Biden admin announces travel ban for South Africa and 7 other countries, citing new variant

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“In addition, I call on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally. I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly,” the president said.

The new Covid variant was identified in South Africa this week. South African scientists said it’s to blame for the recent surge in Gauteng, the country’s most populated province. It’s unclear when the new variant began circulating, but it has been seen in travelers to Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and said early evidence suggests an increased risk of infection. It’s been given the same classification as the delta variant, labeled as a highly transmissible variant of concern. There is no evidence suggesting the omicron variant causes more severe disease.

Delta, which has ravaged the globe, still accounts for more than 99 percent of sequences in the world’s largest public database.

Medical experts warned Friday against overreaction. There have been other variants of concern, like beta, that never spread as delta did.

But world leaders, already on edge after almost two years of Covid and more than 5 million deaths, were quick to respond with new restrictions. Travel stocks sank as health officials in Europe and the U.K. restricted travel from South Africa. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly fell more than 1,000 points Friday, and the S&P 500 was down 2.3 percent, on pace for its worst day since the winter surge in February. The price of oil fell more than 13 percent, as fear of another global economic slowdown looms.

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