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New Travel Restrictions In Place, Dow Drops 905 Points Over New COVID Variant Concerns

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - A new COVID-19 variant with an unusually high number of mutations is not just sparking travel restrictions and shaking up global markets, but medical experts have designated it as a "variant of concern."

The "World Health Organization" is naming the emerging variant first identified in South Africa, as Omicron.

The rapidly spreading variant has more than 30 mutations in the key spike protein, the vital structure the coronavirus uses to attack cells.

"This variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is when you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," said Maria Van Kerkhove, of the World Health Organization.

Doctor Anthony Fauci said the new strain doesn't appear to be in the U.S.

"There's no indication that it is right now," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

However, Dr. Aileen Marty, FIU's Infectious Disease Specialist said that may not be the case.

"It may already be in the United States," said Dr. Marty.

Dr. Marty said they fear this heavily mutated variant may be transmissible and could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

"With this new variant there is now a new way to crack that peanut open and the virial material goers into the cell. That is very bad news. This means it is more transmissible. The fact that it is an escape variant, our vaccines may not work as well. Natural immunity and monoclonal antibodies we have been using may not work as well. So in several aspects, this is extremely worrisome," said Dr. Marty.

Vaccine scientists are already testing the variant and expect to learn more in a matter of weeks.

"You need the booster. We want the very best memory cells that will be ready to fight this new variant," said Dr. Marty

The Biden administration is restricting travel from eight countries in southern Africa over concerns about a new COVID-19 variant circulating in the region, according to senior administration officials.

The restrictions on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi begin Monday.

The restrictions don't apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents although those individuals must still test negative prior to traveling.

On Friday, stocks sank with the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly falling more than 1,000 points, as a new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa appeared to be spreading across the globe.

The S&P 500 index fell 2.3%, its worst day since February and the Nasdaq composite had its worst drop in two months.

The Dow closed with a loss of 905 points.

Travel and energy stocks were among the biggest losers, with Royal Caribbean dropping 13%, United Airlines falling more than 9% and Exxon losing 3.5%.

The price of oil fell 13% and bond yields fell sharply.

The CDC said, "We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path."

"CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country. We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S."

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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