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WHO classifies new Covid strain as a 'variant of concern' called Omicron

WHO classifies new Covid strain as a 'variant of concern' called Omicron

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified the new Covid strain as a "variant of concern" and names it Omicron.

What is Omicron?

The new Covid variant B.1.1.529 was identified just three days ago in South Africa and may be significantly more transmissible than even the Delta variant.

The WHO says preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern.

It says the number of cases of this mutation appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.

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It's caused global alarm even on a small sample size - with work underway to establish if it may be vaccine-resistant.

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The UK was the first to jump last night to introduce a travel ban on a number of southern African countries.

Reports suggest Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said anyone coming from southern African countries will need a pre-flight PCR test, while GardaΓ­ will enforce a 10 day home quarantine.

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However it may have spread already, with Belgium's Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke confirmed a case of the new variant there, in a woman who had traveled from Egypt through Turkey.

Impact of New Variant

Global markets have slumped following news of the new variant.

In the UK, the FTSE 100 dropped 3.6 percent in it's biggest one day sell-off since June 2020.

US stocks also opened down, with the Dow Jones falling a thousand points in early trading.

Travel and banking stocks were hit hardest, with shares in major airlines plummeting amid concerns of a new wave of infections and travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, Pfizer BioNTech say it would be able to develop a tailor-made jab for a "vaccine-escape variant" in 100 days.

The pharma companies say it is constantly looking at the emerging data on new strains of Covid-19.

Here at home, 4,620 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed this evening.

571 patients are in hospital with the virus, with 118 in intensive care.

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