(Reuters) - Australia on Friday reported its first community transmission of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, but authorities held steady on a plan to reopen the economy amid hopes it would prove to be milder than previous strains.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
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MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* OPEC and its allies agreed to stick to their existing policy of monthly oil output increases despite fears that a U.S. release from crude reserves and the new Omicron coronavirus variant would lead to a fresh oil price rout.
* The new Omicron variant of the coronavirus poses a threefold higher risk of reinfection than the currently dominant Delta variant and the Beta strain, a group of South African health bodies said.
* The European Union's public health agency said the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all infections in Europe within a few months, but no cases of severe disease had yet been identified in the region.
* Britain recorded 53,945 new cases, the highest daily figure since July 17, government figures showed, as the dominant Delta variant spreads and measures come in to curb the Omicron variant.
* France reported its first two cases of the Omicron variant, as the government's top scientific adviser said it could become dominant in the country by the end of January.
* New York has confirmed five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, its governor said on Thursday, bringing to five the number of U.S. states having detected the variant, with 10 reported infections nationwide.
* U.S. President Joe Biden laid out his strategy to fight the Omicron and Delta coronavirus variants over the winter, including free and insurer-funded at-home COVID-19 testing and new requirements for international travellers.
* Hawaii's Department of Health confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant, saying it was a case of community spread and the person had no history of travel.
* India reported its first two Omicron cases but the government said it had no immediate plan to authorise booster vaccine shots despite demands from lawmakers.
* Nepal will ban the entry of travellers who have been in eight African countries and Hong Kong to curb the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
* The European Union's drug regulator said it had started a rolling review of the inactivated-virus COVID-19 vaccine from French biotech firm Valneva, weeks after the EU signed a deal with the company for supplies of the shot.
* COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna that use mRNA technology provide the biggest boost to antibody levels when given 10-12 weeks after the second dose, a British study has found.
* Novavax Inc said it could begin commercial manufacturing of a COVID-19 vaccine tailored for the Omicron coronavirus variant in January, while it tests whether or not its current vaccine works against the variant.
* Stocks fell after Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi said it would delist in New York, renewing concern about U.S.-China tensions and tech regulation, while oil headed for a sixth consecutive weekly drop on Omicron and rate hike worries. [MKTS/GLOB]
* Activity in China's services sector expanded at a slower pace in November amid rising inflationary pressures and continuing small-scale COVID-19 outbreaks, a private survey showed.
(Compiled by Rashmi Aich and Krishna Chandra Eluri; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Arun Koyyur)