(Reuters) - The death toll from COVID-19 in the Americas rose past one million, the Pan American Health Organization said, while countries tightened curbs and closed borders to combat the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS * Eikon users, see COVID-19: MacroVitals https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1592404098 for a case tracker and summary of news.
* The number of COVID-19 infections in England is starting to fall, possibly reflecting the impact of a new lockdown, but cases are not coming down quickly enough and prevalence remains very high, a large study showed on Thursday.
* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson heads to Scotland on Thursday in a bid to stem growing support for another independence referendum by arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the benefits of staying together.
* France reported its biggest one-day jump in COVID-19 cases since mid-November.
* A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic left its quarantine hotel in the city of Wuhan on Thursday to begin field work.
* Taiwan has sought Germany's help in securing COVID-19 vaccines, Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua said on Thursday, after Berlin asked for the island's assistance in easing a shortage of automobile semiconductor chips.
* Vietnam's worst single-day coronavirus outbreak, its first cases for nearly two months, gatecrashed the Communist Party's carefully choreographed five-yearly congress on Thursday - a major headache for a government that has prided itself on keeping the pandemic at bay.
* South Korea said on Thursday it would begin COVID-19 vaccinations for the general public in the third quarter of this year, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a news briefing.
* More than one million people in the Americas have died from complications from COVID-19, the head of the Pan American Health Organization said.
* Chile's health regulator approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use among its population by a unanimous vote of its advisory board.
* Colombia will restrict flights to and from Brazil for a month to prevent the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus circulating there.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* South Africa expects a flight carrying its first 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to arrive on Feb. 1.
* Morocco will start rolling out its mass coronavirus vaccination programme on Thursday, the first African country to do so.
* President John Magufuli said Tanzania did not need a coronavirus lockdown because God would protect his people and homespun precautions were better than dangerous foreign vaccines.
* Britain said on Thursday it must receive all of the COVID-19 vaccines it had ordered and paid for after the European Union asked AstraZeneca if it could divert supplies of the Oxford-developed shots from Britain.
* The University of Oxford expects efficacy data from a study of its COVID-19 vaccine against the British variant of the novel coronavirus by next week.
* Laboratory testing found that Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc's COVID-19 antibody cocktail can combat the South Africa variant, but a similar drug from Eli Lilly and Co is inactive against it.
* Shares wiped out their gains in Europe for the year early on Thursday, soured by a sell-off on Wall Street, no end in sight to pandemic lockdowns and a squeeze in short positions. [MKTS/GLOB]
* The U.S. economy likely contracted at its sharpest pace since World War Two in 2020 as COVID-19 ravaged service businesses like restaurants and airlines, throwing millions of Americans out of work and into poverty.
* Sweden's government ran a budget deficit of 220.6 billion crowns ($26.30 billion) in 2020, thanks to unprecedented spending to prop up the economy during the pandemic, preliminary figures from fiscal watchdog ESV showed on Thursday.
(Compiled by Anna Rzhevkina, Uttaresh.V, Aditya Soni, Bartosz Dabrowski and Jagoda Darlak; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Arun Koyyur)