New COVID-19 variant pummels markets; countries impose new travel restrictions
Governments around the world, including the U.S., have announced new travel restrictions
November 26, 2021 7:22pm
Updated: November 27, 2021 2:05am
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped by about 800 points and crude oil fell by five percent on Friday following the announcement of the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19, which has rattled global markets.
Scientists in South Africa convened a press conference on Thursday to discuss the variant, known as B.1.1.529, and said it was linked to an exponential rise of infections. So far, cases have also been reported in Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel, The Washington Post reported.
Although little is yet known about the variant’s transmissibility or how it affects those it infects, Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to Britain’s Health and Security Agency, believes it’s the “most worrying we’ve seen.”
Governments around the globe, including the U.S., have once again begun implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines for air passengers arriving from the southern region of Africa. The U.S. is restricting travel from South Africa and seven other countries, according to Fox News.
So far, Japan, the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Morocco, the Philippines, Dubai and Jordan have also announced new travel bans.
Similarly, the EU moved to ban air travel from seven southern African countries.
“We need to act very fast, we need to be vigilant, and we need to take all measures that are appropriate at this stage to prevent this virus from entering Europe,” said Dana Spinant, deputy chief spokeswoman for the European Commission.
Although the U.S. has not yet implemented travel bans or restrictions, Anthony Fauci said such a move is a “possibility.”
“There is always the possibility of doing what the U.K. has done, namely block travel from South Africa and related countries,” Fauci told CNN. “That’s certainly something you think about and get prepared to do … But you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”
South African authorities have said the travel bans and restrictions are unjustified, however, noting that South Africa should not be “punished” for discovering the new variant, whose origins remain unknown.
“This kind of knee jerk reaction, really does not make sense,” said Joe Phaahla, South Africa’s health minister. “Many of these countries that are coming with this draconian reaction are battling their own fourth wave.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it will offer guidance after scientists convene on Friday.
“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a briefing in Geneva, according to Reuters. “The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures.”
But scientists are concerned by the unprecedented number of mutations of the new variant and worry that such mutations could make the new strain more resistant to vaccines and potentially cause more serious illness in those infected.
“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 Warwick Medical School in Britain. “This variant carries some changes we’ve seen previously in other variants but never all together in one virus. It also has novel mutations that we’ve not seen before.”