WHO flags Omicron risk, travel curbs tighten, Biden urges vaccination
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday the Omicron coronavirus variant carried a very high risk of infection surges, while border closures by more countries cast a shadow over an economic recovery from the two-year pandemic.
Big airlines acted swiftly to protect their hubs by curbing passenger travel from southern Africa, where the new Omicron variant was first detected, fearing that a spread of the variant would trigger restrictions from other destinations beyond the immediately affected regions, industry sources said.
But shares in carriers bounced back with the rest of the market on Monday following Friday’s rout as hopes grew that the variant might prove to be milder than initially feared.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the new variant muddies the outlook on inflation because prices could keep rising for longer than earlier thought.
The rise in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the new variant “pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation,” Powell said in testimony prepared for delivery on Tuesday to the U.S. Senate. Health-related concerns could “reduce people’s willingness to work in person, which would slow progress in the labor market and intensify supply-chain disruptions.”
Credit rating agencies Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service warned that Omicron could hurt global growth prospects and push up prices.