▶ S. KOREA SEES SPIKE IN IMPORTED COVID-19 INFECTIONS
South Korea is seeing record numbers of imported coronavirus cases amid the global spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, adding to fears of another wave of infections in the country.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 4,167 new cases of COVID-19 from the last 24 hours.
Although a majority were locally transmitted, overseas acquired infections hit an all-time high of 391.
The KDCA confirmed 44 more COVID-19 deaths, while the number of critically ill patients in ICUs stood at 701.
Tightened social distancing rules and rising booster shot rates have apparently helped to slow down the spread of infections in recent days.
But health authorities said they are bracing for a possible surge in new infections fueled by Omicron, which could come around the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of this month.
▶ PFIZER'S ANTIVIRAL PILL AVAILABLE FROM FRIDAY
The COVID-19 pill developed by Pfizer will be available by prescription to patients beginning Friday.
The health ministry said a plane carrying the first shipment of 21,000 doses of the Paxlovid oral medication is scheduled to arrive at Incheon International Airport this afternoon.
The drug will be transferred to a Yuhan Corporation warehouse in Cheongju and then sent to community treatment centers and pharmacies nationwide.
Authorities said coronavirus patients aged 65 and older with symptoms and immunocompromised people would be given priority to receive the antiviral pill.
▶ AMERICAS LOG OVER 6 MILLION VIRUS CASES IN A WEEK
The Pan American Health Organization says the rate of COVID-19 transmission across the Americas has reached unprecedented levels.
The number of cases has almost doubled in the past week, with more than 6 million people testing positive in North and South America and the Caribbean.
The BBC's Leonardo Rocha reports.
Transmission rates are increasing at a fast pace in almost every country in the region and especially the United States.
Peru and Argentina have reported record high case numbers this week.
In Brazil, the authorities have announced restrictions on football matches and other events.
Many say it is also considering canceling next month's Carnival festivities.
But death figures have remained relatively low.
The Pan American Health Organization says the main reason for that is the high vaccination rate.
Figures suggest 63 percent of people in the Americas are now double jabbed.
▶ US SANCTIONS N. KOREANS AFTER MISSILE TESTS
The United States has slapped sanctions on five North Korean officials in its first response to Pyongyang's latest ballistic missile tests.
The Treasury Department said it was imposing penalties on the officials over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the North's missile programs.
One of the five North Koreans is based in Russia, according to the Treasury, while the other four are based in China.
All of them are accused of providing money, goods or services to a science academy that is said to be involved in the reclusive state's military defense programs.
In a related move, the State Department ordered sanctions against another North Korean, a Russian man and company for their broader support of Pyongyang's weapons of mass destruction activities.
The actions were in response to six ballistic missile tests by the North since September, and came just hours after North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong-un oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday.