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The World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said a new strain discovered by South African researchers is a “Variant of Concern,” as global markets swooned at the prospect of a setback in the fight against the coronavirus.
Governments from the U.S. to Hong Kong tightened restrictions on travel from countries in southern Africa after the discovery of the new mutation. In its first response, South Africa called the travel bans “unjustified.”
Scientists are trying to ascertain how quickly the new variant, officially assigned the Greek letter omicron, can spread and whether it’s resistant to Covid-19 vaccines.
Global equities dropped, with the S&P 500 posting its biggest one-day slide since February and travel stocks among the biggest decliners. Commodities from copper to crude oil dropped, while U.S. Treasuries and the yen strengthened on haven demand.
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Canada Bans Foreign Nationals from Southern Africa (2:05 p.m.)
We are “acting quickly to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters in Ottawa. “We are banning the entry of foreign nationals into Canada that have traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days.”
U.S. Imposes Travel Limits on Southern Africa (2 p.m. NY)
President Joe Biden’s administration will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting on Monday, according to senior administration officials. In addition to South Africa, they include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The policy doesn’t apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents, though they must still test negative prior to travel to the U.S.
Netherlands Tightens Curbs (1:10 p.m. NY)
The Dutch government will force bars and restaurants to close in the evening for the next three weeks, seeking to cap a surge in infections that’s heaped pressure on the nation’s battered health system.
The country will enter an evening lockdown, with non-essential sites from cinemas to gyms shutting down at 5 p.m. each day from Sunday. Supermarkets will close from 8 p.m., and schools will be unaffected.
WHO Says B.1.1.529 is Variant of Concern (1:11 p.m. NY)
The World Health Organization has designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, posing a threat that could confound countries’ efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19, according to a web statement.
The WHO assigned the Greek letter omicron to the variant.
The variant “has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage,” the WHO said.
Vaccine Makers Study Variant’s Impact (12:55 p.m. NY)
AstraZeneca says it’s investigating the impact of new Covid variant on the vaccine developed with University of Oxford, with studies under way in Botswana and Eswatini.
The company is testing antibody treatment against new variant, and says it’s hopeful of efficacy due to “potent antibodies with different and complementary activities against the virus.”
Johnson & Johnson, maker of a one-dose Covid shot, is already testing its vaccine against B.1.1.529, CNBC reported, citing the company.
BioNTech said earlier it expects the first data within two weeks of how the strain interacts with the vaccine it makes with Pfizer.
Back to Netflix and Chill? (12:34 p.m. NY)
So-called stay-home winners, stocks that benefit from higher demand in lockdowns, rose on Friday as concerns about the impact of a new Covid-19 variant hit broader markets.
Video-conferencing firm Zoom Video rose as much as 13%; home exercise company Peloton was up 6.8%; food delivery firm DoorDash ros 1.2%; and streaming giant Netflix advanced 2.6%.
EU Members Ban Travel From Southern Africa (12:19 p.m. NY)
European Union member states agreed to introduce restrictions on all travel into the EU from seven countries in reaction to the new Covid variant, Commission spokesman Eric Mamer says in a tweet.
The measures apply to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe.
Emirates Suspends Flights From Variant Areas (11:56 a.m. NY)
Emirates Airlines suspended flights from seven Southern African countries starting Monday. Travelers originating from or transiting from those countries won’t be accepted into Dubai.
Saudi Arabia also made a similar decision, suspending flights from countries after the discovery of the new coronavirus strain. Mauritius also plans to suspend flights from South Africa.
Norway to Enforce Quarantine for African Travelers (11:45 a.m. NY)
Norway will introduce mandatory quarantine from Saturday for all arrivals from South Africa and six other countries in the region to prevent the spread of the new virus variant, NRK says, citing Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.
S. Africa Calls Travel Bans Unjustified (11:19 a.m. NY)
South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla said new travel bans imposed on the country after the discovery of a new Covid strain, particularly by the EU, were “unjustified.”
The moves “are completely against the norms and standards” advised by the World Health Organization, Phaahla said during an online press conference.
U.K. Daily Cases Top 50,000 Again (11:02 a.m. NY)
The U.K. reported 50,091 more coronavirus cases on Friday. According to government statistics, this was the first time since Oct. 21 where cases were above 50,000.
The country recorded 160 Covid-19 deaths on Friday. The U.K.’s high vaccination rate has been credited with keeping deaths at a fraction of levels from last winter even with Covid cases persistently high.
Singapore’s Cases Continue to Fall (10:25 a.m. NY)
Cases are falling in Singapore. The city-state reported 1,090 new positives on Friday, down from 1,275 a day earlier. New cases have been falling for about a month.
Some 1,064 new cases were found in the community; that compares with 1,633 a week earlier. The weekly infection growth rate was at 0.74 as of Friday, versus 0.75 on Thursday. Singapore reported a further three deaths from Covid complications.
EU Agency Names New Covid Strain ‘Variant of Concern’ (9:50 a.m NY)
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control labeled the new Covid-19 straight first identified in South Africa as a “variant of concern.”
The B.1.1.529 variant, a highly contagious variant with cases already detected in Israel and Belgium, has roiled global travel plans and markets, driving steep sell-offs in airline stocks and buoying lockdown staples like Zoom.
Hong Kong is Latest to Bar Travelers From Southern Africa (9:46 a.m. NY)
Hong Kong said it would bar entry to non-residents who’ve stayed in eight southern African countries within 21 days, citing the latest coronavirus variant.
Fauci Says U.S. Needs Data Before Limiting Flights (8:55 a.m. NY)
More data is needed about the new variant before the U.S. can determine whether to halt flights from southern African countries, said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.
There’s no evidence the new variant, with “some mutations that are raising some concern,” is already present in the U.S., he said on CNN.
“Obviously as soon as we find out more information, we’ll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci said.
Israel ‘On the Verge’ of Emergency, PM says (8:36 a.m. NY)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was “on the verge of an emergency” after the new variant discovered in southern Africa was detected in a passenger arriving from Malawi.
Israel widened a travel ban to include all of Africa, with the exception of nations in the continent’s north, and said they’d purchase another 10 million PCR tests calibrated to detect the new variant. Sewage will be examined to locate any outbreaks and quarantine rules for Israelis returning from barred countries were tightened.
Belgium Confirms Case of New Strain in Traveler (8:13 a.m. NY)
Belgium said it has confirmed one case of a concerning new Covid-19 variant in someone who had traveled from abroad.
Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told reporters the variant was detected in an unvaccinated person who tested positive for Covid-19 on Nov. 22.
Belgium also Friday ordered a new set of steps to combat the spiraling growth of Covid-19 cases, including a closing nightclubs for three weeks and restricting privately organized parties.
Golfers Quit South African Event Ahead of Flight Ban (8:00 a.m. NY)
More than a dozen British and Irish golfers withdrew from the Joburg Open before Friday’s second round in an attempt to return home just ahead of a ban on flights from South Africa.
The U.K. announced Thursday night it was suspending flights from six southern African countries from midday on Friday.
The European golf tour, rebranded the DP World Tour this season, just started a three-week swing in South Africa. It announced it would cancel the third event, to have been played Dec. 9-12.
Two Welsh rugby teams are also caught up in the scramble to get out.
Serum Institute of India Resumes Exports to Covax (7:51 a.m. NY)
The Serum Institute sent out its first batches of Covishield, an Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, for distribution to low- and middle-income countries. This is through Covax, the program set up to deliver Covidvaccines equitably around the world. The supply of doses via Covax is expected to increase “substantially” into the first quarter of next year, the institute said. The SII will produce other vaccines under license, including the Novavax candidate.
Separately, India is stepping up screening of all overseas visitors traveling from or through South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong following the discovery of the new variant.
New Variant Most Worrying: Top U.K. Adviser (6:11 a.m. NY)
A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa is the “most worrying” yet, a senior U.K. government health adviser said.
The U.K. announced Thursday night it will temporarily ban flights from South Africa and five neighboring countries in an attempt to limit the spread. No cases have yet been confirmed in the U.K.
A number of British and Irish golfers withdrew from the Joburg Open before Friday’s second round after the government announcement, according to AP.
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