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World: New COVID variant threat causes worldwide scramble

What We Know About Nu B.1.1.529 COVID Variant Ahead of WHO Assessment

  What We Know About Nu B.1.1.529 COVID Variant Ahead of WHO Assessment World Health Organization experts will convene on Friday to assess a new COVID variant that has worried scientists because of its mutations.WHO experts are due to convene at around 12 p.m. CET (8 a.m. EST) and their assessments are due to be released afterwards, a WHO spokesperson told Newsweek.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a new coronavirus variant to be "of concern" and named it Omicron. It had a large number of mutations, and early evidence suggested an increased reinfection risk, the WHO said. It was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on 24 November, and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. The FTSE 100 index of leading UK shares closed 3.7% down, while main markets in Germany, France and the US also sank. A " variant of concern" is the World Health Organization's top category of worrying Covid variants .

The World Health Organization designates the new highly mutated strain of Covid a " variant of concern" and gives it the Greek name Omicron. Health Secretary Sajid Javid says there is "huge international concern" over the variant - but there are no UK cases. The variant has been found in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong - and one case has been confirmed in Europe, in Belgium. However, it is too soon to know how much of a omicron threat poses to vaccine efficacy and it will take several weeks before we have enough data to know for sure, experts have said.

BRUSSELS (AP) — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is racing to contain a new coronavirus variant potentially more dangerous than the one that has fueled relentless waves of infection on nearly every continent.

People line up to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People line up to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.

Five things to know about omicron, new COVID-19 'variant of concern'

  Five things to know about omicron, new COVID-19 'variant of concern' The announcement of a COVID-19 variant called B.1.1529 this week by scientists in South Africa, where it was first detected, has sent governments and financial markets around the world reeling.The World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency meeting on Friday, where it designated the new strain, which it called omicron, a "variant of concern," or VOC, a label applied when a particular strain is especially virulent, transmissible or able to defeat public health measures. The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst single-day drop of the year, plummeting more than 900 points.

Why do new variants of Covid -19 keep appearing? BBC's health reporter Laura Foster explains. Scientific studies in the laboratory will give a clearer picture, but answers will come more quickly from monitoring the virus in the real world . It is still early to draw clear conclusions, but there are already signs that are causing worry. There have been 77 fully confirmed cases in Gauteng province in South Africa, four cases in Botswana and one in Hong Kong (which is directly linked to travel from South Africa). Israel and Belgium have also reported cases.

The new variant doesn’t change the fundamentals of how the UK should be tackling Covid . We should still be encouraging people to get the vaccine and their booster shots. Worldwide vaccinations will be vital in order to reduce Covid cases around the world and limit the potential for novel variants that could undo all our hard work. Up to this point, rich nations have not been doing enough to achieve this goal. The emergence of this new variant reinforces the message that should have always been the overriding mantra of our pandemic response: nowhere is safe until everywhere is safe.

People line up to get on an overseas flight at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People line up to get on an overseas flight at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

“It seems to spread rapidly,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday of the new variant, only a day after celebrating the resumption of Thanksgiving gatherings for millions of American families and the sense that normal life was coming back at least for the vaccinated. In announcing new travel restrictions, he told reporters, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.”

WHO names new variant of concern 'omicron,' as scientists advise caution

  WHO names new variant of concern 'omicron,' as scientists advise caution The World Health Organization on Friday named the new variant "omicron" and called it a "variant of concern."In a statement released Friday, WHO said preliminary evidence suggested "an increased risk of reinfection with this variant" as it added the new discovery to the list of variants of concern, giving it the name "omicron.

The new variant B.1.1.529, which the World Health Organization officially named omicron, was first discovered on November 11, 2021, in Botswana. That's just north of South Africa. Since then, B.1.1.529 has also been found in South Africa. It's mainly been diagnosed in the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, where the incidence rates are Virus with a crown. May we present: The coronavirus! This is how 10-year-old Andrej from Russia views SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID -19 and is behind the pandemic that's had the world in its grip for almost two years now.

The new variants raise questions: Are people more at risk for getting sick? Will the COVID -19 vaccines still work? Are there new or different things you should do now to stay safe? Mutations in viruses — including the coronavirus causing the COVID -19 pandemic — are neither new nor unexpected. Bollinger explains: “All RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. For example, flu viruses change often, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year."

Omicron's actual risks are not understood. But early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants, the WHO said. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.

In response to the variant's discovery in southern Africa, the United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.

People wait at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People wait at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The White House said the U.S. will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning Monday. Biden issued a declaration later Friday making the travel prohibition official, with exceptions for U.S. citizens and permanent residents and for several other categories, including spouses and other close family.

Omicron COVID Variant, With Worrying Mutations, Detected in These Countries

  Omicron COVID Variant, With Worrying Mutations, Detected in These Countries Several countries have restricted travel after World Health Organization designated the heavily mutated form of COVID a variant of concern.Currently, it seems that the Omicron variant is highly divergent with a high number of mutations, some of which are concerning as they could be associated with an increased possibility of escaping immune responses.

Sajid Javid on latest Covid variant : 'Our scientists are deeply concerned' – video. “They are saying that their transmission rates, the R value that they have in Gauteng around where this was first found, is now 2, which is really quite high and we’ve not seen levels of transmission like that since right back at the beginning of the pandemic, because of all of the mitigations and steps we’ve taken. So that would cause a major problem if you had that high transmission with this type of virus in a population where it may evade the immune responses that are already there.”

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Medical experts, including the WHO, warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied. But a jittery world feared the worst after the tenacious virus triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.

“We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers.

Omicron has now been seen in travelers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, as well as in southern Africa.

There was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, South African experts said. The WHO panel drew from the Greek alphabet in naming the variant omicron, as it has done with earlier, major variants of the virus.

Scotland Officials Concerned Omicron Variant Has Community Spread as 6 Cases Confirmed

  Scotland Officials Concerned Omicron Variant Has Community Spread as 6 Cases Confirmed Countries throughout the world are taking action to prevent a proliferation of the variant as scientists are still working to determine the danger it poses. Some nations like Japan have decided to block any foreign visitors in an effort to stop the highly mutated variant from entering its borders even as cases began popping up around the globe, AP reported.For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.New cases in Portugal and Scotland might already point toward local spread of the variant outside of southern Africa.

Even though some of the genetic changes appear worrisome, it was unclear how much of a public health threat it posed. Some previous variants, like the beta variant, initially concerned scientists but did not spread very far.

Fears of more pandemic-induced economic turmoil caused stocks to tumble in Asia, Europe and the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly dropped more than 1,000 points. The S&P 500 index closed down 2.3%, its worst day since February. The price of oil plunged about 13%.

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said. Members of the 27-nation EU have experienced a massive spike in cases recently.

People lineup to get tested for Covid at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People lineup to get tested for Covid at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Britain, EU countries and some others introduced their travel restrictions Friday, some within hours of learning of the variant. Asked why the U.S. was waiting until Monday, Biden said only: "Because that was the recommendation coming from my medical team.’’

Americans face at least 2 weeks of uncertainty as scientists work to answer 3 key questions about the new Omicron variant

  Americans face at least 2 weeks of uncertainty as scientists work to answer 3 key questions about the new Omicron variant Americans face at least two weeks of uncertainty before major questions may get answered about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. © Steve Pfost/Newsday/Getty Images Stony Brook, N.Y.: Robert Baird, of Centereach, New York is given a booster shot as members of the community are administered the COVID-19 vaccination and booster at Stony Brook University Research and Development Park in Stony Brook, New York on Nov. 17, 2021.

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The White House said government agencies needed the time to work with airlines and put the travel limits into effect.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights will have to “be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”

She warned that “mutations could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants of the virus that could spread worldwide within a few months."

“It’s a suspicious variant," said Frank Vandenbroucke, health minister in Belgium, which became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant. “We don’t know if it’s a very dangerous variant.”

Omicron has yet to be detected in the United States, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert. Although it may be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines than other variants, "we don’t know that for sure right now,” he told CNN.

Face masks again mandatory in England amid variant spread

  Face masks again mandatory in England amid variant spread LONDON (AP) — New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus came into force in England Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transport. From Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate. The reintroduction ofFrom Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate.

Speaking to reporters outside a bookstore on Nantucket Island, where he was spending the holiday weekend, Biden said the new variant was "a great concern” that “should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations."

He called anew for unvaccinated Americans to get their widely available doses and for governments to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines so they can be more rapidly manufactured around the world.

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Israel, one of the world's most vaccinated countries, announced Friday that it also detected its first case of the new variant in a traveler who returned from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspected cases were placed in isolation. Israel said all three were vaccinated, but officials were looking into the travelers' exact vaccination status.

After a 10-hour overnight trip, passengers aboard KLM Flight 598 from Capetown, South Africa, to Amsterdam were held on the edge of the runway Friday morning at Schiphol airport for four hours pending special testing. Passengers aboard a flight from Johannesburg were also isolated and tested.

“It’s ridiculous. If we didn’t catch the dreaded bug before, we're catching it now,” said passenger Francesca de’ Medici, a Rome-based art consultant who was on the flight.

Japan suspends new reservations on all incoming flights

  Japan suspends new reservations on all incoming flights TOKYO (AP) — Japan continued its aggressive stance against a new coronavirus variant on Wednesday, asking international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December in a further tightening of already strict border controls. The transportation ministry said the request is an emergency precaution amid growing worry over the spread of the new omicron variant. The move by the world’s third largest economy, coupled with its recent return to a ban on foreign visitors, is among the most stringent anywhere, and more in line with cloistered neighbor China than with some other democracies in the region.

Some experts said the variant's emergence illustrated how rich countries’ hoarding of vaccines threatens to prolong the pandemic.

Fewer than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. Those conditions can speed up spread of the virus, offering more opportunities for it to evolve into a dangerous variant.

“This is one of the consequences of the inequity in vaccine rollouts and why the grabbing of surplus vaccines by richer countries will inevitably rebound on us all at some point,” said Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Britain’s University of Southampton. He urged Group of 20 leaders "to go beyond vague promises and actually deliver on their commitments to share doses.”

The new variant added to investor anxiety that months of progress containing COVID-19 could be reversed.

“Investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known,” said Jeffrey Halley of foreign exchange broker Oanda.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged any travel bans on countries that reported the new variant. It said past experience shows that such travel bans have “not yielded a meaningful outcome.”

The U.S. restrictions will apply to visitors from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The White House suggested the restrictions will mirror an earlier pandemic policy that banned entry of any foreigners who had traveled over the previous two weeks in the designated regions.

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The U.K. banned flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries and announced that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

Canada banned the entry of all foreigners who have traveled to southern Africa in the last two weeks.

The Japanese government announced that Japanese nationals traveling from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine at government-dedicated accommodations for 10 days and take three COVID-19 tests during that time. Japan has not yet opened up to foreign nationals. Russia announced travel restrictions effective Sunday.

People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) © Provided by Associated Press People lineup to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa', Friday Nov. 26, 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. Scientists say it is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

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Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels; Colleen Barry in Milan; Pan Pylas in London; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands; Dave McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany; Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal; Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg; Frank Jordans in Berlin; and Darlene Superville in Nantucket, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.

Japan suspends new reservations on all incoming flights .
TOKYO (AP) — Japan continued its aggressive stance against a new coronavirus variant on Wednesday, asking international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December in a further tightening of already strict border controls. The transportation ministry said the request is an emergency precaution amid growing worry over the spread of the new omicron variant. The move by the world’s third largest economy, coupled with its recent return to a ban on foreign visitors, is among the most stringent anywhere, and more in line with cloistered neighbor China than with some other democracies in the region.

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