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Officials offer vaccine reassurance; WHO advises against travel bans

WorldNov 30, 2021 06:47PM ET
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3/3 © Reuters. People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), ride in a bus in Hong Kong, China November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik 2/3

By Ludwig Burger and Emma Thomasson

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) - The World Health Organization warned countries on Tuesday not to impose blanket travel bans over the new Omicron coronavirus variant as governments and scientists try to determine how much protection current vaccines would offer against the strain.

Financial markets fell sharply after the head of drugmaker Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) said existing COVID-19 vaccines would be less effective against the Omicron variant. MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe shed 1.39% a day after broad declines in Europe and Asia.[MKTS/GLOB]

BioNTech's chief executive struck a cautiously positive note, saying the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron, which was first reported in southern Africa a week ago.

The questions over vaccine effectiveness came as cases of the new variant spread, with the first reported case in Latin America emerging in Brazil. The country's health regulator, Anvisa, said a traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife were both apparently infected.

Canada will extend its ban on travellers from southern Africa to also cover those from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt, health officials said on Tuesday, for a total of 10 countries. Canada will require people arriving by air from all nations except the United States to take a COVID-19 test, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday advised Americans against travel to Niger, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and Trinidad and Tobago. The CDC now lists about 80 destinations at its "Level 4: Very High" classification after the White House announced new travel restrictions in response to Omicron.

The World Health Organization (WHO) asked countries to apply "an evidence-informed and risk-based approach" with any travel measures, including possible screening or quarantine of international passengers. Blanket travel bans would not stop the spread of Omicron, it said.

The WHO issued a statement advising a postponement of travel for those who are unwell or at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, including those 60 years or older who are not vaccinated.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he understood the concerns about Omicron.

But he added: "I am equally concerned that several member states are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities."

VACCINE QUESTIONS

The European Medicines Agency's (EMA) executive director, Emer Cooke, told the European Parliament that existing vaccines will continue to provide protection.

Andrea Ammon, chair of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said the cases of Omicron so far confirmed in 10 European Union countries were mild or without symptoms, although in younger age groups.

News of Omicron's emergence wiped roughly $2 trillion off global stocks on Friday, after it was first identified in southern Africa and announced on Nov. 25.

U.S. markets on Tuesday reacted mainly to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's comments signalling a possible speed-up in the taper of the Fed's asset purchase program, but concerns over Omicron's impact added to jitters, market analysts said. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 652.22 points, or 1.86%, to 34,483.72, and the S&P 500 lost 88.27 points, or 1.90%, to 4,567.

"There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level...we had with Delta," Moderna's CEO, Stephane Bancel, told the Financial.

"I think it's going to be a material drop. I just don't know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I've talked to ... are like, 'this is not going to be good'."

Reuters could not reach Moderna for comment.

The University of Oxford said there was no evidence that current vaccines would not prevent severe disease from Omicron, but that it was ready to rapidly update its shot, developed with AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN), if necessary.

Graphic: OMICRON VARIANT MAP: https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-VARIANT/zdvxonlxxpx/Omicron.jpg

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden suffered two more legal setbacks on vaccine policy on Tuesday. A federal judge blocked a vaccination rule for healthcare workers and applied the ruling nationwide where the mandate was still in effect.

Another federal judge blocked the U.S government from enforcing a vaccination mandate on government contractors in three states.

LAB TESTS

Regeneron (NASDAQ:REGN) Pharmaceuticals said its COVID-19 antibody cocktail and other similar antiviral treatments could be less effective against the latest variant.

EMA's Cooke said "cross neutralisation," a lab test for whether the approved vaccines are effective against Omicron, would take about two weeks. If there was a need to change COVID-19 vaccines, new ones could be approved within three or four months, she said.

"Vaccination will likely still keep you out of the hospital," said John Wherry, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology in Philadelphia.

Moderna and fellow drugmakers BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) are already working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron. Moderna has also been testing a higher dose of its existing booster.

BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Reuters that BioNTech and Pfizer's vaccine was likely to offer strong protection against severe disease from the new variant.

Sahin said he expects lab tests to show some loss of protection against mild and moderate disease due to Omicron but the extent of that loss was hard to predict.

BORDER CONTROLS

Border closures have already cast a shadow over economic recovery, with parts of Europe now seeing a fourth wave of infections as winter sets in.

Japan confirmed its first case of the new variant on Tuesday, in a traveller from Namibia. Australia found that a person with Omicron had visited a busy shopping centre in Sydney while probably infectious.

Graphic: The spread of COVID-19 variants of concern: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/VARIANTS/jznpnyoorvl/spread_of_voc.jpg

Australia on Monday delayed the reopening of its international borders by two weeks, less than 36 hours before foreign students and skilled migrants were to be allowed back.

Britain and the United States have both pushed their booster programmes in response to the new variant. London said international arrivals would have to self-isolate until they get a negative result in a PCR test.

Greece said vaccination would be compulsory for those over 60, the group seen as most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The picture of COVID cases was mixed.

In Germany, a current hotspot of the previous significant variant, Delta, the seven-day average infection rate fell slightly for the first time in three weeks after new restrictions to slow transmission.

France registered its highest daily infection tally since April. And the Dutch health authority said Omicron was already spreading in the Netherlands, where intensive care beds are running out and measures including restrictions on hospitality have yet to take effect.

The curbs on travellers from southern Africa have highlighted the inequality of vaccine distribution, which may have given the virus more opportunities to mutate.

Officials offer vaccine reassurance; WHO advises against travel bans
 

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Comments (44)
Dave Jones
Dave Jones Dec 01, 2021 2:39AM ET
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officials
Fong SH
Fong SH Dec 01, 2021 1:15AM ET
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Authorities of countries are telling citizens to obserrve healthy issues, with all kinds of bans here and there. WHO is telling the world it is ok to travel, do not blanket ban. As long one practice healthy issues, get vaccinated and so forth. What a contridiction here. Another words, travel at your own risk, your own judgement. Thank you for such valueable advice.
Jesse James
Jesse James Nov 30, 2021 9:49PM ET
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still waiting for my unvaccinated self to get the original variant nevermind the other 8 or so
Mark Alexander
Mark Alexander Nov 30, 2021 4:18PM ET
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Ready the Ivermectin.
Go DaBoys
Go DaBoys Nov 30, 2021 4:16PM ET
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I remember hearing early last year that it would "magically disappear by April". 777K deaths in US and 5.2M worldwide say that was wrong.
Tom Scurlo
Tom Scurlo Nov 30, 2021 4:16PM ET
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That’s correct…. 777k when you include Heart Attacks, Cancer, Auto Accidrnta, Flu and everything else they told them to lsbel as COVID. Wake up!!!!!
Tom Scurlo
Tom Scurlo Nov 30, 2021 4:16PM ET
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Sorry about the spelling. Iphone keyboard.
Rob Chan
Rob Chan Nov 30, 2021 3:40PM ET
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WHO says it's called concerning, and then says no need to stop travel. why are we wasting money on WHO 😠
Fong SH
Fong SH Nov 30, 2021 3:40PM ET
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Rob it's about dollar & cents, monetary is involved, so it's not that dangerous at all lol
Sunjay Panse
Sunjay Panse Nov 30, 2021 12:14PM ET
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Don't get trapped by fake Corona fear.. It is creation of politicians across the world.. Things are going to improve drastically.. People are not afraid of such artificial fear now... Just wait n watch..
Taska Luwenskie
Taska Luwenskie Nov 30, 2021 11:31AM ET
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It's shocking how cynical people have become. We're talking about human lives, not just $s.
Bill Riley
Bill Riley Nov 30, 2021 11:31AM ET
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So far, there have been no reported deaths linked to the omicron variant. Meanwhile, many countries including the U.S. have reimposed some travel restrictions in an effort to stem the spread of the new variant.1 day ago. It's all media hype
Tom Scurlo
Tom Scurlo Nov 30, 2021 11:31AM ET
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Human lives that have died from everything that will ***you!!!! It’s not Covid…. It’s everything that people die from normally!!!!It’s the deep state pumping fear!!!! I see you believe it.
Fong SH
Fong SH Nov 30, 2021 11:31AM ET
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Bill Riley  Sorry to say this, I am not being inhumane here. Well, noticed from news, all those deaths from Covid-19 mostly are either very old, weak, with some long term illness eg heart disease, lung disease and so forth. I am not saying it's not dangerous but I think there's some inaccuracy in reporting of deaths involving Covid-19. As they say, Covid-19 might be transmitable, thus as the patient coughs when in consultation with doctor, do you think the doctor dares to go near you? He probably just write, possible contraction of Covid-19 and send you for home quarantine & finished his report. Why don't we hear any top personnel in the world, eg world leaders, contracted Covid-19, Delta, Omicron? They are humans like us too, unless they are immuned? Just my thoughts. Cheers
Taska Luwenskie
Taska Luwenskie Nov 30, 2021 11:29AM ET
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It's shocking how cynical have become. we're talking about human lives, not just $s.
Gershom Zvi
Gershom Zvi Nov 30, 2021 10:38AM ET
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Market games only
Adam Anderson
Adam Anderson Nov 30, 2021 10:27AM ET
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This is the oldest trick in the book ....surprise surprise a pharm "not sure" about the vac against the "new varient" ...they don't even have data yet but hey why not through it out there and layout the first course of manipulation
Zach Twist
Zach Twist Nov 30, 2021 10:11AM ET
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If we stop buying more boosters from drug companies, the variants will probably stop
Sien Huat Hii
Sien Huat Hii Nov 30, 2021 8:24AM ET
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I need to hear from those tested positive with Omicron..
Mr Doodl
Mr Doodl Nov 30, 2021 7:56AM ET
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Bancel, all these vaccines you produce will bang in yor as*. omicron causes mild symptoms and no vaccine might be needed
Richard Saunders
Richard Saunders Nov 30, 2021 7:15AM ET
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Remember when liberals had total disgust for Big Pharma?Pepperidge Farm remembers.
John Tierney
John Tierney Nov 30, 2021 7:11AM ET
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Its a nothing burger haha
Mo BeeLee
MoBeeLee Nov 30, 2021 7:08AM ET
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OMG 2-3 days of mild to no symptoms! Panic everyone! Panic! Nobody except vax makers are panicking because people won't need their vax anymore. Follow the $$$$$$
Waldemar Gau
Waldemar Gau Nov 30, 2021 7:08AM ET
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1-2 and we know more, maybe omicron make us all immun. but vax maker will try to make money on peoples cost
Waldemar Gau
Waldemar Gau Nov 30, 2021 7:08AM ET
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weeks
Mark McMillan
Mark McMillan Nov 30, 2021 7:07AM ET
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When will people say it is enough? Control through fear is all this is. Push for a New World Order.
John Healy
John Healy Nov 30, 2021 7:02AM ET
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This virus will be forever mutating and adaptin, much like influenza. Sure, pharma might develop a vaccine tailored to Omicron, but by then a new variant will be on the march. How about this?…Get and stay as healthy as possible. Improve and maintain a high-quality diet. Prioritize sleep. Be smart; wash your hands and stay away from crowds as much as is practicable. Take the same precautions as one would against getting the flu. If you feel like you might be sick, get tested as soon as you can and seek treatment. A buddy of mine (55 years old and considerably overweight) got this two weeks ago. He was treated with monoclonal antibodies and has already returned to work. Personally, I’m vaccinated and believe it’s an important thing to do, but there are many other steps a person can take to improve the odds of survival. The CDC, WHO and other organizations should be promoting optimal health in addition to the vaccines and treatment options.
Don Burris
Don Burris Nov 30, 2021 6:46AM ET
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Why would any sain person listen to this man. Again, just follow the money.
Ramsey Bouhadir
Ramsey Bouhadir Nov 30, 2021 6:45AM ET
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All he cares is to sell vaccines shame on him
Ramsey Bouhadir
Ramsey Bouhadir Nov 30, 2021 6:41AM ET
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Yesterday mornings on squak box mr ceo say its going to take 2 weeks to see if the vaccine is effective he changed his mind very quick with any data he need to keep quiet until real data available
Steffen vdm
Steffen vdm Nov 30, 2021 6:37AM ET
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Making empty comments like these like Moderna did should be penalized. Financial markets, governments, healthcare institutions, schools, everybody is in panic mode again
TheLast LoserDon
TheLast LoserDon Nov 30, 2021 6:37AM ET
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So his empty comments should be penalized but I guess yours and others unfounded comments are just fine. What a piece of hypocrisy!
Sean Chomicky
Sean Chomicky Nov 30, 2021 6:19AM ET
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Honestly im an ICU nurse and this ****is getting ridiculous. Its not going to go away. But the media need to stop spreading fear when we hardly know anything about it. All FUD right now
Forex Harbingers
Forex Harbingers Nov 30, 2021 5:34AM ET
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It wont stop, until we stand. All of us. It is beyond obvious they are milking this to all lengths. How much is enough?
 
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