WHO reports risk of Omicron, travel restrictions tighten, Biden calls for vaccination


  • WHO says Omicron poses very high global risk, world needs to prepare
  • It is still not known if the variant causes more serious disease.
  • Biden says variant is cause for concern, don’t panic

GENEVA / JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 29 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus carries a very high risk of outbreaks of infection, while border closures by more countries casts a shadow over economic recovery after two-year pandemic.

Major airlines have moved quickly to protect their hubs by restricting passenger travel from southern Africa, where the new Omicron variant was first detected, fearing that a spread of the variant could trigger restrictions on it. ‘other destinations beyond immediately affected areas, industry sources said. Read more

But carrier shares rebounded along with the rest of the market on Monday following Friday’s rout, as hopes grew that the variant could turn out to be softer than initially feared. Read more

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President Joe Biden urged Americans not to panic and said the United States is working with drug companies to develop contingency plans if new vaccines are needed. Read more

Biden said the country will not return to lockdown this winter, but urged people to get vaccinated, get their boosters and wear masks.

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House following a meeting with his COVID-19 team. “We’re going to fight and beat this new variant.”

The United States has blocked entry for most visitors from eight southern African countries. Biden said travel restrictions will give the United States time to vaccinate more people.

Reluctance to vaccines in the United States and elsewhere has thwarted attempts by public health officials to control the virus.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for healthcare workers likely exceeded his authority. Read more

WHO has informed its 194 member countries that any increase in infections could have serious consequences, but said no deaths have yet been linked to the new variant.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of cutting edge mutations, some of which are of concern for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said. “The overall overall risk associated with the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”


More research was needed to understand Omicron’s potential to evade protection against vaccine-induced immunity and previous infections, he added.

An infectious disease expert from South Africa, where scientists first identified Omicron, said it was too early to tell if symptoms were more severe than previous variants, but the variant appeared to be more transmissible .

The expert, Salim Abdool Karim, also a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York, said existing vaccines were likely effective in preventing Omicron from causing serious illness. Scientists said it could take weeks to understand the seriousness of the Omicron.

South African cases are expected to exceed 10,000 per day this week, up from just 300 per day two weeks ago, Karim added.

A man stands in front of a monitor displaying flight schedules in an arrival hall at Haneda Airport International Terminal, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan, on November 29, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has denounced the “unjustified and unscientific” travel bans that are hurting tourism-dependent economies.

Health ministers from the Group of Seven rich country group praised South Africa for its “exemplary work” in detecting the variant and alerting others.


Fears that the new variant might be vaccine resistant helped wipe an estimated $ 2 trillion from global stock markets on Friday, but markets calmed down on Monday, even after Japan announced it would close its borders to foreigners. Read more

US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said it was too early to say whether Omicron will have an impact on global supply chains, already grappling with the fallout from the pandemic. Read more

The prospect of a fast-spreading variant has raised fears of a return to the kind of restrictions that shut down many industries in 2020.

“This is new,” said Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) spokeswoman Lloryn Love-Carter. “We are monitoring of course, but we still have a lot of pretty strict COVID protocols in place. “

Travelers stranded at Johannesburg International Airport said they felt powerless over the cancellation of flights from South Africa. “We don’t know what to do, we are just waiting here,” said Ntabiseng Kabeli, from Lesotho.

Portugal found 13 cases of variant in a football club in Lisbon. Spain, Sweden, Scotland and Austria have also reported their first cases. Read more

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed concern that the restrictions will isolate southern African countries.

“The African people cannot be blamed for the immoral level of immunization available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial scientific and health information with the world,” he said.

Guterres has long warned of the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and the risk that low vaccination rates could be a breeding ground for variants.

More than 261 million people in more than 210 countries have reportedly been infected with the coronavirus since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019 and 5,456,515 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

The new variant was discovered as many parts of Europe suffered from a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, with more people congregating indoors in cold weather.

The head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, tried to reassure investors that the euro zone could cope. Read more

“We are all better equipped to respond to a risk of fifth wave or Omicron variant,” she told Italian television station RAI on Sunday evening.

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Reporting by Reuters Offices Written by Himani Sarkar, Catherine Evans, Nick Macfie and Grant McCool Editing by Leslie Adler Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Peter Graff

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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