* France will ease work-from-home rules from early February and allow nightclubs to reopen two weeks later as the general COVID-19 situation in the country is starting to improve, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.
* Austria's lower house of parliament passed a bill making vaccinations compulsory for adults as of February 1, bringing the country closer to introducing the first such sweeping vaccine mandate in the European Union.
* India's wealthiest state Maharashtra will reopen schools next week, its education minister said, as new cases of the Omicron variant fell sharply.
* Japan's prefecture of Osaka and two neighbouring regions are expected to join in a widening declaration of prevention measures, Osaka's governor said.
* The Biden administration is giving US colleges and universities another $US198 million ($A273 million) to help them curb COVID-19 and address student needs such as housing and food amid the ongoing pandemic, the US Department of Education said.
* Canada's most populous province of Ontario has blunted transmission of Omicron and will gradually ease restrictions on businesses from end-January, Premier Doug Ford said.
AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST
* Nearly 30 generic drugmakers in Asia, Africa and the Middle East will make cheap versions of Merck's COVID-19 pill, under a landmark UN-backed deal to give poorer nations wider access to a drug seen as a weapon in fighting the pandemic.
* Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron.
* Omicron is not likely to help countries achieve so-called herd immunity, in which enough people become immune to the virus that it can no longer spread, leading disease experts say.
* Brazilian health regulator Anvisa has approved the emergency use of Sinovac Biotech's vaccine Coronavac on those without underlying health risks aged 6 to 17.
* A small preliminary laboratory study has shown that levels of Omicron-neutralising antibodies of people vaccinated with Russia's Sputnik V vaccine did not decline as much as of those who had Pfizer shots.
* Bond yields backed off their rapid rise this week and Wall Street rebounded on Thursday as investors in Big Tech licked their wounds after Nasdaq's slide into correction territory.
* 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.
* Union Pacific Corp said cases among its staff and paid time off for people getting inoculated may hurt its ability to move freight in the current quarter.
* The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits jumped to a three-month high last week, likely as a winter wave of infections disrupted business activity, which could weigh on job growth in January.
Australian Associated Press
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