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November 26 Omicron variant news

Fauci: New Covid variant spreading in fluid motion in South Africa
03:18

What we're covering

  • The US, European Union and other major destinations have moved to block flights from several African countries following the discovery of a new, potentially more transmissible variant of Covid-19.
  • The WHO labeled the newly discovered strain as a “variant of concern.” The B.1.1.529 variant, named Omicron, was first detected in South Africa but cases have so far been confirmed in Botswana, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.
  • While only dozens of cases have been identified so far, Omicron is already sparking fears around the world and rattling global markets.

Our live coverage has ended. Read why the Omicron variant is causing concern.

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Australia bans entry to foreigners who have traveled to 9 countries in southern Africa

 A Covid-19 safety sign is seen at Sydney's International Airport on November 1, in Sydney, Australia.

Australia is banning the entry of foreign citizens who have traveled to nine southern African countries in the previous 14 days over concerns of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant. 

The nine countries include South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a news conference on Saturday.

Australian citizens, though allowed into Australia, will have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, Hunt added. 

“We’ll just note that there are 20 people in quarantine in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory who’ve arrived from South Africa in the last week,” he said, noting the country is prepared to strengthen existing rules if the situation changes. 

No cases of the Omicron variant have yet been identified in Australia, and there are no direct flights from the areas of concern to the country. But some travelers have flown into quarantine-free areas from South Africa over the past two weeks and the Australian government is now chasing them up to conduct Covid tests.

CDC says no cases of Omicron have been identified in the US

No cases of the new Omicron variant have yet been identified in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a statement Friday, the CDC said any cases would be identified quickly through the nation’s variant surveillance system.

“We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path,” the statement said.
“CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country. We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.,” it added.

The agency recommends people follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently, and physically distancing from others. 

It also recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from Covid-19 by getting fully vaccinated, and encourages a booster dose for those who are eligible.  

White House releases official proclamation on travel restrictions

Travelers walk through Terminal A at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, in Arlington, Virginia.

President Biden has signed the official proclamation restricting travel from southern Africa that will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The proclamation will apply to those who have been “physically present” in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe during the “14-day period preceding their entry, or attempted entry into the United States.”

The proclamation includes a list of those exempted from the new restrictions including citizens, lawful permanent residents, and noncitizens who are the spouse of a citizen or permanent resident.

The order will remain in effect until terminated by the President and will not apply to any flights scheduled to arrive in the US that departed prior to 12:01 a.m. ET Monday.

Brazil joins list of countries restricting flights from southern Africa in response to Omicron

Brazil said it will close its air borders with six African countries from Nov. 29 in response to the Omicron variant, according to the presidential chief of staff Ciro Nogueira.

Nogueira tweeted that passengers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, will be prevented from entering the country to “protect Brazilians.” 

He said the decision was agreed to by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Health Ministry, and the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had previously stated he would not support such border closures. 

When asked about potential flight bans earlier on Friday, Bolsonaro said, “It won’t stop, boy, what is this madness? Will the virus not enter if you close the airport? It’s (the new strain) already in here. You have to learn to live with the virus.” 

United Airlines will not stop service to Africa, moving ahead with seasonal service

A United Airlines 787 Dreamliner prepares to land at San Francisco International Airport on October 19, in San Francisco, California.

United says it will not scale back its Africa service due to the new covid variant — and is moving ahead with new and seasonal service to the continent. 

CNN reported earlier that Delta will continue its service to South Africa, too.

“United continues to monitor how the new 212(f) travel restrictions to Africa may impact demand, and remains committed to maintaining a safe and vital link for essential supplies and personnel to transit between the African continent and the United States as feasible. We don’t have any adjustments to our schedule at this time,” the airline said in a statement.

Johnson & Johnson testing effectiveness of its Covid-19 vaccine against new Omicron variant

A nurse fills a syringe with Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Covid-19 vaccine on August 19, in Pasadena, California.

Vaccine maker Johnson and Johnson is testing the effectiveness of its Covid-19 vaccine against the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the company said Friday.

“We are closely monitoring newly emerging Covid-19 virus strains with variations in the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein and are already testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new and rapidly spreading variant first detected in Southern Africa,” Clare Boyle, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, told CNN in a statement.

Moderna says Omicron represents a "significant potential risk" to vaccine and natural-induced immunity

A health official prepares a syringe with the Moderna vaccine prior to administering it during a vaccination drive in Nairobi, Kenya on September 17.

Vaccine maker Moderna says the new Omicron variant represents a “significant potential risk” to the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine as well as immunity reached naturally.

“The recently described Omicron variant includes mutations seen in the Delta variant that are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are believed to promote immune escape,” Moderna said Friday in a news release.

“The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity,” the company said.

The company said it is working rapidly to test the ability of its vaccine to neutralize the new variant and data is expected in the coming weeks.

If the current vaccine and the current booster dose of the vaccine are insufficient against the variant, one possible solution is boosting people with a larger dose, which Moderna said it is testing.

The company is also evaluating two multi-valent booster candidates to see if they provide superior protection against Omicron. Both candidates include some of the viral mutations present in the new variant.

Moderna is also evaluating an Omicron-specific booster candidate.

“We have three lines of defense that we are advancing in parallel,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in the release. “The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant.”

European organization says there is a high risk that the new Omicron variant will spread in Europe

There is a “high to very high” risk that the new Covid variant, named Omicron by the World Health Organization on Friday, will spread in Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Friday.

“There is considerable uncertainty related to the transmissibility, vaccine effectiveness, risk for reinfections and other properties of the Omicron variant. However, given its immune escape potential and potentially increased transmissibility advantage compared to Delta, we assess the probability of further introduction and community spread in the EU/EEA as HIGH. In a situation where the Delta variant is resurgent in the EU/EEA, the impact of the introduction and possible further spread of Omicron could be VERY HIGH. In conclusion, the overall level of risk for the EU/EEA associated with the SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron is assessed as HIGH to VERY HIGH,” the ECDC said.

More context: The WHO announced Friday that it has designated Omicron, which was identified as coronavirus variant B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern.

Besides South Africa, the newly identified variant has been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Belgium.

It appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), an independent group of experts, met Friday to discuss the variant, a WHO statement said.

The advisers recommended that WHO designate the variant as “of concern,” referencing the variant’s large number of mutations, the possibility of increased risk of reinfection and other evidence.

New travel restrictions will buy US time to learn more about new variant, officials say

Travelers carry luggage as they arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, in Arlington, Virginia.

The new travel restrictions announced by President Biden today will buy the US federal government more time to investigate the new Omicron variant that has emerged in South Africa, officials say. But not much.

Earlier today, the Biden administration announced it will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, starting Monday. The administration stressed it was acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the World Health Organization labeled the newly discovered strain as a “variant of concern.”

Inside the government, it is seen as inevitable that the new variant will appear in the US at some point, but the new restrictions should give federal health agencies and their global counterparts more time to learn about the variant, including the severity of the disease it causes. Officials do not believe, based on current thinking, that the variant is in the US yet. 

Officials acted quickly to implement the new restrictions. While the emergency of the variant had been flagged in the last several weeks, it was only in recent days that they learned how serious it was. 

US officials are expected to speak to scientists in South Africa again potentially on Sunday. 

New Covid-19 variant prompts these countries to impose travel restrictions

The discovery of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa prompted multiple countries to impose travel restrictions on at least six African nations

Currently known as B.1.1.529, the newly identified variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa, and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Cases have so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. The World Health Organization classified it as a “variant of concern” on Friday. 

These are the countries that have announced restrictions so far:

  • The cascade of closures began late Thursday as the UK announced it would be temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
  • Japan has tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, bringing in a 10-day quarantine beginning 12 a.m. on Nov. 27. On Friday, Bahrain said it would suspend entry from those countries as well.
  • Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all announced imminent entry bans to all travelers who’ve entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the past two weeks. Switzerland has banned all direct flights from the same seven countries as well.
  • Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also announced restrictions on the seven countries.
  • Meanwhile, Germany plans to declare South Africa a “virus variant area” from Friday night, which will mean that airlines may only enter from the country to repatriate German citizens.
  • President Biden announced that the United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday as a new coronavirus variant has emerged, administration officials tell CNN. Acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Officials, who are still learning more about the variant, said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution.
  • Canada is taking similar steps as the US, according to its health minister.
  • Greece will allow only essential travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi, the country’s health ministry said Friday. Travelers will have to obtain a special permit from the local Greek embassies and diplomatic missions to travel, the ministry said, adding that on arrival they will be tested and put in quarantine hotels for 10 days, after which they’ll be tested again. The new measures take effect Saturday at 6 a.m. local time.
  • Turkey issued a travel ban from five African countries — Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe — through land, air, sea and rail border crossings starting Friday night, according to a tweet from Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

Saudi Arabia suspends travel from 7 African countries over new Covid-19 variant

Saudi Arabia announced a temporary suspension of flights to and from seven African countries, namely South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.

The Saudi interior ministry said in a statement on Friday that the move was taken due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Non-Saudi passengers aboard flights arriving directly and indirectly from the aforementioned countries shall not be allowed into the Kingdom except for those who have spent at least 14 days in another country whose health procedures in the Kingdom allow entry to those coming from it,” the statement said.

The ministry added that the exempted categories, including Saudis, coming from the seven countries should subject to a 5-day “institutional quarantine regardless of their immunization status.”

The ministry warned both citizens and residents to avoid traveling to the seven countries until further notice.

Some background: South African health authorities announced the discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant on Thursday. It sparked a forceful reaction across the world, with a growing number of countries banning travelers from several southern African countries.

The B.1.1.529 was labeled a “variant of concern” by the WHO on Friday. Although it was first detected in South Africa, cases have so far been confirmed in Botswana, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. Scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Biden said he decided to be "cautious" regarding travel ban decision

President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Friday, November 26.

President Biden told the press Friday that he decided to ban travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly,” Biden said. “I’ve decided we’re going to be cautious.” 

When asked why the travel ban won’t go into effect until Monday, Biden said it was “because that was the recommendation coming from my medical team.”

“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly and I spent about a half-hour this morning with my Covid team led by Dr. Fauci so that was the decision we made,” Biden said.

On the stock market tumble Friday, Biden said he “expected it.”

Biden also used the opportunity to call on Americans to get their booster shots. 

When asked if he was considering any new mandates, Biden said: “No. Not at the moment.”

A new Covid-19 variant was discovered in South Africa – a country with a low vaccination rate

A healthcare worker administers the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to a woman outside a polling station at the Kopanong Hall in Soweto, on November 1st, 2021, during South Africa's local elections. 

The discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant by South African health authorities has sparked a forceful reaction across the world, with a growing number of countries banning travelers from several southern African countries.

The B.1.1.529 was labeled a “variant of concern” by the WHO. It appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Here’s what we know about Covid-19 in South Africa:

South Africa, which has fully vaccinated 35.37% of its adult population, has seen its rate of people initiating vaccination fall in recent days, according to data from the country’s Department of Health.

In the week ending Oct. 24, this metric hit its peak, with 1,047,427 people receiving a first vaccination. Since then, this metric has fallen, with 613,033 people vaccinated in the week ending Nov. 21.

More than 40% of adults – more than 16 million people – have initiated vaccination in South Africa. More than 5 million people have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, and additional doses have been administered as part of a booster dose trial. More than 19 million Pfizer doses have been administered – nearly 11 million of which are first doses. 

The country has administered a first dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to more than 400,000 children ages 12 to 18 years old.

Canada issues restrictions on travel from southern Africa due to new coronavirus variant

Canada will be “banning the entry of foreign nationals…that have traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days,” due to the new coronavirus variant Omicron, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a news conference Friday.

Anyone who has traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days should get a Covid-19 test and quarantine until they get a negative test result, Duclos said. The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini, he said. 

“Canadians and permanent residents and those with a right of entry into Canada will be tested on arrival, [and] they will quarantine until they get the result of a negative test,” Duclos said.

Global Affairs Canada, which handles national diplomatic matters, will be issuing “a travel advisory asking all Canadians not to travel to southern Africa,” Duclos added.

“Canadians returning from that region” will need to be tested for the virus in the country they are departing from “before they can be allowed to come home,” he said.

Oil nosedives 13% on fears over the new Covid-19 variant

The discovery of a new Covid-19 variant sent oil plummeting 13% on Friday, as investors feared a wave of new government restrictions and slower economic growth. 

US crude finished the day at a two-month low of $68.15 a barrel, down 13.1% from Wednesday’s close. It was the worst day for oil since April 27, 2020, when Covid was spreading rapidly in the US.

Investors closely watch movements in the oil market because crude is very sensitive to swings in the economy. Up until recently, oil prices had been on a relentless rally as the rapid economic recovery drove up demand for gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. 

But that rally was been upended, first by a US-led intervention into energy markets and now, by Covid-19 fears. After flirting with $85 a barrel on Nov. 10, crude is now down nearly 20%. 

Brent crude, the world benchmark, dropped 12% on Friday to $72.72 a barrel. 

The energy sector of the S&P 500 tumbled 4% on Friday, making it the worst performing sector. ExxonMobil, BP and Halliburton all finished sharply lower. 

Biden to restrict travel from South Africa and 7 other countries starting Monday

President Biden will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday as a new coronavirus variant has emerged, administration officials tell CNN.

Acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Officials, who are still learning more about the variant, said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution given the World Health Organization has now identified this as a variant of concern. 

“Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant,” one official said.  

This does not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. As with all international travelers, they must still test negative prior to travel.

AstraZeneca says it is already conducting research on Omicron variant and its impact

Vaccine maker AstraZeneca said it is looking to understand the impact the Omicron variant has on its coronavirus vaccine and it is testing its antibody combination therapy against the new variant, a spokesperson for the company said Friday.

The spokesperson said that the platform used in the vaccine enables the company to respond quickly to new variants. 

“AstraZeneca is also already conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified, namely in Botswana and Eswatini, that will enable us to collect real world data of Vaxzevria against this new virus variant,” the spokesperson said. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not currently authorized for use in the US. 

The company’s antibody treatment, AZD7442, is also being tested against the variant, and AstraZeneca says it is “hopeful AZD7442 will retain efficacy since it comprises two potent antibodies with different and complementary activities against the virus.”

In October, the company asked the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of AZD7442.

Greece bans travel from southern Africa out of concern over new Covid-19 variant

Greece joined a growing list of countries imposing travel restrictions on at least six African nations over a newly identified Covid-19 variant, just announced as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

Greece will allow only essential travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi, the country’s health ministry said Friday in a statement.

Travelers will have to have a special permit from the local Greek embassies and diplomatic missions to travel, the ministry said, adding that on arrival they will be tested and put in quarantine hotels for 10 days after which they’ll be tested again.

The new measures take effect Saturday at 6 a.m. local time (12 a.m. ET).

Novavax working on new formulation of its Covid-19 vaccine targeted toward Omicron variant

Biotechnology company Novavax said it has started development of a new formulation of its coronavirus vaccine targeted toward the Omicron variant. It said the company will begin testing and manufacturing it in the next few weeks. 

“Novavax has already initiated development of a new recombinant spike protein based on the known genetic sequence of B.1.1.529 and will have it ready to begin testing and manufacturing within the next few weeks,” according to a statement issued Friday. “We will continue to work with urgency to address this latest strain and the continued evolution of COVID-19.”

The World Health Organization on Friday classified the variant as a “variant of concern” and designated it with the Greek name Omicron. 

The statement from Novavax said that the technology used in its vaccine allows for quick adaption to strain changes. It also highlighted that experience with the vaccine has demonstrated that it can protect and neutralize against variants found in the real world, including responses observed in clinical trials against variants like Delta. 

“These data lead us to believe that our vaccine is likely to provide protection against new and emerging variants,” according to the statement. 

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck told CNN earlier this month that the company hopes to submit complete data to the US Food and Drug Administration for possible emergency use authorization of the vaccine as soon as possible, perhaps by the end of the year.

Biden has been briefed on new Covid-19 variant

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee about the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 4th, 2021 in Washington, DC.

US President Joe Biden was briefed today on the new coronavirus variant circulating in southern Africa, according to a White House official. 

Currently, “there’s no indication” that the B.1.1.529 variant is in the United States right now, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the President and director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. US scientists are working closely with colleagues in South Africa to learn more about the emerging variant.

“Right now, you’re talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know,” Fauci said.

The variant, which was classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, was first identified in South Africa and has been found in that country as well as Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel so far. It has led to various countries issuing travel restrictions from several African countries.

Dow logs worst day in over a year as fears over new Covid-19 variant grip global markets

The Hong Kong Exchange shows indices in the red after a day of losses triggered by a new COVID variant, the Hang Seng Index dropping by over 600 points on 26th November 2021

Stocks around the world tumbled in the face of a new Covid-19 variant, which was labeled as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

US equities took a dive at the open and continued a downward path, resulting in a terrible day for the stock market and the worst day for the Dow in over a year. Oil prices were also badly hit.

The new variant has been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel, prompting some countries to put flight bans in place. 

Over the summer, the Delta variant spooked consumers and weighed on sectors like leisure and hospitality. Now, investors and economists worry this new variant could do the same.

The Dow logged its worst performance since October 2020, falling 905 points, or 2.5%. 
The S&P 500 had its worst day since February, closing down 2.3%. 
For the Nasdaq Composite, it was the worst day since September. The index finished down 2.2%.

It was a shortened trading session that ended at 1 p.m. ET after the markets were closed Thursday for Thanksgiving. Traditionally, this half-day session is lower in trading volume, which can exacerbate the swings in the market.

Outside the US, European stocks closed down sharply lower after fears over the variant sparked a global sell-off. In the UK, the FTSE 100 ended the session 3.6% lower, Germany’s Dax was down 4% and the CAC 40 4.8% lower in France. 

Asian stocks started the sell-off, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropping 2.7%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down 2.5%. European and US markets quickly followed. Oil has fallen heavily too, with Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, down 10%. 

Travel and airline stocks were among the big fallers in Europe.

WHO designates new coronavirus variant "of concern," naming it Omicron

The World Health Organization will label the new Covid-19 variant as a “variant of concern.”

“There was a meeting today, WHO and the technical working group on virus evolution, and it has been agreed to classify this variant as a ‘variant of concern,’” Dr. Mary Stephen, technical officer at the WHO regional Office for Africa, told CNN’s Zain Asher.

WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), an independent group of experts, convened Friday to discuss the new variant.

The advisers recommended that WHO designate the variant as “of concern,” referencing the variant’s large number of mutations, possibly an increased risk of reinfection and other evidence.

A statement released by the WHO added that the new strain will be given the name Omicron.

“Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron,” the statement said.

The variant was first discovered by South African health authorities and has sparked a forceful reaction across the world with a number of countries banning travelers from several southern African countries.

Expert: We need "a rapid scale-up of vaccinations," not travel bans 

The discovery of a new, potentially more transmissible, strain of the coronavirus is prompting governments around the world to ban travelers from several southern African nations.

However, one expert suggested Friday that instead of travel bans, the way to combat the variant first detected in South Africa is to “implement a rapid scale-up of vaccinations.”

“This has been identified in Hong Kong, in Israel, in many other places. Once you get it there, it really doesn’t matter. I mean, you already have it spread globally so what we need to do, again, is implement not travel restrictions but implement the kind of things that we know that control the spread.”

Del Rio highlighted that travel bans can have the unintended consequence of hampering transparency.

“We need to be thankful that countries like South Africa have invested in genomic sequencing and have been able to pick up strains like this,” Del Rio said. “The worst thing we can do is punish countries for doing the right thing, for reporting those variants because then what’s going to happen is countries will stop reporting what they find, or will stop sequencing, and that will be worse. So if we want transparency we need not to have this kind of travel ban because at the end of the day what we need to do is increase vaccination,” he added

Jordan issues fresh travel restrictions over new Covid-19 variant

Jordan has announced any Jordanians arriving from several countries — including South Africa — will have to quarantine for 14 days, according to a report from Jordanian public broadcaster Al-Mamlaka on Friday. 

The move follows the discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant by South African health authorities, which has sparked a forceful reaction across the world. 

Currently known as B.1.1.529, the newly identified variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa. Scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

No cases of the new variant have been discovered in Jordan at this point.

Non-Jordanians traveling from South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Botswana will only be allowed entry if they spend 14 days outside those countries in a third country, Al-Mamlaka said, citing the country’s interior ministry.

The new measure will go into effect on Sunday. Jordan doesn’t have direct flights with South Africa or the other six countries. 

A few days ago, Jordan announced that it had entered a third wave of the pandemic.

Dubai will restrict travelers from 7 African countries starting Monday

Dubai will restrict travelers from seven African countries, including South Africa, according to Emirates, citing the country’s Covid-19 Command and Control Centre.

The restrictions will be enforced starting Monday.

“All travelers originating from, or transiting from, the countries listed below will not be accepted for travel into Dubai with effect from Monday 29 November 2021 until further notice,” according to an Emirates statement

The countries include: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

However, outbound passenger flights from Dubai to the countries listed are permitted, the statement said. 

Dubai’s announcement follows similar measures by the United Kingdom and a slew of European and Asian countries, which have banned travel and introduced quarantine requirements following the discovery of an aggressive mutation of the Covid-19 virus.

Hundreds of passengers from South Africa held at Amsterdam airport after travel ban imposed

Passengers travelling from South Africa queue to be coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tested after being held on the tarmac at Schiphol Airport, Netherlands November 26th, 2021, in this picture obtained from social media

Hundreds of passengers are being held at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and are waiting to be tested for Covid-19 after landing from South Africa earlier Friday, an airport spokesperson told CNN.

The Netherlands is one of the latest European Union countries to ban travelers from South Africa and other southern African nations over concerns about the spread of a new Covid-19 variant.

Two flights, one from Cape Town and one from Johannesburg, landed Friday late morning local time, the spokesperson said.

Passengers had to remain on board the flight while a separate, secure location in the airport was being located, he said.

“Around 2:30 p.m. local time (8:30 a.m. ET), the passengers were brought to this location where they are now waiting to be tested,” the spokesperson said, adding that given the high number of passengers “it will take time to test everyone.”

The spokesperson estimated that the number of passengers on board the two flights is between 400 and 600.

“The health department [is] currently testing all the passengers,” he said, adding that food and drinks are being provided to them.

It's 12 p.m. ET in New York. Here's what we know about the new Covid-19 variant

The discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant by South African health authorities has sparked a forceful reaction across the world with a number of countries banning travelers from several southern African countries.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • What is it? A new coronavirus variant —currently dubbed B.1.1.529 — was identified in South Africa. It is unclear where the strain first emerged, the health ministry said. It appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.
  • Where is it? It has so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Israel, Belgium and Hong Kong.
  • Global response: Only dozens of cases have been identified so far, but the news has prompted countries around the world to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and other African countries. The United Kingdom and a slew of European and Asian countries have banned travel and introduced quarantine and test requirements for travelers.
  • Markets tumble: US equities took a dive at the open and continued their downward path Friday morning with the Dow tumbling a whopping 1,000 points. Oil prices were also badly hit. Asian and European markets were also down.

Dow drops over 1,000 points on fears over new Covid-19 variant

Stocks fell and oil prices plunged more than 10% on Friday as the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant rattled global markets.

US markets, which were closed Thursday for Thanksgiving, were slammed during Friday’s shortened trading session. The Dow fell more than 1,000 points or 2.8%. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were down nearly 2%.

Asian markets led the way, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropping 2.7%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down 2.5%. European markets also sold off heavily, with major indexes including the FTSE100, France’s CAC40 and Germany’s DAX falling between 3% and 4%.

US oil futures sank by more than 11% to trade below $70 a barrel. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, suffered a similar drop to around $73. 

The new variant has been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, prompting some countries to put flight bans in place.

While “volatility with high frequency markets is the norm these days,” CNN international business correspondent Richard Quest said, markets will likely be affected for a longer amount of time.

“Longer term, yes, I also would expect the markets to be volatile and to be jittery … because the markets don’t like uncertainty,” he said.

Travel restrictions not a long-term solution to Covid-19 variants, international travel body says

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday November 26th, 2021. A slew of nations moved to stop air travel from southern Africa on Friday in reaction to news of a new, potentially more transmissible COVID-19 variant that has been detected in South Africa.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging caution against travel bans after several countries moved to suspend flights from South Africa and other southern African countries due to the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant.

“Governments are responding to the risks of the new coronavirus variant in emergency mode, causing fear among the traveling public. As quickly as possible, we must use the experience of the last two years to move to a coordinated data-driven approach that finds safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine. Travel restrictions are not a long-term solution to control COVID variants,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said in a statement.

Travel stocks were hit hard Friday following fresh travel restrictions, with big airlines dropping sharply. IAG dropped 15%, Lufthansa 11% and Air France 9%.