FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian stock markets follow Wall St up as omicron fears ease

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets have risen after Wall Street hit a new high as fears of the coronavirus’ omicron variant eased. Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney advanced. Shanghai declined.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index rose 0.6% on Thursday in the last U.S. trading session before Christmas. Investor anxiety has mounted as omicron spread but moderated after authorities said it might cause less severe illness.

President Joe Biden called for more vaccinations and testing but announced no plans for travel restrictions. The Commerce Department reported U.S. consumer spending rose 5.7% in November over a year earlier, its fastest pace in 39 years.

VIRUS OUTBREAK

Omicron is latest blow to pandemic-weary front-line workers

BOSTON (AP) — The surge in coronavirus cases driven by the new omicron variant is the latest blow to hospitals, police departments, supermarkets and other critical operations struggling to maintain staffing levels.

COVID-19 absences among workers at London hospitals tripled this month, and nearly 10% of the city’s firefighters were out sick.

In New York, about twice as many police officers took sick time this week than normal.

Countries such as Spain have eased quarantine rules to allow more people to continue working.

Some U.S. states have called in the National Guard to help boost short-handed hospitals.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-ISOLATION GIUDELINES

US sets shorter COVID-19 isolation rules for health workers

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. officials are loosening rules that call on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive for COVID-19.

Those workers will be allowed to come back to work after seven days if they test negative and don’t have symptoms. Isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the revised guidelines on Thursday. Officials around the U.S. are worried that a new COVID-19 wave could overwhelm understaffed hospitals. The new rules are meant to quell that concern.

GEORGIA-ELECTION-MISINFORMATION LAWSUIT

Georgia election workers file second suit over fraud claims

ATLANTA (AP) — Two Georgia election workers filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing a right-wing cable news channel and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani of defaming them by falsely claiming they engaged in ballot fraud during the 2020 election.

It was the second defamation lawsuit by Fulton County election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss this month over debunked claims they introduced suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of election fraud to try to alter the outcome of the presidential election in Georgia. The pair, a mother and daughter, sued conservative website The Gateway Pundit on Dec. 2.

The lawsuit filed Thursday says One America News Network continued to accuse Freeman and Moss of wrongdoing even after Georgia election officials refuted the allegations against them. The suit says that Giuliani, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, appeared frequently on the network and along with OAN, “continued to publish and amplify the lie.”

NEW MEXICO-DOUGHT

Forecasters: New Mexico should brace for worsening drought

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The last three months have been very dry in New Mexico and it’s going to get worse. That’s the word from forecasters with the National Weather Service and other climate experts in the state.

They said during a meeting this week that New Mexico reservoirs continue to be far below historical averages and that ranchers are bracing for a winter with little moisture out on the range. Some snow is expected in the higher elevations on Christmas Eve, but it will be less than the precipitation that has helped to ease drought conditions elsewhere in the West in recent week.

Ranchers say they are feeling the pinch, and farmers who rely on traditional irrigation systems say they’re worried about having water for crops next spring.

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