* European countries expanded COVID-19 booster vaccinations, began plans to get shots to young children and tightened some curbs as the continent battled a surge in cases.
* The new variant is the most concerning that British health officials have seen, and the country temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini.
* France would make booster shots available to all adults, toughen rules on wearing face masks, ramp up health pass checks and increase controls at its borders as it seeks to curb a fifth wave of infections.
* Slovakia went into a two-week lockdown on Thursday, as the country with one of the European Union's lowest vaccination rates reported a critical situation in hospitals and new infections that topped global tables.
* Hungary is ready to inoculate children aged 5 to 11, the government said.
* Portugal, which has one of the world's highest vaccination rates, announced it would reimpose restrictions to stop a surge in cases, ordering all passengers flying into the country to show a negative test certificate on arrival.
* Germany, which crossed the threshold of 100,000 COVID-related deaths, is in a phase of exponential growth in numbers of cases, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
* Some Dutch hospitals have halted chemotherapy treatments and organ transplants to free up intensive care beds for surging patients.
* Millions of Americans got booster shots at a near record pace after the Biden administration expanded eligibility last week, but health officials concerned about climbing infections ahead of the winter holiday season urged more to get the additional protection.
* A newly-discovered variant that has alarmed overseas health experts is unlikely to impact Australia's vaccine efficacy, according to the federal health minister.
* Japan decided to tighten border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries, as per a Jiji news service report, while India issued an advisory to all states to rigorously test and screen travellers from the African nation and other "at risk" countries.
* Drugmakers Pfizer Inc and MSD, known as Merck & Co Inc in the United States and Canada, have agreed to give licenses to firms in Vietnam to produce treatment pills.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* South African scientists said they have detected a new variant -- B.1.1.529 -- in small numbers and are working to understand its potential implications, adding that it has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations.
* South African sport faced a shutdown due to the new variant, with rugby teams scrambling to leave before travel restrictions are imposed and the first event of golf's new-look DP World Tour under threat.
* Namibia has warned that more than 268,000 doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are at risk of being destroyed, due to a slow uptake by citizens.
* Israel announced it was barring its citizens from travelling to southern Africa and banning the entry of foreigners from the region.
* The EU's drug regulator approved the use of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for children between five and 11.
* Turkey's domestically developed vaccine, Turkovac, has applied for emergency authorisation, the health minister said, adding he hoped it would be available by year-end.
* Vaccination is safe for pregnant women and not associated with higher rates of complications, data released by the UK Health Security Agency showed.
* Stocks suffered their sharpest drop in three months in Asia and oil tumbled after the new variant sent investors scurrying toward the safety of bonds, the yen and the dollar.
Australian Associated Press