The United States, Brazil and countries from all regions of the world announced on Friday the closure of their borders to travelers from southern Africa, after the detection of a potentially highly contagious new variant of covid-19 called Omicrón.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the B.1.1.529 strain of the coronavirus, which it named Omicrón, is a “worrisome” variant as well as the currently dominant Delta and previously detected Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
The new mutation, first reported by South Africa on November 24, has already been identified in Europe, with a confirmed case on Friday in Belgium, after being reported in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
From stocks to oil world markets crashed on the omicron news, in the face of fears of a severe blow to the global economic recovery.
US President Joe Biden stated that the new variant should encourage the rest of the world to donate more vaccines to the poorest nations, noting that the United States “has already donated more vaccines to other countries than all other countries combined” and “it is time” to match their “generosity.”
“This pandemic will not end until we have a global vaccination”he warned in a statement from Nantucket, where he spends the Thanksgiving break.
Biden too called on countries to waive intellectual property protections to enable the manufacture of vaccines around the world.
THE FIRST COUNTRIES
Belgium announced on Friday the first publicly known case of OmicrÓn in Europe: an unvaccinated person who returned on November 11 from Egypt via Turkey.
WHO said it could take several weeks to determine if the new variant involves changes in the transmissibility or severity of covid-19, as well as the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, and cautioned against imposing travel restrictions while scientific evidence is scant.
But many countries have already announced the closure of borders, in general for travelers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini (or Swaziland), Mozambique and Malawi.
In the americas, United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Guatemala they were the last to restrict travel from there.
The European Union (EU) also recommended to the 27 nations of the bloc to prevent the income of people from southern Africa, In addition, many members, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, had already announced flight suspensions.
The first country to shield itself was the United Kingdom, and others followed in his footsteps, including Russia, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus. In addition, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Morocco announced bans.
Japan said that will require a 10 day quarantine period for travelers from South Africa.
South Africa called the bans “draconian”. “That kind of reaction is instinctive and panic”, declared Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
It is a severe blow to the country since the restrictive measures come just before the austral summer, when safaris and beaches usually attract a good number of visitors.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT
Omicron caused Wall Street to crash on Friday. The benchmark Dow Jones index had its worst loss of the year: a 2.53% drop from the close of Wednesday, before the Thanksgiving holiday. The S&P 500 fell 2.27%, while the Nasdaq index was down 2.23%.
European indices suffered their worst sessions in over a year: Paris fell 4.75%, London 3.64%, Frankfurt 4.15% and Madrid 4.96%.
The fall also affected Asian and Latin American stock markets, and oil pricesor, that they lost more than 10%.
In Chicago, wheat and soy prices fell significantly.
“Today is Black Friday for retail sales, but now is ‘Red Friday’ for the stock market”, summarized analyst Patrick O’Hare, alluding to the traditional discount day in the United States after Thanksgiving.
German biotechnology firm BioNTech and American pharmaceutical company Pfizer reported that they were studying the new variant, with expected impact data “in two weeks at the latest” to say whether their jointly developed vaccine should be adjusted if Omicron spreads globally.
The American Laboratory Moderna announced for its part that it will develop a reinforcement specific for Omicron.
The coronavirus has left more than 5.18 million deaths worldwide since its appearance in China at the end of 2019, although the WHO estimates that the real figures could be much higher.
Near to 54% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the virus vaccineBut in low-income countries, this proportion is only 5.6%, according to the Our World in Data portal.
(With information from AFP)
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