World News in Brief: January 20

The Omicron variant, which is spreading far faster than previous versions of the coronavirus, is not likely to help countries achieve so-called herd immunity against COVID-19, in which enough people become immune to the virus that it can no longer spread, leading disease experts say.

A wave of Omicron cases has not led to an increase in the hospitalisation of the elderly that was expected despite there being more cases in that age group, Britain's science advisers said.
A wave of Omicron cases has not led to an increase in the hospitalisation of the elderly that was expected despite there being more cases in that age group, Britain's science advisers said.

* China's blue-chip stocks closed higher on Thursday after a set of key policy rates and lending benchmarks were cut to prop up a slowing economy, with investors pinning hopes on further easing in policies by Beijing.

* Japan wants to increase cooperation with France and realise a free and open Indo-Pacific, Tokyo's foreign minister said on Thursday, ahead of "two-plus-two" talks between the foreign and defence ministers of both countries.

* US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Berlin for talks with allies on Thursday in a diplomatic push to defuse tensions with Moscow over Ukraine, a day after warning that Russia could attack its neighbour at "very short notice".

* The European Union is seeking to resolve the impasse with Britain over Northern Ireland's trading arrangements by the end of February, aware that campaigning then begins for the province's assembly, the EU's chief negotiator told lawmakers on Thursday.

* Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday discussed developments in Syria with Russia's special envoy, Saudi state TV reported.

* US Federal Reserve officials, having plotted what seemed a clear battle plan against high inflation, must now contend with fresh signs the coronavirus is again slowing the economy as well as markets conspiring to tighten financial conditions faster than Fed policymakers may have hoped.

* European stocks fell as cautious investors continued to assess how far and fast the US Federal Reserve will begin raising interest rates this year.

* Pakistan on Thursday revised up its economic growth rate for 2020-21 to 5.37% from 3.9%, minister for planning and development said.

* A stampede at a church gathering in Liberia's capital Monrovia killed 29 people overnight, the deputy information minister told state radio on Thursday.

* China's capital Beijing ramped up efforts to curb infections, ordering checks among cold-chain firms and urging residents to cut unnecessary gatherings, as the city reported an uptick in local cases weeks before the Winter Olympics.

* India's wealthiest state Maharashtra will reopen schools next week, its education minister said as new cases of the Omicron variant fell sharply.

* The Russian capital reported a record pandemic high of 11,557 new cases in the last 24 hours and the daily nationwide number of new infections also rose sharply to 38,850.

* Japan's western prefecture of Osaka and two neighbouring regions are expected to join in a widening declaration of COVID-19 prevention measures, Osaka's governor said.

* President Joe Biden acknowledged Americans' frustration as his first year in office came to an end on Wednesday, but said the United States was on track to meet considerable challenges from the pandemic and inflation.

* Brazil reported 204,854 new cases in the past 24 hours, breaking the country's previous record for the second day in a row, its health ministry said on Wednesday.

* Austrian government said it was introducing a national lottery to encourage holdouts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, hours before parliament was due to pass a bill introducing a national vaccine mandate.

* Africa's top public health bodies called for donated COVID-19 vaccines to come with a shelf life of three to six months so countries could plan their rollouts and avoid a situation where doses expire.

* Lebanon's healthcare system is crumbling amid an economic crisis that has led to an exodus of thousands of doctors and nurses, forced private hospitals to close some departments and put further strains on the already stretched state sector.

* A U.N.-backed agency has struck a deal for nearly 30 generic drugmakers to make low-cost versions of Merck's COVID-19 pill molnupiravir for poorer nations, widening access to a drug seen as a weapon in fighting the pandemic.

* Sweden set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, registering 39,938 on Jan. 19, health agency data showed on Thursday as the more easily transmitted Omicron variant of the virus raged across the country.

* Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement used cruise missiles and ballistic missiles alongside drones in Monday's deadly strike on the United Arab Emirates, which intercepted part of the attack, the Gulf state's ambassador to the United States said.