Washington / Geneva:
The discovery of a new coronavirus variant called Omicron on Friday raised concerns around the world as countries rushed to suspend travel from South Africa and stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic suffered the biggest collapse in more than a year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that Omicron may spread more rapidly than other forms, and preliminary evidence suggests that there is a risk of re-infection.
Epidemiologists warn that it may be too late for Omicron to stop travel bans from spreading worldwide. New mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
The United States will effectively limit travel from South Africa and neighboring countries on Monday, a senior Biden administration official said.
Going further, Canada has said it is closing its borders to those countries following a ban on flights announced by Britain, Europeans and others.
However, it may take a few weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant of the variant and whether it is effective against existing vaccines and treatments. Omicron is the fifth form of concern nominated by the WHO.
The variant contains a spike protein that dramatically differs from one of the original coronaviruses on which the vaccine was based, the UK Health Security Agency said, raising concerns about how the current vaccines would work.
Scientists have issued a similar warning.
Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick in the UK, said: “This new version of the COVID-19 virus is alarming. It is the most modified version of the virus we have ever seen.”
“Some of the mutations that we’ve seen in other forms of anxiety are similar to changes that are associated with increased infectivity and partial resistance to immunity induced by vaccines or natural infections.”
These concerns stem from financial markets, especially airlines and others in the travel sector, and stocks and oil, which have fallen by about ড 10 a barrel.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.5%, its worst day since the end of October 2020 and the worst day in 17 months for European stocks.
Cruise operator Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruise and Norwegian Cruise Lines each plunged more than 10%, while shares of United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines plunged nearly as much.
‘Most notable variant’
Several other countries, including India, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, have also tightened travel bans.
The WHO in Geneva – whose experts discussed the risks posed by the variant B.1.1.529 on Friday – had previously warned against travel bans.
“It’s really important that there is no knee-jerk response,” said Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergency director.
Richard Lesles, a South Africa-based infectious disease specialist, also expressed frustration with the travel ban, saying more people should be vaccinated in areas where adequate shots are struggling to access.
“That’s why we’re talking about the risk of vaccine racism. This virus can develop in the absence of adequate vaccinations,” he told Reuters.
According to the Medical and Human Rights Group, less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot. Meanwhile, many developed countries are offering third-dose boosters.
“The failure to help sub-Saharan Africa to vaccinate – still only 4% of the population – puts us all at risk of a new, more deadly form of #COVID,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva wrote on Twitter. “The news of #Omicron is an urgent reminder of why we need to do more to vaccinate the world.”
Failure to help vaccinate sub-Saharan Africa – still only 4% of the population – puts us all at risk of a new, more virulent virus. # CovidVariant.Advertisement
– Kristalina Georgieva (KGeorgieva) November 26, 2021
Too late for travel carbs?
Coronavirus has spread worldwide in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting 260 million people and killing 5.4 million.
An epidemiologist in Hong Kong says it may be too late to tighten travel bans against the latest variant.
Ben Kowling of the University of Hong Kong said, “Maybe this virus is already elsewhere. And so if we close the door now, it will probably be too late.”
As Europe and the United States enter winter, new variants are discovered, with more people gathering indoors for Christmas, providing a breeding ground for transmission.
Friday also marked the start of the holiday shopping period in the United States, but stores were less crowded than last year.
Realtor Kelsey Hoop, 36, was at Massie’s department store in downtown Chicago on Black Friday.
“Chicago is pretty safe and masked and vaccinated. I’ve got my booster so I’m not too worried about it,” he said.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)