- US, Canada, UK and EU curb travel from southern Africa
- WHO designates new variant as “worrying”
- Stocks fall, oil plunges $ 10 a barrel
- The variant has a radically different protein from the original
- Epidemiologist warns travel restrictions may be too late
WASHINGTON / GENEVA, Nov. 26 (Reuters) – The discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus named Omicron sparked global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa and stock markets in the both sides of the Atlantic suffered their biggest falls in over a year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said Omicron may spread faster than other forms, and preliminary evidence suggests there is an increased risk of re-infection. Read more
Epidemiologists have warned that travel restrictions may be too late to prevent Omicron from circulating around the world. The new mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
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The United States will restrict travel from South Africa and neighboring countries starting Monday, a senior Biden administration official said. Read more
Going further, Canada has said it is closing its borders to those countries, following flight bans announced by Britain, the European Union and others. Read more
But it could take scientists weeks to fully understand the mutations in the variant and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it. Omicron is the fifth variant of concern designated by the WHO. Read more
The variant has a spike protein that is drastically different from that of the original coronavirus on which the vaccines are based, the UK Health Safety Agency said, raising fears of developments in current vaccines.
Scientists have issued similar warnings.
“This new variant of the COVID-19 virus is of great concern. It is the most highly mutated version of the virus that we have seen to date,” said Lawrence Young, virologist at the British University of Warwick.
“Some of the mutations that are similar to the changes we have seen in other variants of concern are associated with increased transmissibility and partial resistance to immunity induced by vaccination or natural infection.”
These worries hit financial markets, particularly stocks of airlines and others in the travel industry, and oil, which fell about $ 10 a barrel.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) closed 2.5% lower, its worst day since late October 2020, and European stocks (.STOXX) had their worst day in 17 months.
Cruise lines Carnival Corp (CCL.N), Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL.N) and Norwegian Cruise Line have plunged more than 10% each, while shares of United Airlines (UAL.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL. N) and American Airlines (AAL.O) fell almost as much.
“MOST IMPORTANT VARIANT”
Several other countries, including India, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, have also tightened travel restrictions. Read more
In Geneva, the WHO – whose experts discussed the risks of the variant, called B.1.1.529 on Friday – had previously warned against travel restrictions for now. Read more
“It is really important that there are no knee-jerk answers here,” said WHO emergency director Mike Ryan, praising public health institutions in South Africa for picking up the new variant. of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Richard Lessells, an infectious disease expert based in South Africa, also expressed frustration with the travel bans, saying the focus should be on vaccinating more people in places that need to be. difficulty in accessing sufficient vaccines.
“This is why we have talked about the risk of vaccine apartheid. This virus can evolve in the absence of adequate levels of vaccination,” he told Reuters.
Less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 vaccine, according to medical and human rights groups. Meanwhile, many developed countries are giving third dose boosters. Read more
TOO LATE FOR TRAVEL BORDERS?
The coronavirus has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting 260 million people and killing 5.4 million. Read more
A Hong Kong epidemiologist said it may be too late to tighten travel restrictions against the latest variant.
“Most likely, this virus is already in other places. And so if we close the door now, it will probably be too late,” said Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong.
Brazilian health regulator Anvisa has recommended restricting travel from some African countries, but President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to reject such measures.
Bolsonaro has been widely criticized by public health experts for his handling of the pandemic, denouncing the blockages and choosing not to be vaccinated. Brazil has the second highest death toll from the virus in the world, behind the United States. Read more
The discovery of the new variant comes as Europe and the United States move into winter, with more and more people congregating indoors as Christmas approaches, providing a breeding ground for infection.
Friday also marked the start of the holiday shopping season in the United States, but stores were less crowded than in previous years. Read more
Real estate agent Kelsey Hupp, 36, was at the Macy’s department store in downtown Chicago on Black Friday.
“Chicago is pretty safe, masked and vaccinated. I got my booster so I don’t care too much,” she said.
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Reports by offices around the world; Writing by Nick Macfie, Alex Richardson and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by John Stonestreet, Toby Chopra and Cynthia Osterman
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