(Reuters) – The discovery of a new coronavirus variant named Omicron triggered global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa and stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic suffered their biggest falls in more than a year.
DEATHS AND INFECTIONS
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* The WTO became the first major diplomatic casualty of the new coronavirus variant when it postponed its first ministerial meeting in four years due to the deteriorating health situation, Geneva-based sources said.
* European Union states have agreed to suspend travel from southern Africa after the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, the presidency of the EU said.
* The Dutch government ordered further restrictions including a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.
* Around 600 passengers arriving in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa faced hours of delays and testing due to concerns over a newly detected variant of the coronavirus.
* The new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has not yet been found in Germany but has likely spread to more countries than has so far been detected, according to an interior ministry report seen by Reuters.
* Ireland will make booster shots available to all adults.
* U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration was not considering new vaccine mandates following the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, which led to travel bans from that country and seven other nations.
* The United States will bar entry to most travelers from eight southern African countries beginning next week over concerns about a new coronavirus variant found in South Africa, President Joe Biden said.
* Top U.S. advisor Anthony Fauci said a ban on flights from southern Africa was a possibility and the country was rushing to gather data on the new variant.
* Canada is closing its borders to foreign travelers who have recently been to seven southern African nations to help stop the spread of a newly identified variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters.
* U.S. President Joe Biden called on nations meeting at the World Trade Organization next week to agree to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines in the wake of the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa.
* France has postponed implementing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health workers in Martinique and Guadeloupe after the measure spurred widespread protests on the French territories in which police officers were injured and journalists attacked.
* Brazilian health regulator Anvisa recommended travel be restricted from some African countries due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, though it was unclear if President Jair Bolsonaro would adopt any measures.
* Hong Kong was among the first places to identify a case of the new variant outside of South Africa and issued a travel-ban for non-residents arriving from eight southern African states.
* India restarted exports of vaccines to the global vaccine-sharing network COVAX for the first time since April, and producer Serum Institute of India forecast a substantial increase in supplies from early next year.
MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
* South Africa said imposing restrictions on travellers from the country because of a newly identified COVID-19 variant was unjustified, after a British ban on flights from southern African countries that others have followed.
* Egypt suspends direct flights to and from South Africa due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the state news agency (MENA) reported.
* Iran has banned the entry of travelers from South Africa and five neighbouring countries after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in the region, a top Iranian epidemiology official said.
* The United Arab Emirates has suspended entry for travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique starting from Nov. 29 due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the state news agency reported.
* South Africa’s rand sank to its lowest since October 2020 and its president will convene a coronavirus council on Sunday following the detection of the new potentially vaccine-resistant variant in the country.
* Novavax said it had started working on a version of its COVID-19 vaccine to target the variant detected in South Africa and would have the shot ready for testing and manufacturing in the next few weeks.
* AstraZeneca said it was examining the impact of a new coronavirus variant that is spreading rapidly in South Africa on its vaccine and its antibody cocktail, adding it was hopeful its combination drug would retain efficacy.
* Merck said updated data from its study of its experimental COVID-19 pill showed the drug was significantly less effective in cutting hospitalizations and deaths than previously reported.
* BioNTech said it expects more data on a worrying new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa within two weeks to help determine whether its vaccine produced with partner Pfizer Inc would have to be reworked.
* Shares tumbled on Wall Street on Friday as they reopened after Thanksgiving, while European stocks saw their biggest sell-off in 17 months and oil prices plunged by $10 per barrel as fears over a new coronavirus variant sent investors scurrying to safe-haven assets. [MKTS/GLOB]
(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Alexander Kloss and Valentine Baldassari; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Anil D’Silva)