The World Health Organization has warned that the global risk from a new variant of the Omicron virus is “extremely high”, as Japan moved to ban foreign visitors in an effort to curb the spread of the highly mutated strain.
Summarizing its preliminary findings about the strain first discovered in South Africa, the health authority warned of its potential “serious consequences”, as scientists raced to understand the impact of its multiple mutations on disease severity and its impact on nature and vaccines. immunity.
Anecdotal reports emerging from South Africa over the weekend seem to suggest that the disease has caused milder symptoms, although scientists stress it is too soon to know.
The WHO said the severity of the disease from Omicron was still unknown, adding that there was “significant uncertainty” about the variant’s ability to transmit, the severity of the disease it causes and the efficacy of vaccines. Officials and scientists said it would take at least two weeks to produce reliable data about omicron’s immune responses.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Monday that Omicron highlighted “how dangerous and precarious our situation is” when addressing the World Health Assembly.
“South Africa and Botswana for discovering, sequencing and reporting this variant should be thanked, not punished,” he said. Indeed, Omicron demonstrates why the world needs a new agreement on pandemics: Our current system discourages countries from alerting others to the threats that will inevitably land on their shores.
The World Health Organization has called Omicron a “different kind of concern” but has also called for a balanced response, urging countries that have reported the strain not to penalize them.
Japan’s ban on foreign visitors, one of the strongest responses to the new strain from a large country, will go into effect at midnight Tuesday.
“We are dealing with alternative Omicron with a strong sense of crisis,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “It appears to be spreading around the world, so we continue to look at further strengthening our border control measures.”
The ban, which reflected a three-week easing of the country’s rules, includes foreign students, interns, workers moving to Japan as well as business travelers. Under previous measures, vaccinated business travelers can visit Japan after being quarantined for no more than three days.
Kishida added that Japanese nationals and foreign residents returning from South Africa, neighboring countries and other countries with Omicron cases will have to quarantine in government-controlled facilities.
The change in Japanese policy came in the wake of a scramble among countries to contain the spread of the alternative. Israel and Morocco announced earlier that they would close their borders to foreign travelers, and a number of countries including the United States and the United Kingdom as well as the European Union have introduced travel controls and quarantine procedures for arrivals.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the travel ban was “completely unjustified”, adding that there was no scientific justification for the restrictions. He added that the measures “distinguished,” noting that the alternative should highlight instead that rich countries must improve access to vaccines in Africa.
The discovery of the alternative affected stock markets, with global stock prices and oil dropping the most in a year last week.
Japan’s decision to block foreign access sent stocks lower in Tokyo, which were trading higher on expectations of a gradual return of tourists. Tokyo’s Topix closed 1.8 percent lower and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and the Tokyo market always trades conservatively at a time like this,” said Takeo Kami, Head of Execution Services at CLSA.
European shares advanced after a sell-off at the end of last week, as investors settled into a prolonged period of uncertainty about the pandemic.
The European Stoxx 600 Index rose about 1 per cent during the London morning, in a partial recovery from a drop of more than 3.5 per cent on Friday. London’s FTSE 100 is up 1 per cent and Germany’s Xetra Dax is up 0.5 per cent.
Meanwhile, futures that track the US S&P 500 index rose about 0.9 percent after the broad gauge of US stocks fell 2.3 percent on Friday. In early November, the S&P index was trading at record levels as investors focused on strong corporate earnings.
Analysts warned that markets will remain volatile, however, as investors await more information about the possibility of a new change in the path of economic growth.
“Over the course of this year, we have seen an impressive rally in equities, with steady new highs, so when we see pullbacks, there has been money on the sidelines to buy the dip,” said Paul Leech, co-head of global equities.