The following is the latest list of selected news summaries by Kyodo News.


Osaka, 2 more areas in western Japan to seek COVID quasi-emergency

OSAKA - The western Japan prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo will ask the government Friday to place them under a coronavirus quasi-state emergency amid the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said.

The planned joint request by the three prefectures reflects an increasing strain on the local medical system, with Osaka seeing around 6,000 new daily infections recently, Yoshimura told reporters Thursday in Osaka.


Japan gov't panel OKs Pfizer's COVID vaccine for children aged 5-11

TOKYO - A Japanese health ministry panel approved Thursday the administration of Pfizer Inc.'s coronavirus vaccine to children aged 5 to 11, making it the first in Japan to be available for the age group.

Around 7 million children will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from March at the earliest once it is granted special approval by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.


North Korea hints at resuming nuclear, ICBM tests to counter U.S.

BEIJING - North Korea on Thursday hinted at resuming nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, saying it may restart "activities" that it had temporarily suspended to build trust with former U.S. President Donald Trump.

A key ruling party gathering held Wednesday concluded that North Korea should take "practical action to more reliably and effectively increase our physical strength" to counter the United States, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.


Japan's daily COVID cases top 42,000, new record for 3rd straight day

TOKYO - Japan's confirmed daily coronavirus cases on Thursday topped 42,000, setting a new record for the third day in a row as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.

Japan's cumulative total of COVID-19 cases also topped 2 million, while many areas have been struggling with what has become the "sixth wave" of infections. The country, which decided Wednesday to expand a quasi-state of emergency to Tokyo and other regions, confirmed its first case in January 2020.


Int'l aid delivery begins in Tonga following eruption, tsunami

SYDNEY - The delivery of international aid to Tonga began Thursday with the arrival of humanitarian supplies from Australia and New Zealand after an undersea volcanic eruption last weekend triggered a tsunami that caused severe damage to the South Pacific island nation.

Aircraft from New Zealand and Australia carrying much needed aid and supplies were finally able to touch down in the capital Nuku'alofa on Thursday afternoon, following the completion of cleanup efforts to remove volcanic ash from the runway of its main airport.


JR East to launch 2-yr leave plan for infertility care, study abroad

TOKYO - East Japan Railway Co. is planning to introduce in April an unpaid leave system of up to two years for infertility treatment, study abroad or pursuing qualifications, sources familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The new leave plan aims to reduce turnover by providing flexible work options, as it is much more substantial than the few months of long-term leave offered at many Japanese companies, according to the sources.


FOCUS: Biden enters 2nd year with full foreign policy plate, domestic woes

WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden enters his second year in office with his foreign policy plate full as U.S. rivalry with China intensifies, tensions with Russia mount over Ukraine and North Korea continues to test-fire ballistic missiles.

But efforts to tackle diplomatic challenges could be complicated by Biden's weakening political standing in his own country, where he faces headwinds due to the unabated coronavirus pandemic, rising inflation and sluggish popularity in a year of crucial midterm elections.


Japan's exports, imports hit record highs in December

TOKYO - Japan's merchandise exports and imports both hit record highs in December on the back of stronger demand for cars and higher energy prices, government data showed Thursday.

Exports jumped 17.5 percent from a year earlier to 7.9 trillion yen ($69 billion), up for the 10th straight month, while imports surged 41.1 percent to 8.5 trillion yen, up for the 11th consecutive month, according to preliminary data released by the Finance Ministry.