Latest on worldwide spread of coronavirus

Eight million people have tested positive to COVID-19 in Spain since the pandemic began.
Eight million people have tested positive to COVID-19 in Spain since the pandemic began.

EUROPE

* A surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant may have peaked in some parts of Europe but medics say the impact will continue to be felt across the region, with hospitals still at risk of facing a rush of admissions.

* The number of patients in intensive care units in France has fallen for the second consecutive, despite a record infection rate, health ministry data showed on Friday.

* The Czech government will allow asymptomatic essential healthcare workers and social service personnel who test positive for coronavirus to keep working, the health ministry said on Friday.

* The number of people who have tested positive in Spain since the pandemic started in 2020 has reached eight million, according to Health Ministry data on Friday.

* German health officials warned on Friday the coronavirus remained a serious threat as Omicron is set to completely replace Delta in the coming days in a nation whose vaccination rates lag much of western Europe.

* The UK Health Security Agency on Friday said it was increasingly confident that Omicron was less severe for adults, as it published its updated briefing on the variant.

AMERICAS

* United States households can order four free at-home tests from the website COVIDTests.gov starting on January 19 with shipping expected seven to 12 days after ordering, the White House said on Friday.

* High demand for groceries combined with soaring freight costs and Omicron-related labour shortages are creating a new round of backlogs at processed food and fresh produce companies, leading to empty supermarket shelves at major retailers across the US.

* Canada will see a surge in cases of Omicron in coming weeks which could put significant new strains on the healthcare system, chief public health officer Theresa Tam said on Friday.

* Brazil is suffering a sharp rise in cases as Omicron spreads through the country, putting pressure on health services and weighing on an already sputtering economy.

* Uruguay has opened its borders to citizens and residents even if they are infected, a rare move amid surging cases worldwide, though passengers would need to travel in private vehicles across the border and be in a family "bubble".

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Bhutan has reported its first 14 cases of Omicron, a health official said, amid a surge of the pandemic in the Himalayan kingdom that has so far been relatively successful at keeping the disease at bay.

* China suspended four more incoming US flights, bringing the total cancellation this year to 74, as infections caused by Omicron soared to record highs in the US

AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST

* Ethiopia demands that the World Health Organisation investigate its leader for supporting rebellious forces fighting the Ethiopian government, the foreign ministry said.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Mexican health regulator COFEPRIS said on Friday it had approved US pharmaceutical company Pfizer's antiviral oral treatment for emergency use in adults with light or moderate risk of complications.

* A safety panel of the European drug regulator on Friday recommended adding a rare spinal inflammation called transverse myelitis as a side effect of AstraZeneca's vaccine.

* A Johnson and Johnson vaccine booster shot is 85 per cent effective in protecting against being hospitalised by Omicron for one-to-two months after it is received, the head of South Africa's Medical Research Council said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* US retail sales dropped by the most in 10 months in December, likely the result of Americans starting their holiday shopping in October to avoid empty shelves at stores.

GLOBAL

DEATHS 5,544,829

CASES 323,263,843

RECOVERED 265,009,179

Australian Associated Press