New COVID-19 variant spreads in Africa: What you need to know

A slew of nations moved to stop air travel from southern Africa on Friday, and stocks plunged in Asia and Europe in reaction to news of a new, potentially more transmissible COVID-19 variant.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn, amid a massive spike in cases in the 27-nation European Union, which is recommending a ban on flights from southern African nations.

Within a few days of the discovery of the new variant, it has already impacted on a jittery world that is sensitive to bad COVID-19 news, with deaths around the globe standing at well over 5 million.

It’s unclear where the new variant actually arose, but it was first detected by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.

Latest updates:

  • The Dow dropped 800 points at open; Europe, Asia markets fell sharply, and oil was down 7% as new COVID-19 variant rattled investors.

  • The European Union’s executive proposed stopping air travel from southern Africa to counter spread of new COVID-19 variant.
  • The Israeli Health Ministry says new coronavirus variant detected in traveler who returned from Malawi.

In better news, U.S. health officials said Merck’s COVID-19 pill is effective, will seek advice next week on safety during pregnancy. Here are other updates today: