Coronavirus: What happened in Canada and around the world on Nov. 19

The U.S. on Friday opened COVID-19 booster shots to all adults and took the extra step of urging people 50 and older to seek one, aiming to ward off a winter surge as coronavirus cases rise even before millions of Americans travel for the holidays.

U.S. opens booster shots to all adults, urges those 50-plus to seek the extra protection

A patient waits to be called for a COVID-19 vaccination booster shot outside a pharmacy in a downtown Denver grocery store, earlier this month. On Friday, U.S. regulators opened up COVID-19 booster shots to all adults. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

The latest:

The U.S. on Friday opened COVID-19 booster shots to all adults and took the extra step of urging those 50 and older to seek one, aiming to ward off a winter surge as coronavirus cases rise even before millions of Americans travel for the holidays.

Until now, Americans faced a confusing list of who was eligible for a booster that varied by age, their health and which kind of vaccine they got first. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized changes to the rules for Pfizer and Moderna boosters to make it easier.

Under the new rules, anyone 18 or older can choose either a Pfizer or Moderna booster six months after their last dose, and people can mix and match boosters from any company.

A person walks past a white flag memorial installation outside the Griffith Observatory on Thursday that honours the nearly 27,000 Los Angeles County residents who have died from COVID-19. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"We heard loud and clear that people needed something simpler — and this, I think, is simple," FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks told The Associated Press.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to agree before the new policy became official late Friday.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed a recommendation from the agency's scientific advisers that stressed that people 50 and older should be urged to get a booster.

"It's a stronger recommendation," said CDC adviser Dr. Matthew Daley. "I want to make sure we provide as much protection as we can."

The CDC also put out a plea for those who had previously qualified but hadn't yet signed up for a booster to quit putting it off — saying older Americans and people with obesity, diabetes or other health problems should try to get one before the holidays.

The expansion makes tens of millions more Americans eligible for an extra dose.

The No. 1 priority for the U.S., and the world, still is to get more unvaccinated people their first doses.

All three COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. continue to offer strong protection against severe illness, including hospitalization and death, without a booster.

But protection against infection can wane with time, and the U.S. and many countries in Europe also are grappling with how widely to recommend boosters as they fight a winter wave of new cases. In the U.S., COVID-19 diagnoses have climbed steadily over the last three weeks, especially in states where colder weather already has driven people indoors.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 6 p.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

What's happening around the world

A doctor tends to a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at University Hospital Leipzig on Thursday in Germany. Hospitals are coping with a high influx of patients, prompting calls for further restrictions. (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

As of Friday evening, more than 256.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.1 million.

In Europe, Germany entered a "nationwide state of emergency" because of surging coronavirus infections, the head of the country's disease control agency said Friday.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, said regular medical care cannot be guaranteed anymore in some parts of the country because hospitals and intensive care wards are overstretched.

"All of Germany is one big outbreak," Wieler told reporters. "This is a nationwide state of emergency. We need to pull the emergency brake."

He called for urgent additional measures to tackle the rise in COVID-19 cases, which topped 50,000 for the third day running.

The Silvrettabahn cable car stands closed on Friday in Ischgl, Austria. Austrian authorities announced a countrywide lockdown beginning this coming Monday in response to the current high levels of novel coronavirus infections. (Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Austria announced a new national lockdown and a plan to mandate vaccinations as coronavirus infections hit a record high Friday, forcing the government to walk back promises that such blanket shutdowns were a thing of the past.

The latest lockdown comes as Austria has struggled without success to stop spiraling case numbers. On Friday, the country reported 15,809 new infections, an all-time high.

Hungary reported 11,289 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic, the government said, as infections rise across Europe.

Hungary, a country of 10 million people whose vaccination rate lags the EU average, imposed new curbs on Thursday.

Passengers on a Moscow subway train are seen wearing masks Thursday in a bid to protect themselves against exposure to COVID-19. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press)

In Russia, authorities reported a record number of coronavirus deaths for a third day in a row. Its state coronavirus task force reported 1,254 virus deaths Friday, up from the previous record of 1,251 registered the day before. The task force also reported 37,156 new confirmed cases.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Thursday reported 585 new cases of COVID-19 and 40 additional deaths.

In the Middle East, Kuwait on Thursday reported 22 additional cases and one additional death.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines has approved a plan to allow entry soon to foreign tourists vaccinated against COVID-19, its tourism ministry said, following moves by other Southeast Asian countries to relax travel curbs.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:15 p.m. ET

With files from Reuters and CBC News