WASHINGTON/GENEVA-As countries rush to suspend travel from Southern Africa, stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic have suffered their biggest declines in more than a year. The discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus on Friday triggered a global alert.
A senior official in the Biden administration stated that the United States will restrict travel from South Africa and neighboring countries where the new mutation was discovered, effective Monday.
Furthermore, Canada stated that it is closing its borders with these countries after the United Kingdom, the European Union and other countries announced bans on flights. read more
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was designating the variant, named omicron, as being “of concern”, a label only given to four variants to date.
But it could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant’s mutations. Health authorities are seeking to determine if omicron is more transmissible or infectious than other variants and if vaccines are effective against it.
South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla called the travel restrictions “unjustified”, though he also said preliminary studies suggested the new variant may be more transmissible.
“This new variant of the COVID-19 virus is very worrying. It is the most heavily mutated version of the virus we have seen to date,” said Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Britain’s Warwick university.
“Some of the mutations that are similar to changes we’ve seen in other variants of concern are associated with enhanced transmissibility and with partial resistance to immunity induced by vaccination or natural infection.”
These worries hit the financial markets, especially aviation stocks and other travel stocks, as well as oil, which fell by about $10 per barrel. read more
At the same time, the scramble to ban air travel from Southern Africa resulted in hundreds of passengers on KLM flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg being stranded on the tarmac of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for several hours before being caught. Transfer to test. read more
“Bus to a hall to a huge queue. I can see COVID testers in bright blue PPE far on the distance. Still no snacks for the sad babies,” tweeted New York Times journalist Stephanie Nolen, a passenger on the flight from Johannesburg.