World acts as new variant emerges in southern Africa
A slew of countries decided to halt air travel from southern Africa on Friday, and shares plunged in Asia and Europe in response to news of a new, potentially more transmissible variant of COVID- 19.
“The last thing we need is to introduce a new variant that will cause even more problems,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said, amid a massive spike in cases in the EU at 27 country.
Days after the discovery of the new variant, it has already made an impact on a nervous society that is sensitive to bad news from COVID-19, with deaths worldwide well in excess of 5 million.
There are fears that the new variant may be even more contagious than the current predominant and bypass the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.
“Early indications show that this variant may be more transmissible than the delta variant and that current vaccines may be less effective against it,” UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers. “We must act quickly and as soon as possible,” he said.
Israel, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, said on Friday it had detected the country’s first case of the new variant in a traveler returning from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspected cases were placed in isolation. He said all three were vaccinated, but he was currently reviewing their exact vaccination status.
The new variant immediately infected stock markets around the world. Major indices fell in Europe and Asia, and Dow Jones futures fell 800 points before the market opened in the United States
âInvestors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known,â said Jeffrey Halley of currency broker Oanda.
Oil prices have plunged, along with the United States. crude was down 6.7% to $ 73.22 a barrel and the international benchmark Brent was down 5.6% to $ 77.64, two unusually large moves for a single day. The pandemic caused oil prices to plummet during the pandemic’s initial outbreak in 2020, as travel restrictions reduced demand for fuel.
Airlines shares were hammered, with Lufthansa down 12.4%, IAG, parent of British Airways and Iberia, down 14.4%, Air France-KLM down 8.9% and easyJet in 10.9% decrease
The World Health Organization has warned not to jump to conclusions too quickly.
Speaking ahead of the EU’s announcement, Dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s head of emergencies, said “it is really important that there are no knee-jerk answers”.
âWe’ve seen it in the past the minute there’s any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It’s really important that we stay open and focused, âsaid Ryan.
He quickly fell on deaf ears.
The UK has announced it will ban flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries from noon Friday, and anyone recently arriving from those countries would be invited to take a test screening for coronavirus.
Germany has said its flight ban could be enacted as early as Friday evening. Spahn said airlines returning from South Africa will only be able to carry German citizens home and travelers will need to be quarantined for 14 days whether or not they are vaccinated.
Germany has recorded a new record number of daily cases in recent days and surpassed the 100,000 death mark from COVID-19 on Thursday.
Italy’s health ministry also announced measures to ban entry to Italy for anyone who has stayed in seven southern African countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini – during of the last 14 days due to the new variant. The Netherlands are planning similar measures.
The Japanese government has announced that from Friday, Japanese nationals from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine themselves in dedicated government accommodation for 10 days and perform a COVID test on days 3, 6, and 10. Japan has yet to open up to foreign nationals.
The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with disturbing mutations, often disappear. Scientists are watching for possible changes that could be more transmissible or fatal, but determining whether new variants will impact public health can take time.
Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa, he said.
The WHO technical working group is due to meet on Friday to assess the new variant and may decide to give it a name from the Greek alphabet. It says coronavirus infections have jumped 11% in Europe over the past week, the only region in the world where COVID-19 continues to rise. WHO’s director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, has warned that without urgent action, the continent could see 700,000 more deaths by spring.