Jan 19 (Reuters) - An independent panel said on Monday Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully in January to curb the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and criticised the World Health Organization for not declaring an international emergency until Jan. 30.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
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* Euro zone finance ministers pledged continued fiscal support for their economies on Monday and discussed the design of post-pandemic recovery plans as the European Commission warned the COVID-19 crisis was making the bloc's economic imbalances worse.
* Faced with new record infection rates, Spain has begun giving second shots of coronavirus vaccines to elderly nursing home residents.
* The Czech Republic has confirmed the detection of the new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus first found in Britain.
* Germany's health minister said new measures would be needed to slow the spread of new, more infectious variants of the virus, including more health checks for cross-border commuters and intensified gene sequencing of virus samples.
* Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the government will extend social distancing measures due to expire this week as the city remains on heightened alert after the number of COVID-19 infections climbed back into triple digits.
* Australian authorities said mandatory hotel quarantine for people arriving for the Australian Open tennis tournament was essential to stop COVID-19, as the country recorded another day with no new locally acquired cases on Tuesday.
* New Zealand said it was looking to secure a small batch of COVID-19 vaccines early to protect its high-risk workers, as pressure mounts on the government to vaccinate its population.
* Pakistan on Monday approved the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, a government statement said, two days after AstraZeneca's vaccine developed with Oxford University received a similar authorization.
* U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to quickly extend travel restrictions barring travel by most people who have recently been in much of Europe and Brazil soon after President Donald Trump lifted those requirements effective Jan. 26.
* Brazil kicked off a nationwide COVID-19 immunization program on Monday by distributing doses of a vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech following an emergency use authorization, although the pace of vaccination will depend on delayed imports.
* Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday the government aimed to compensate for a reduction in deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc with those from other providers.
* The United States called on China to allow an expert team from the WHO to interview "care givers, former patients and lab workers" in the central city of Wuhan, and ensure its access to medical data and samples.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* Morocco's health ministry confirmed on Monday its first imported case of the more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus first discovered in the UK.
* South Africa, which has yet to receive its first coronavirus vaccine doses, will be getting 9 million from Johnson & Johnson, the health ministry said.
* Previous infection with the coronavirus may offer less protection against the new variant first identified in South Africa, scientists said on Monday, although they hope that vaccines will still work.
* Asian shares climbed on Tuesday as investors wagered China's economic strength would help underpin growth in the region, even as pandemic lockdowns threatened to lengthen the road to recovery in the West.
* Oil prices fell slightly on Monday as a stronger dollar, fears over soaring COVID-19 cases and the slow pace of vaccination against the coronavirus outweighed a better-than-expected quarterly rebound for China's economy.
* European companies hit by COVID-19 could issue "hybrid" shares to plug a predicted capital gap of up to 600 billion euros ($723.48 billion) when government relief measures expire as vaccination programmes are rolled out.
* The head of the International Monetary Fund said the global economic outlook remained highly uncertain given the pandemic, and a growing divergence between rich and poor countries required the IMF to find more resources.
(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Bartosz Dabrowski and Milla Nissi; editing by Barbara Lewis and Arun Koyyur)