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Tuesday January 25, 2022

WHO designates new Covid strain as ‘variant of concern’

November 27, 2021
WHO designates new Covid strain as ‘variant of concern’

GENEVA: The World Health Organization designated the new highly mutated strain of Covid a “variant of concern” and gave it the Greek name Omicron, plunging stock markets and global oil prices.

Citing preliminary analysis, the World Health Organization has designated, Omicron, as a variant of concern and reported it to be carrying a higher risk of reinfection than other variants. The WHO said the variant “has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning”. The variant, also known as B.1.1.529, was identified in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, BBC and wires reported.

The coronavirus has killed at least 5,180,276 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Friday. “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.”

It said the number of Omicron cases appeared to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa. As for testing for the strain, the WHO added: “Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.” The WHO called on countries to increase their surveillance and virus sequencing efforts to better understand circulating variants.

As the new virus sparked fears of being more infectious than the Delta strain and more resistant to vaccines, the EU member states promptly brought rapid travel restrictions on all travel into the EU from seven countries in southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe. Countries including Israel, Japan, Kenya and Singapore besides, Canada and the United States also implemented travel restrictions

on visitors from southern Africa.

Many Brits were rushing home after a new Covid variant circulating in South Africa prompted the new UK travel restrictions.The World Health Organization cautioned against imposing new travel restrictions over the new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529.

It added that it would take “a few weeks” for researchers to understand the impact of the variant detected in South Africa.

The variant has an astounding collection of mutations which are thought to increase its ability to spread and bypass some, but not all, of the protection from vaccines. Germany’s BioNTech said it was studying how well the coronavirus vaccine it developed with US drugs giant Pfizer protects against the new variant.

­Dealing a heavy blow to the global economic recovery, crude oil prices slumped between six and seven percent. “Stock markets fell sharply... as fears a new Covid variant will lead to fresh lockdowns, mobility restrictions and lower economic growth,” noted Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com.

Around £72bn were wiped off the value of London’s top shares in the stock market fall sparked by the new Covid variant in southern Africa. The FTSE 100 slipped by 3.6% on Friday, marking its heftiest points fall since the early days of the pandemic in March. The Dow saw its worst drop of the year as Wall Street indices plunged and the dollar floundered, while haven investments such as the yen and Swiss franc rallied. Share prices of airlines and tourism groups dived as countries put in new travel restrictions, while there were big losses also for energy groups. Europe’s main equity markets were down at least three percent approaching the half-way mark following sharp falls in Asia. Meanwhile, the Netherlands announced stricter restrictions. The Dutch Prime Minster Mark Rutte announced bars, restaurants and most shops in the Netherlands must close from 17:00 to 05:00 from Sunday. The fresh measures also include wearing masks in secondary schools.

Ten police officers are injured and several journalists shot at — including an AFP photographer — on the French Caribbean island of Martinique as protests sparked by vaccine measures spread despite a curfew. The unrest follows similar violence on neighbouring Guadeloupe.

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