WHO identifies a new COVID strain - how will it impact our schools?

Luay Rahil

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a new coronavirus strain discovered in South Africa as a "variant of concern," urging countries worldwide to impose travel restrictions amid concerns over its likely spread of this newly mutated virus.

The WHO assigned the Greek letter omicron to this newly recognized Covid variant identified as B.1.1.529 in South Africa. Evidence shows that this newly mutated virus poses an increased risk of reinfection than other highly transmissible strains. The mutated virus has been identified in Belgium, Israel, Botswana, and Hong Kong.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday, "Currently, "there's no indication" that B.1.1.529 is in the United States right now -- and US scientists are working closely with colleagues in South Africa to learn more about the emerging variant. So, right now, we're getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it. So, right now, you're talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue -- but we don't know."

In the meantime, several nations -- including the United Kingdom and the U.S. -- have suspended flights from South Africa and six African countries in response to the discovery of the B.1.1.529 variant.

EU also responded to the Omicron variant by halting flights from southern Africa. The president of EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen said, "The EU Commission will propose, in close coordination with the Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529."

William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public health, said that "Vaccines will most likely protect against Omicron, but further studies are needed to determine how much of the shots’ effectiveness may be reduced."

The prospect of renewed restrictions caused global markets to tumble, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping more than 900 points on its worst day this year. I'm watching very closely to see how this new variant impacts schools.

Stay tuned, and I will be covering that soon.

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