Brussels, Nov 26: The discovery of a new coronavirus variant sent a chill through much of the world Friday as nations raced to halt air travel, markets plunged and scientists held emergency meetings to weigh the exact risks, which were largely unknown.
Medical experts, including the World Health Organisation, warned against any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa was better understood. But a jittery world feared the worst nearly two years after COVID-19 emerged and triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.
British Health Secretary SajidJavid told lawmakers that the new version may be more transmissible than the delta variant and render vaccines less effective.
“We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” Javid said.
Some nations moved to stop air travel from southern Africa, and stocks plunged in Asia, Europe and the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 800 points at the start of trading. The price of oil plunged 7%.
“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said amid a massive spike in cases in the 27-nation European Union, which recommended a ban on flights from southern African nations.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights “should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travellers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules”.
She insisted on extreme caution, warning that “mutations could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants of the virus that could spread worldwide within a few months”.
Belgium became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant. It involved a person who came from abroad.
“It’s a suspicious variant. We don’t know if it’s a very dangerous variant,” Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said.