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WHO Classifies “Omicron” As A “Variant Of Concern”; South Africa Lashes Out At Travel Restrictions

Courtesy of ZeroHedge View original post here.

Update (1255ET): And with minutes to go before the market close, the WHO has just confirmed that it has just confirmed the "Nu" variant, aka variant B.1.1.529, has just been declared a "variant of concern" to henceforth be known as "Omicron".

The agency is also proclaiming that preliminary evidence suggests the variant carries "an increased risk of reinfection." Meanwhile, in the span of 3 hours, US markets have endured the biggest sell program since Sept. 23, and the biggest buy program since Nov. 3.

Meanwhile, SA Health minister Phaala, who has been speaking in a live Q&A Friday afternoon, insisted that reflexive travel restrictions that have been slapped on South Africa by a handful of western and other nations (and potentially soon the US). The travel bans "are completely against the norms and standards" advised on by the WHO, he said on an online press conference on Friday: "That kind of action is knee-jerk and panic…it is a risk to disclose what you have found," he said, adding that his country is being 'scapegoated.'

And the Netherlands is asking its people to stay home 'as much as possible' over the next three weeks, the minimum length of its latest lockdown.

* * *

Update (1200ET): We're still waiting on the final word from the WHO, but it appears the vaccine race is on. J&J is claiming that it has already started testing its jab's efficacy against the "Nu" variant, which was first identified in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Pfizer director and former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned Friday morning that the "Nu" variant has major escape mutations that could help it evade natural immunity.

Essentially, Dr. Gottlieb's take is a wrap of what we already know: "What it is going to do is increase the importance of getting boosters"…but ultimately, the conclusion is this is nowhere near as bad as people are making it out to be.

However, now there are reports claiming the White House is weighing to follow suit with its own travel restrictions against South Africa.

That sends a pretty clear message: alert us to a potentially vaccine-defying new variant and we will…immediately cut off travel links with you.

But at least Pfizer shares are soaring, which tells us one thing: vaccines are now more important than ever since the "Nu" variant is showing us that natural immunity might not be enough.

For those who are still anxious, South Africa's Health Minister is holding a Q&A live now, appearing to say the same thing.

Despite the facts on the ground.

However, the South Africans are saying that the new variant will soon have its very own official WHO "greek" (which means "Nu" might be temporary?)

And 'stay at home' stocks are bumping.

But within the last hour, it seems the SA health minister has confirmed one thing: while "there are breakthrough infections" and adds that the ratio of hospital admissions is "1 vaccinated for every 4 unvaccinated."

* * *

Update (1145ET): As European stocks wrap up their worst daily drop in more than a year, is it too late for US markets to see a major daily turnaround? We hope not…

Right now, it appears this is what they're going with: while a breakthrough infection has been documented, there's yet to be any proof that the variant causes "severe" breakthrough infections.


In the first sign of a  major turnaround, South African scientist Sanne has reportedly told the press that there's every indication that vaccines will continue to protect against "Nu", the COVID variant of the moment.

Here's more:

Meanwhile, South Africa Health Department Acting Director-General has reportedly received a message earlier today from the WHO claiming the agency will in fact designate the new variant as one of "concern."

Get ready for this short-term dip to get aggressively bought.

*  *

Update (1000ET): In the latest sign that the word will be at defcon four over the "Nu" variant before dinner – or perhaps even before the US market's early Friday close at 1300ET – an EU agency has just labeled "Nu" a "variant of concern".

The decision has apparently prompted the WHO to call an emergency meeting Friday to consider whether or not to do the same. As we reported earlier, public health officials are sounding the alarm as a new strain of the coronavirus has been detected.

According to the latest reports, Hong Kong and the Netherlands have stepped up border restrictions. Hong Kong has barred non-residents from 8 different south African countries, from entering.

The new strain doesn't have an official name yet, but scientists first confirmed the apparently fast-spreading variant in South Africa. They say it is highly contagious, and shows signs that it might be able to easily overpower vaccines.

The World Health Organization is calling a meeting Friday to determine if they will declare the new strain a 'variant of concern'.

Even without the new strain, COVID cases have been on the rise for about a month, nearing an average of 100,000 per day, and experts worry it could be the start of a new wave.

The Dutch are already using "Nu" as a reason to tighten their lockdown restrictions on businesses. Starting Sunday, restaurants and other businesses will be subject to a 0500ET to 1700ET curfew. Schools will remain open, and the measures will be in place provisionally for 3 weeks, at least.

The CDC's latest forecast predicts between 4,100 and 12,000 people will be hospitalized with COVID in the US by mid-December.

Wall Street sell-side analysts are going all-in on "Nu" fearmongering: One Citi analyst note says the "accumulation of variations" in Nu suggest that "our fears have been realized". Then again, "concern over Nu" needs to be balanced with the failure of other variants to outmuscle delta as the world's most prevalent variant. However, Europe has been struggling with a resurgence of cases, while the US follows a similar path.

Although, in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci is already telling cable news networks that the US has no plans to restrict travel from South Africa. At least, not yet.

* * *

In what is becoming a nightmare for thousands of traders (and an even larger number of public health officials, we imagine), the latest COVID variant to elicit a hysterical response – the ironically named "nu" variant" – has just been confirmed in Belgium, the first European country to confirm cases of the new strain.

Two suspected cases of the new variant have been detected and confirmed in Belgium, according to local media reports. The strain was initially found in South Africa, Hong Kong, Botswana and Israel.

It's early days, but according to some the variant has already elicited major surges in infections. Enough so that news about the variant and panic about a more chaotic outlook for interest rates and the broader global economy has sent S&P 500 futures tumbling, and the VIX surging, in premarket trading, on an otherwise quiet post-Thanksgiving Friday morning, a day where markets close at 1300ET.

And rate-hike odds are already tumbling.

Finally, these charts should help readers put this all into context…


The Nu variant, formerly referred to as B.1.1529, was initially identified five days ago, first in Botswana, with subsequent confirmation and sequencing in South Africa where 100 cases have been confirmed. The variant has also spread to Israel and Hong Kong, according to Citi analyst Andrew Baum.

Of course, all of this comes with a pretty big asterisk: The analyst believes concern over Nu needs to be balanced against the failure of other concerning variants such as Beta to out-compete delta.

Belgium also confirmed that the "nu" cases involved a traveler who had just arrived in the country from "abroad". Already, Spain, the U, India and a handful of other nations have imposed new border restrictions, citing the new variant as the motive. Advisors in the UK have already declared the variant a serious threat (although they said the same thing about the last variant boogeyman, delta-plus).

One trader has some pretty interesting thoughts about where this is all going.

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