The more infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain, but should not be categorised as "mild", World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Thursday.
Here's the latest from around the world overnight.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday COVID-19 vaccines would not be made mandatory even though anti-vax campaigners were dissuading people from taking up the shots.
Italy reported a record daily number of new COVID-19 cases on Thursday at 219,441 against 189,109 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths fell to 198 from 231.
Italy has registered 138,474 deaths linked to the virus since its outbreak emerged in February 2020.
France reported 261,481 new confirmed coronavirus infections on Thursday, less than the record of more than 332,000 on Wednesday, but the seven-day moving average of new cases rose well above 200,000 for the first time since the start of the epidemic. France reported another 204 deaths.
Austria will impose new COVID-19 measures from Saturday and the Government is still working on a draft law to make vaccinations compulsory from February 1 as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Thursday.
Austria reported 8,263 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearly three times above the daily average number of infections last week.
Turkey recorded 68,413 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the highest daily figure on record.
France's Parliament on Thursday approved President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a vaccine pass to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant after a tumultuous debate whipped up by Macron's comments that he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated.
German towns have appealed to authorities for less "flying by the seat of your pants" and more "forward-thinking," as the country looks likely to miss its vaccination target for January.
One swinging a sledgehammer and the other a crowbar, twin brothers Steven and Brian Krijger grin as they take turns pulverising a Peugeot 106 spray-painted with the words "F*** COVID". They are participants in "CarSmash", a Dutch project aimed at providing locked-down locals with ways of releasing anger and frustration built up during a pandemic now entering its third year.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday people who have not taken COVID-19 shots will be arrested if they disobeyed stay-at-home orders as infections hit a three-month high.
Indian megacities Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases. So far, there has not been a corresponding rise in hospitalisations, but fears are growing about a spread to rural areas in the coming days. India reported 90,928 new daily cases on Thursday, up nearly four-fold since the start of the year.
More than 85 percent of Indonesia's population has antibodies against COVID-19, a government-commissioned survey showed, but epidemiologists warned it was not clear whether this immunity could help contain a fresh wave of infections.
More cities in central China's Henan province imposed restrictions as infections there rose sharply, while authorities in the northwestern city of Xian apologised on Thursday to a woman whose miscarriage during lockdown stirred public outrage.
US military bases in Japan introduced stricter COVID-19 measures on Thursday after the host government expressed grave concern about a surge in infections and called for restrictions on the movement of US personnel.
Middle East and Africa
Data from Israel on Thursday supported growing evidence worldwide that Omicron causes milder illness than previous variants of the coronavirus even as the country grappled with a record number of daily infections.
Africa's top public health official said on Thursday that severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain COVID-19, praising South Africa for its approach when responding to its latest infection wave driven by the Omicron variant.
Iraq has identified more than five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the health ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Peru, which has one of the world's highest COVID-19 mortality rates per number of inhabitants, raised its pandemic alert level in various cities and tightened some restrictions due to a third wave of infections caused by the spread of the Omicron variant.
This year's Grammy Awards ceremony honoring top performances in music has been postponed indefinitely because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, organisers said on Wednesday.
Mexico is likely to surpass 300,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 this week - the fifth highest death toll worldwide - as infections rise after the holiday season, fuelled by the Omicron coronavirus variant and largely unrestricted tourism. Separate government data showed there had been nearly 452,000 deaths by mid-December, and lower testing has likely helped to understate the reach of the virus.
Chile will begin offering a fourth shot of the coronavirus vaccine next week to immunocompromised citizens, the Government said on Thursday, the first country in Latin America and one of the first in the world to offer the extra dose.
A group of institutional investors representing $3.5 trillion in assets under management on Thursday called on pharmaceutical companies to link their executives' pay to making COVID-19 vaccines available around the globe.
Reuters / Newshub.