While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, Nov 27

WHO classifies new Covid-19 strain Omicron as ‘variant of concern’

The World Health Organisation on Friday declared the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of the Covid-19 virus, to be a variant of concern and renamed it Omicron.

The variant was first detected in southern Africa.

The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of Covid-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

Nations rushed to ban flights to slow the spread of Omicron on Friday, while stock markets and oil prices plunged on fears surrounding the variant, potentially dealing a heavy blow to the global economic recovery.

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US imposes travel curbs on 8 southern African countries over new Covid-19 variant

The United States will bar entry to most travellers from eight southern African countries beginning next week over concerns about a new coronavirus variant found in South Africa, President Joe Biden said on Friday.

The restrictions, which go into effect Monday, do not ban flights or apply to US citizens and lawful US permanent residents, a Biden administration official said.

The US is among countries around the world that rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa on news over the new variant, named Omicron, which the World Health Organisation said was “of concern.”

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London hit by biggest Tube strike in three years

Central London shops and businesses hoping to receive a much-needed boost from Black Friday sales were hit by disruption to the tube network as drivers held their biggest strike since 2018.

The 24-hour strike, which started at 0430 GMT (12.30pm Singapore time) on Friday, led to the suspension of the Piccadilly, and Waterloo and City lines, and delays on the Jubilee, Central, Victoria and Northern lines.

Transport for London said it was running 58 per cent of its usual services.

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Top US diplomat for Asia to visit four South-east Asian countries, including Singapore

The top US diplomat for East Asia will visit Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand from the weekend after President Joe Biden pledged stepped up engagement with South-east Asia, a key battleground in his contest for influence with China.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, will be in the region from Saturday until Dec 4, a State Department statement said.

Kritenbrink would “reaffirm the US commitment to work together … to tackle the most serious global and regional challenges” and stress US support for “a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific,” it said, a reference to China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region, which Washington has repeatedly denounced as “coercive.”

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Dow ends 2.5% lower as new Covid-19 variant causes year’s worst drop

The new Covid-19 variant that has prompted travel restrictions worldwide caused Wall Street to plunge in Friday’s holiday shortened session, with the Dow seeing its worst loss of the year.

The benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 34,899.34, a loss of 2.5 per cent, or more than 900 points from the close on Wednesday, before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The broad-based S&P 500 fell 2.3 per cent to finish at 4,594.62, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite index declined 2.3 per cent to 15,491.66.

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