Medical: New COVID variant Omicron triggers global alarm, market sell-off

WASHINGTON/GENEVA, (Reuters) – The discovery of a new coronavirus variant named Omicron triggered global alarm yesterday as countries rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa and stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic suffered their biggest falls in more than a year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Omicron may spread more quickly than other forms, and preliminary evidence suggested there is an increased risk of reinfection.

Epidemiologists warned travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally. The new mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.         


The United States will restrict travel from South Africa and neighbouring countries effective Monday, a senior Biden administration official said.

Going further, Canada said it was closing its borders to those countries, following bans on flights announced by Britain, the European Union and others.

But it could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant’s mutations and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it. Omicron is the fifth variant of concern designated by the WHO.

The variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different than the one in the original coronavirus that vaccines are based on, the UK Health Security Agency said, raising fears about how current vaccines will fare.

Scientists issued similar warnings.

“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 Lawrence Young, a virologist at Britain’s University of Warwick.

“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.”

Those worries pummelled financial markets, especially stocks of airlines and others in the travel sector, and oil, which tumbled by about $10 a barrel. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 2.5%, its worst day since late October 2020, and European stocks had their worst day in 17 months.

Cruise operators Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line plunged more than 10% each, while shares in United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines slumped almost as much.

Several other countries including India, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates also toughened travel curbs.

In Geneva the WHO – whose experts yesterday discussed the risks presented by the variant, called B.1.1.529 – had earlier warned against travel curbs for now.

“It’s really important that there are no knee-jerk responses,” said the WHO’s emergencies director Mike Ryan, praising South Africa’s public health institutions for picking up the new variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Richard Lessells, a South Africa-based infectious disease expert, also expressed frustration at travel bans, saying the focus should be on getting more people vaccinated in places that have struggled to access sufficient shots.

“This is why we talked about the risk of vaccine apartheid. This virus can evolve in the absence of adequate levels of vaccination,” he told Reuters.


Less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups. Meanwhile, many developed nations are giving third-dose boosters.

“Failure to help vaccinate sub-Saharan Africa – still barely 4% of the population – left us all exposed to risk of a new, more virulent #COVID variant,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva wrote on Twitter. “News of #Omricon is an urgent reminder of why we need to do even more to vaccinate the world.”

The coronavirus has swept the world in the two years since it was first identified in central China, infecting 260 million people and killing 5.4 million

One epidemiologist in Hong Kong said it may be too late to tighten travel curbs against the latest variant.

“Most likely this virus is already in other places. And so if we shut the door now, it’s going to be probably too late,” said Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong.

Discovery of the new variant comes as Europe and the United States enter winter, with more people gathering indoors in the run-up to Christmas, providing a breeding ground for infection.

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  • beautifulbarbadosblog  On 11/27/2021 at 11:55 am

    Inoculating the ‘ghetto’ was overlooked. Not helping the poorer often results in more trouble than we thought it worth. Climate Change is another area where the ‘backyard’ is more important than the big house.

  • WIC  On 11/27/2021 at 5:44 pm

    Your comments suggest you are overlooking certain realities in the world in suggesting of poor countries are being neglected by rich countries. Unfortunately, you are not alone.

    There are hundreds and perhaps millions in wealthy rich countries who can be vaccinated but are refusing Sometimes they are seen on TV protesting health mandates arguing they should have sole control over their bodies and be free to mingle with other members society on a daily basis; there was an African leader who wouldn’t allow the vaccine in his country and said “the virus was the will of God”. As I write, France has sent soldiers to Guadaloupe to quell anit-vaccine protests and similarly Australia has sent soldiers to the Soloman Islands although the latter includes an anti-China protest and riot component.

    There are many in “ghettos” in the US and elsewhere, who also are refusing the vaccine as they feel it’s not in their best interest. I recall there were protests in Linden recently, by hospital workers who felt they shouldn’t be mandated to be vaccinated and in Georgetown, there that Clown of an RC Archbishop who chose to close the churches rather than follow the Govt. health protocols of keeping out those who had refused the vaccine.

    Many of these anti-vaxers only see the light when they or loved ones end up in a hospital or morgue. Yet, society cannot force them to be vaccinated nor refuse them medical treatment. Two weeks ago in a precedent however, Singapore became the first country in the world to commence charging for medical treatment in the case of those who took ill and had previously refused the vax.

    So while vaccine supplies are still not enough for the entire world, to those where it’s available and they refuse, it’s the equivalent of “casting pearls before swine”.

    Of course, if safe sex/birth control were practiced more often, the world’s population would be lower and there would be less vaccines required and pressure on it’s resources and climate change be less of a problem.

    Have you noticed that even when there is fighting among various groups with a shortage of food, the people in refugee camps still manage to procreate?? The rich countries become and remain rich because they keep down birth numbers while poor countries do the opposite- the more mouths to be fed mean the smaller the slice of the pie for each mouth and you don’t need to be Einstein to understand that.

    • Winston  On 11/28/2021 at 7:04 am

      There will be a new variant coming out every 4 to 6 months and along with it another dose of vaccines because as they have said the effacacy does not last more than 3 to 4 months according to what they’re saying now….thus they’re advoacating for boosters. Where exactly do you think all of that is leading? Are we expected to accept their SCIENCE as truth? The vaccines are not working period so the masks seem to me to be the safest route in avoiding contracting a virus. We have become like docile sheep going to slaughter.

      • Chris  On 11/29/2021 at 2:36 pm

        To say mask seems to work:

        In the natural world, we inhale oxygen to go through the circulatory system to keep us alive.

        In the reverse process, we exhale carbon dioxide (bad, poisonous air CO2) into the atmosphere.

        When you wear a mask, you exhale bad air into your mask and then reinhale it into your lungs.

        Tell me: How on earth is that good for you?

  • wic  On 11/29/2021 at 1:08 pm

    Pfizer only guaranteed a 95% efficacy which means that 5% for one reason or the other were unprotected while other vaccines gave less protection. The vaccine does work and last much longer than you state. It is true that some vaccinated people are contracting the virus, however, they don’t become as ill as the unvaccinated and the chances of dying are much less.

    I assure you that most govts. would prefer not to spend scarce funds on vaccines and wouldn’t if they shared your views but they know however, the cost of nursing the sick back to an acceptable level of health is higher than the cost of the vaccine. Interestingly enough, on another article on this site, a writer stated that the rich countries aren’t doing enough to provide vaccines for poor countries and you “chupsing” against the vaccine.

    It’s your choice and others to be a non-vaxers but be aware that for should one contract the virus and live, the lingering effects on survivors include: lung, heart and erectile disfunction problems; the latter of course, will be a real challenge for men particularly, those of colour who value virility, and it would serve them right.

    Your blood is on your own shoulders.

  • wally n  On 11/29/2021 at 5:24 pm

    My new doctor…months ago..did you take the vaccine
    me…not yet
    some time later
    Doctor …took the vaccine???
    Me I decided to have a full medical,before
    Doctor OK you and the wife are in Quarantine
    sometime later
    Doctor… took the vaccine??
    Me..I will..available close to home now
    Doctor…Good…………….but .there are some problems now.
    Me..hitting the BRAKES!!!! WHAT!!!!!!!This doctor never kids around, me reading between the lines…Holy Crap
    I wanted to get to hell out of this cold ass place…????????

    • Dennis Albert  On 12/06/2021 at 5:14 am

      You preach anti-Muslim and veiled anti-Black rhetoric, so I doubt that we Guyanese will tolerate you.
      Maybe live in those racist European garbage countries like Poland or Russia?

  • wally n  On 12/05/2021 at 9:55 pm

    Canadian employers, facing labor shortage, accommodate the unvaccinated
    OTTAWA, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Canada’s tight labor market is forcing many companies to offer regular COVID-19 testing over vaccine mandates, while others are reversing previously announced inoculation requirements even as Omicron variant cases rise.

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government adopted one of the strictest inoculation policies in the world for civil servants and has already put more than 1,000 workers on unpaid leave, with thousands more at risk.
    HI wanna see the goal post move..
    Airlines, police forces, school boards and even Canada’s Big Five banks have also pledged strict mandatory vaccine policies. But following through has proven less straightforward, especially as employers grapple with staffing shortages and workers demand exemptions.

    • Dennis Albert  On 12/06/2021 at 5:19 am

      It’s the same Justin Trudeau father who allowed your and/or your parents to migrate to Canada to preach anti-Muslim, anti-Black and anti-refugee rants.

      Poland is the country for you, except that the Polish nationalist will mistaken you for a Muslim and you end up as a mysterious suicide statistic like many Hindu men who were murdered in that frozen and racist hell hole.

      Poland also views COVID as a conspiracy and they are anti-globalist while they became rich from parasiting off from the EU.

  • wally n  On 12/06/2021 at 12:03 pm

    Hey you…look out your window…see the people in white suits…THEY COMING TO TAKE YOU AWAY!!!!!!

    • Dennis Albert  On 12/06/2021 at 1:57 pm

      They’re looking for conspiracy theorists to get the COVID vaccine.

  • wally n  On 12/06/2021 at 12:49 pm

    Covid Covid fake news…something smells here
    So confusing

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