FirstFT: Nations race to contain Omicron variant

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Countries raced to contain the Omicron coronavirus variant by restricting travel and imposing new quarantine measures as cases were detected around the world yesterday.

A third case was identified in the UK and dozens more were being treated as suspected cases, people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times.

The US, the EU, the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea all limited travel or ordered quarantines on individuals travelling to and from southern Africa, where the variant was first identified. Other countries, such as Singapore and India, signalled they were reviewing restrictions.

Israel became the first country to close its borders to foreigners after one case was confirmed and several more were suspected. Returning travellers will be forced to quarantine, monitored by the army and domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet.

“Everyone is tired of life in the shadow of the coronavirus,” said Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. “I hear what people are saying to me: ‘We have just emerged from the Delta strain and now a new strain has arrived?’ It is not easy but it is reality.”

Chart showing that a new variant is spreading rapidly in South Africa, and appears to be out-competing other variants much faster than previous variants of concern did

1. EU ministers call for deal with UK to tackle migrant crisis EU leaders met yesterday to discuss ways to end small-boat crossings after 27 died last week in the English Channel. Ministers agreed that a new UK-EU migration policy framework was needed, and called for concrete actions to improve surveillance of migration traffic.

2. Brazil hits out at EU anti-deforestation law Brazil’s foreign minister has attacked the EU for “trade protectionism” after the bloc proposed to halt imports of products from deforested areas. Brazil is a big exporter of the products targeted and the EU proposal has reignited long-running tensions with the far-right government.

3. European legislators urged to regulate Big Tech EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager has urged the European Parliament and European Council to approve rules to curb the power of Big Tech as a matter of urgency, even if they are imperfect. “It is best to get 80 per cent now than 100 per cent never,” she said.

4. Argentine court to hear Myanmar Rohingya genocide case Argentina’s judiciary has agreed to open a genocide case brought by Rohingya victims of atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military. The court case was brought under universal jurisdiction, the principle under which exceptionally grave crimes can be tried anywhere.

5. US calls for tighter controls on flows to Chinese markets The latest annual report from the US-China Economic Security Review Commission highlighted security concerns from a huge rise in US investment.

Coronavirus digest

  • The World Health Organization has called for a balanced response to the new variant, saying countries which report cases should not be “stigmatised”.

  • Stock markets tumbled on Friday after Omicron was labelled a “variant of concern” by the WHO.

  • Drugmakers are racing to test vaccines against Omicron. While pharma groups expected new variants, it is the first time one has displayed so many mutations.

  • China says its zero-Covid policy will protect it from the Omicron variant as a domestic study warns against “disastrous” western-style reopening.

  • Response to the new variant has dismayed aviation groups that had hoped the worst of the pandemic was over. Stocks across the travel industry have already plummeted.

Line chart of Stoxx Europe 600 Travel & Leisure index showing European travel stocks slide as Covid fears resurface

The day ahead

Iran nuclear talks held in Vienna Iran is set to resume nuclear deal talks with global powers as concerns grow over the scale of Tehran’s atomic activity. China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and US are represented at today’s meeting.

  • Opinion: For this week’s meeting to succeed, “talks must address the removal of sanctions,” writes Iranian deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani.

Cyber Monday In the lead-up to Christmas, online retailers hold special promotions today and prepare for a deluge of orders after a busy Black Friday.

Epstein The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell begins today in New York. The former associate and girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein is accused of luring girls for sex abuse.

What else we’re reading

Peng Shuai’s case focuses attention on China’s elite The sexual assault allegation levelled by tennis player Peng Shuai has embroiled former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli in an international #MeToo furore. But Zhang’s fate depends more on his powerful network than the merits of the case.

Is Turkey on the brink of hyperinflation? Turks have been watching with horror the lira tumbling since early November, while inflation is surging. If President Erdogan refuses to abandon his fixation with low-interest rates, Turkey could be headed towards hyperinflation, analysts warn.

Macau casinos gamble on relations with Beijing Hit hard by stringent border controls under China’s zero-Covid policy, Macau’s gaming revenue has sunk. But the fear over the world’s biggest gambling hub goes beyond the pandemic, as casino operators face increasing scrutiny from the Xi government.

Beauty start-up turns banker into India’s newest billionaire Investment banker Falguni Nayar was anxious when, at age 49, she resigned from a senior job at a successful private bank to start her own online beauty retailer. Nine years later, the company has been valued at almost $13bn, propelling her status to India’s wealthiest self-made female entrepreneur.

The logical case for employing reverse logic What problems could we fix by doing the exact opposite of what one might expect? Here’s a thought: environmentalists should fight climate change by buying coal mines, then shutting them down. Tim Harford takes a look at other reversals of logic.


From politics, economics and history to art, food and, of course, fiction — FT writers and critics pick their favourite reads in our annual round-up of publishing highlights. You can browse their choices here.

© Cat O’Neil

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