WHO and Fauci Fuel Fears About New COVID Variant, Send Stock Market Tumbling


Stocks tumbled Friday amid fears of travel restrictions after the World Health Organization announced the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, commented on it during an interview on CNN.

A variant of the virus spreading in South Africa, initially called B.1.1.529, was dubbed “omicron” on Friday as WHO officials met to discuss the threat it poses.

The variant, which officials say has many more mutations than previous strains, also has been seen in Israel.

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The WHO announced the discovery of the new variant on Thursday and claimed it has the potential to evade antibodies.

Global health officials on Friday went into action and attempted to calm fears about international travel restrictions, Reuters reported. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier, for example, told members of the United Nations in Geneva that talks of limiting travel were premature.

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“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” Lindmeier said. “The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures.”

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also spoke about the potential of the new variant to affect the U.S. population.

“Obviously as soon as we find out more information, we’ll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can,” he said Friday morning on CNN’s “New Day.” “You always put these things on the table, but you don’t want to say you’re going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it.”

He said the new variant “has some mutations that are raising some concern, particularly with regard to possibly transmissibility increase and possibly evasion of immune response.”

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Fauci said U.S. scientists would work quickly to study the virus and determine if travel restrictions should be considered.

“This is really something that’s in motion,” he said. “And we just arranged, right now, a discussion between our scientists and the South African scientists a little bit later in the morning to really get the facts because you’re hearing a lot of things back and forth.”

“There were some cases that originated in South Africa and that went to Botswana and people who traveled and found out they were infected and one that had gone, actually, to Hong Kong. So there’s a lot of travel,” Fauci said.

“You never know exactly where, and that’s the reason why we’re getting together [with] them to try and get the precise molecular makeup of it, so you could actually test for it. And that’s something that will take a little bit, to put the appropriate materials together to do that. But we are in very active communication with our South African colleague scientists.”

Fauci, equating the new variant to a “red flag,” also urged people to get vaccinated and to seek booster shots.

After his comments, Belgian officials announced the discovery of B.1.1.529 there, meaning the variant had arrived in Europe.

Stocks tumbled on Black Friday as investors were spooked by the potential for more restrictions.

The Dow Jones was at one point down more between 900 and 1,000 points, or roughly 2.5 percent. Other indexes also slumped following the news.

The S&P 500 was down around 100 points, or about two percent, while the Nasdaq also took a nearly 300-point dip that was good for about a 3 percent loss.

The price of oil also fell to below 10 percent to $70 per barrel in West Texas, while globally oil was down to about $75 per barrel, Bloomberg reported.

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.