The new coronavirus variant, given the name Omicron, is believed to be about 500 times more competitively infectious than the highly contagious Delta variant, a leading epidemiologist said, prompting global authorities to take action against the new threat.
Medical professionals believe the new Omicron variant has 32 mutations in its spike protein, making it a feared virus that may be able to bypass vaccines and immunity gained from previously being infected. The new variant was first discovered in South Africa and has now spread to Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.
New Coronavirus Variant
Many have considered the Omicron variant to be the "worse one [they've] seen so far," and scientists have expressed their concerns about its quick spread across nations. Epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, sent several Twitter posts on Friday where he suggested the potentially devastating traits of the new variant compared to the older ones, Newsweek reported.
The medical professional warned that the Omicron variant had more than double the number of "bad spike mutations" as compared to the Delta variant. The World Health Organization (WHO) renamed the new variant and classified it as a "variant of concern" on Friday.
The announcement of the new variant and its inherent deadliness has caused stock markets worldwide to tumble on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recorded its biggest single-day drop of the year due to the incident.
At one point, the Dow dropped more than 1,000 points before slightly recovering to close down 905 points, or about 2.5% for the session. Worldwide, oil prices dropped more than 10%, which is the largest one-day decline since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, NPR reported.
The news about the new variant also caused authorities from the United States and the European Union as well as nations worldwide to impose new travel restrictions. It has caused hopes of a reopening economy to dim.
The WHO, after an emergency meeting, warned in a released statement that preliminary evidence "suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant." WHO officials and other scientists have warned that very little was known about the new coronavirus variant and said it could not guarantee that the dangers it poses will justify the fears it has caused.
South African scientists announced the existence of the new variant on Wednesday and revealed that the number of cases believed to be the Omicron variant was still relatively small, only under 100. However, global governments reacted swiftly to the news of the new variant after they have previously been criticized for being too slow to act on the health crisis.
"We are following the path of maximum caution," said Italy's health minister, Roberto Speranza, whose country suffered greatly during the coronavirus pandemic early last year, the New York Times reported.
Israel, Singapore, several European nations, the United States, and Canada on Friday followed Britain's Thursday decision to temporarily ban foreign travelers who have recently been in South Africa or nearby countries. The ban does not prevent the nations' own residents to go home, only requiring them to test negative for the virus.