LONDON, RAW – EUROPE

* Ireland is expected to lift restrictions on the movement of people who have been in close contact with someone suffering from COVID-19 if they are fully vaccinated with a booster and have no symptoms.

* Britain reported 120,821 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, a drop on 142,224 on Monday, and another 379 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, up from 77.

* France on Tuesday reported 368,149 new coronavirus cases, the highest single-day tally of the pandemic.

* Russia warned it could face a “very intense” rise in cases of the Omicron variant in the coming weeks and authorities preparing for a new wave of infections said they would make more hospital beds available in Moscow.

AMERICAS

* President Joe Biden and top health officials on Tuesday defended the administration’s response to the unrelenting pandemic as daily US COVID-19 cases reached a new high, largely fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

* United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby said the company had about 3000 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 but its vaccinated employees had neither died nor recently been hospitalised with the disease.

* Canada’s Quebec province is working on a plan to require unvaccinated residents to pay a “health contribution,” Premier Francois Legault said.

ASIA

* Turkey has recorded 74,266 new COVID-19 cases in the space of 24 hours, its highest daily figure of the pandemic, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, prompting the health minister to warn of the danger represented by the Omicron variant.

* China’s aviation regulator ordered the cancellation of over 60 scheduled flights from the United States in recent weeks after numerous passengers tested positive after arriving.

AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST

* Gabon’s oil workers’ union and water and electricity workers’ union said they had begun a general strike in protest against COVID-19 restrictions and the cost of PCR tests.

* COVID-19 has depleted soccer teams competing in the Africa Cup of Nations, with Senegal playing with only 18 players available and Malawi with only four players on the bench – including two goalkeepers.

* Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he had tested positive but was in good health.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* The European Union’s drug regulator on Tuesday expressed doubts about the need for a fourth booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine and said there is currently no data to support this approach as it seeks more data on the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

* German BioNTech firm said an approval of its COVID-19 vaccine in China was still “extremely important” though predicting a conclusion of the regulatory review there, which has been months in the waiting, remained difficult.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said on Tuesday the economy should weather the current COVID-19 surge with only “short-lived” impacts and was ready for the start of tighter monetary policy.

* US companies ranging from American Eagle to United Airlines are set for a tepid start to the year as the fast-spreading Omicron variant threatens to slow the fragile rebound in growth by exacerbating supply chain problems and labour shortages.

* US airlines have come a long way since the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 brought the industry to its knees. Yet the pandemic will loom large when big carriers report quarterly earnings starting on Thursday.

TOTAL GLOBAL DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* 5,501,266 deaths and 312,273,593 cases, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center data.