US to follow Europe with travel restrictions as COVID-19 variant sparks global concern

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  • 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, November 26 (Reuters) – The discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus sparked global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa and stock markets on both sides of the the Atlantic suffered their biggest declines in over a year.

The United States will restrict travel from South Africa – where the new mutation has been discovered – and neighboring countries starting Monday, a senior official in the Biden administration said.

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

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is designating the variant, named omicron, as “of concern,” a label so far given to only four variants.

But it could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the mutations in the variant. Health authorities are investigating whether omicron is more transmissible or infectious than other variants and whether vaccines are effective against it.

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South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla called the travel restrictions “unwarranted”, although he also said preliminary studies suggested the new variant may be more transmissible.

“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 Professor Lawrence Young, a 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. Read more

Meanwhile, the rush to ban air travel from southern Africa has left hundreds of passengers on two KLM flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg stranded on the tarmac at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport for hours. before being transferred for testing. Read more

“Bus to a lobby in front of a huge queue. I can see COVID testers in bright blue PPE in the distance. Still no snacks for sad babies,” tweeted New York Times reporter Stephanie Nolen, passenger. flight from Johannesburg.

“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.

Passengers wearing face masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, walk at Haneda Airport, Tokyo, Japan, June 13, 2021. REUTERS / Androniki Christodoulou

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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.

“As scientists have described, (this is) the most important variant they have encountered to date,” UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) was down 2.5%, following its worst day since late October 2020, and European stocks (.STOXX) had their worst day in 17 months as financial markets were digesting the news.

Cruise operators Carnival Corp (CCL.N), Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL.N) and Norwegian Cruise Line have plunged more than 9% each, while shares of United Airlines (UAL.O), Delta Air Lines ( DAL.N) and American Airlines (AAL.O) fell almost 10%.

TOO LATE FOR TRAVEL BORDERS?

The coronavirus has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting nearly 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.

Belgium has identified the first case in Europe, adding to those in Botswana, Israel and 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, when retailers offer discounts. This year, US shoppers found stores 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.

Global Coronavirus Spread Interactive Chart: Open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.

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Reports by offices around the world; Writing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson; Editing by John Stonestreet, Toby Chopra and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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