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A new COVID-19 “variant of concern” is raising alarm bells and triggering swift action in the US and across the globe. The Omicron variant, which originated in South Africa, has been spreading rapidly throughout the region. CNN reports Friday that “scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion”.
News of the COVID variant promoted travel shutdowns in countries around the world. President Biden announced Friday afternoon that the United States will restrict travel from several African countries. The nations included in the travel ban restriction include: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The restrictions, however, do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents.
Despite being the busiest shopping day of the year, fears of the spread of the variant caused the stock market to plummet. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 900 points, it’s biggest loss of the year. Investors remain concerned about a potential for a fourth wave of the virus as the holiday season begins.
Health officials urge people to get vaccinated to avoid a fourth surge
COVID cases in the US have begun to rise recently as cooler weather sets in and more people gather inside. While cases remain lower than they were this time last year, the nation averages 90,000 new cases each day.
Countries across the world are being swift to implement travel restrictions, but scientists warn it may not be enough.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine, told CNN “By the time you implement travel bans, the cat is out of the box.” Dr. del Rio urged Americans that the only way to stop another deadly surge is to “implement a rapid scale-up of vaccinations”.
Only 70% of the US population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Fewer than 60% of people in the country have received the full dose of the vaccine.
Officials hope that an increase of new vaccinations and booster shots can help ward off another COVID winter, but those efforts would have to begin now.
That said, with little known about the new variant, health officials are urging people around the globe not to panic.