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Nov. 27, 2021, 1:26 p.m. EST

WHO warns world leaders against knee-jerk reaction to coronavirus variant from South Africa as U.K. and EU impose travel bans

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By Ciara Linnane

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Chris Meekins, health care analyst at Raymond James, said as long as the virus is spreading freely in parts of the world, variants will emerge. He also noted that it remains unknown whether this one is either more transmissible or more lethal.

“Information is rapidly evolving and there will be many preliminary takes that turn out to be very wrong,” he said in a note to clients.

The news comes at a bad time for Europe, which the WHO said this week was again the only region where cases are rising on a weekly basis. WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned that, without urgent measures, the continent could see another 700,000 deaths by the spring, boosting the pandemic’s toll to 2.2 million. The U.S. State Department promptly warned Americans against travel to Germany or Denmark.

The U.S., meanwhile, is still averaging more than 1,000 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, and cases and hospitalizations are rising again. As the vast majority of those becoming infected or being hospitalized or dying are unvaccinated people, it makes it more important than ever that those people get their shots and avoid dying a preventable death.

See now: German air force to move ICU patients as COVID cases rise

In medical news, Merck /zigman2/quotes/209956077/composite MRK +0.74% and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said their COVID-19 antiviral molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in at-risk adults with mild to moderate COVID to 6.8% from 9.7% in the placebo group in the latest update of data from its study dubbed MOVe-OUT. That is equal to an absolute risk reduction of 3% and a relative risk reduction of 30%.

An earlier analysis of the data showed it reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 50%. The companies have shared these latest data with the Food and Drug Administration, which is currently reviewing the information provided for a possible emergency-use authorization for the treatment.

The European Union drug regulator authorized Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.32% and BioNTech’s /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +5.69% vaccine for use in children aged 5 to 11, clearing the way for shots to be administered to millions of elementary-school-aged children on the continent, the AP reported. It is the first time the European Medicines Agency has cleared a COVID-19 vaccine for use in young children.

Most people originally vaccinated with J&J’s /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ +0.42% shot are choosing other vaccines if they get a booster, new government data show, partly reflecting concerns about the lower effectiveness of the drug maker’s vaccine, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 260.3 million on Friday, while the death toll edged above 5.18 million, according to  data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University .

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 48.1 million cases and 775,833 deaths. 

India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.6 million and has suffered 467,468 deaths. Brazil has the second highest death toll at 613,642 and 22 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has the most fatalities at 265,134 deaths, followed by the U.K. at 144,876.

China,  where the virus was first discovered late in 2019,  has had 111,081 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively understated.

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