World News in Brief: January 1

Twenty twenty-one crept off with farewell celebrations around the world mostly muffled by the pandemic. But good news from South Africa - where authorities lifted a curfew and said Omicron had crested - brought hope for a happy New Year.

The risk of hospitalisation with the Omicron variant of coronavirus is about one-third that of the Delta variant, according to British analysis of more than a million cases of both types in recent weeks.
The risk of hospitalisation with the Omicron variant of coronavirus is about one-third that of the Delta variant, according to British analysis of more than a million cases of both types in recent weeks.

* The Democratic People’s Republic of Korean leader Kim Jong Un capped off his 10th year in power with a speech that made more mention of tractor factories and school uniforms than nuclear weapons or the United States, according to summaries by state media on Saturday.

* US President Joe Biden said on Friday he made it clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin in their call a day earlier that he cannot "move on Ukraine."

* US President Joe Biden plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday, a White house official said, a day after he held a conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on how to reduce tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border.

* Gold discounts in India widened to the highest level in five months this week as consumers in major Asian countries held back purchases into the year-end holidays as new virus-related restrictions were imposed.

* China reported 231 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Dec. 31, up from 195 a day earlier, the country's health authority said on Saturday. There were no new fatalities, leaving the death toll unchanged at 4,636.

* India reported on Saturday 22,775 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, pushed up by a growing number of Omicron variant cases, data from the health ministry showed. The COVID-19 death toll in the past 24 hours rose by 406.

* The Philippines will impose tighter curbs in the capital region for the next two weeks, the acting presidential spokesperson said on Friday, to try to limit infections by the Omicron coronavirus variant that is spreading globally.

* Mexico's health ministry on Friday reported 143 more confirmed fatalities from COVID-19, bringing the official death toll in the country since the pandemic began to 299,428. The ministry also reported 10,037 new cases, bringing the total to 3,979,723.

* Brazil registered 72 COVID-19 deaths on Friday and 10,282 additional cases, according to data released by the nation's Health Ministry. The South American country has now recorded a total of 619,056 coronavirus deaths and 22,287,521 confirmed cases.

* Thousands of flights within the United States and internationally were delayed or canceled on Friday, adding to the travel disruptions during the holiday week due to adverse weather and rising cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

* Australia started 2022 with a record number of new COVID-19 cases as an outbreak centred in the eastern states grew, and New South Wales eased its isolation rules for healthcare workers as the number of people hospitalised with the virus rose.

* More than 2 million people in Britain tested positive for COVID-19 in the week before Christmas, Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates published on Friday showed, with the highest ratio of around one in 25 people seen in England.

* Italy reported a record 144,243 COVID-19 related cases on Friday, following 126,888 the day before, the health ministry said, while the number of deaths fell slightly to 155 from 156.

* Alberta and British Columbia are halving the required self-isolation period for vaccinated people with COVID-19 to five days, as the Canadian provinces adapt to workforce shortages and other challenges brought about by the Omicron coronavirus variant.

* Novavax Inc will submit a request to the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine next month, further delaying the submission it had expected by the end of this year.

* Iran's space launch on Thursday failed to put its three payloads into orbit after the rocket was unable to reach the required speed, a defence ministry spokesman said in remarks carried on state television on Friday.

* Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two rockets toward the Mediterranean sea on Saturday, causing an explosion off the shore of Tel Aviv, Israel's military said. Police said there were no casualties or damage.

* Turkey sharply raised electricity prices by 50-100% for households and companies on Saturday, and again increased monthly natural gas bills, adding to strains in an economy facing soaring overall inflation.

* At least 12 pilgrims died and more than a dozen were injured in a stampede at a Hindu shrine in Kashmir on Saturday morning, police said.