version of the virus, the Pan American Health Organisation said.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration says 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to get the booster in the same dosage as adults after the country reported fewer deaths on Thursday, a day after recording a pandemic high

* Hong Kong will shorten its 21-day quarantine requirement to 14 days for incoming travellers starting from February 5, leader Carrie Lam said.

* With just over a week until the Winter Olympic Games begin, teams are trying to ensure that athletes stay virus-free to get past Beijing’s strict checks and make it to the start line.

* Beijing has limited the movement of people in more parts of the Chinese capital, even as it reported fewer cases, in a bid to lower virus risk ahead of the Games.

* China’s “zero-COVID” stance has put it at odds with the rest of the world and is exacting a mounting economic toll, but an exit strategy remains elusive as authorities worry about the ability of the healthcare system to adapt to new strains.

AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST

* Protesters against virus measures who liken themselves to Jews under Nazi persecution are stoking global anti-Semitism, the Israeli government said in a report marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

* Turkey recorded 82,180 new cases in 24 hours, its highest daily figure.

* Tennis player Novak Djokovic is set to return to action in Dubai next month for the first time since he was deported from Australia over his vaccination status.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Boosters increase protection against death from the Omicron variant to 95 per cent in people aged 50 or over, the UK Health Security Agency said.

* China’s Walvax Biotechnology has recruited most of the 28,000 participants needed for a large clinical trial of its mRNA vaccine candidate, a senior company official said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* US stocks painted a mixed picture as investors digested how strong economic news could inform the Federal Reserve’s thinking on interest rate hikes, while the dollar hit its highest level in over a year.

* British financial services exports have struggled to recover from the twin hits of COVID-19 and Brexit and are lingering at levels last seen in 2006 when adjusted for inflation, new data showed.

GLOBAL

DEATHS 5,655,197

CASES 366,345,387

RECOVERED 289,580,498