Countries across Europe and Asia are rushing through new travel restrictions in response to a new COVID variant identified by scientists in South Africa.
The big picture: Israel, Japan, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Singapore are moving to restrict entry from countries in the south of Africa, AP reports. Many are also adding quarantines for their own citizens upon return from the region.
- The U.K. ban targets “South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe,” per the N.Y. Times.
- The European Commission on Friday recommended EU countries “activate the emergency break” on travel from countries in southern Africa and other nations affected by the new variant.
- “All air travel to these countries should be suspended … until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “Travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”
- Japan has never reopened to foreign travelers, but will now require its own citizens to quarantine upon return from the region, AP reports.
NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN Friday that U.S. health officials were “rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision” on a possible travel ban.
- He added that U.S. scientists were set to discuss the new variant with their South African counterparts later Friday.
The World Health Organization named the new coronavirus variant Omicron.
- It was formerly known as B.1.1.529 before the WHO gave it a Greek letter name.
- “On the ACE2 receptor — the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells — the new variant has 10 mutations. In comparison, the Beta variant has three and the Delta variant two,” The New York Times reports .
- It “likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient,” said Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, Axios’ Noah Bressner reported Thursday.
- A top U.K. health official told BBC that the new variant is the “most worrying” yet.
Between the lines: Global markets tumbled amid news of the new variant. On a shortened — and typically quiet — trading day, U.S. stocks were on pace for their worst day of the year.
- Oil prices plunged over 10% to their lowest levels in over two months as traders weighed how new travel limits and other restrictions will curb demand, Axios’ Ben Geman reports.
- The price decline adds another wrinkle to the OPEC+ meeting scheduled for next week, when the coalition of OPEC, Russia and other allied producers will decide whether to alter planned output increases.