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Travel curbed as COVID-19 variant sparks global worry

World leaders on Friday scrambled to suspend travel from southern Africa in an effort to curb the spread of a new coronavirus variant announced by the World Health Organization.

MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, WHO: " we are announcing B.1.1.529 is a variant of concern named Omicron."

The new mutation was found in South Africa, prompting U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday to restrict entry starting Monday to travelers from eight southern African countries. Biden said the decision was made along with Dr. Fauci and the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

BIDEN: "We don't know a lot about the variant except that it is of great concern. It seems to spread rapidly..."

Several countries, including Canada, Britain, India, Iran, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates also toughened travel curbs.

But South African Minister of Health Dr. Joe Phaahla said the bans were unjustified.

PHAAHLA: "The reaction of some countries in terms of imposing travel bans, and such measures are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization."

It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant's mutations. Health authorities are working to determine if Omicron is more transmissible or infectious than other variants, and whether vaccines are effective against it.

In the wake of the discovery, President Biden called on nations meeting at the World Trade Organization next week to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

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