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Passengers stand at the check-in at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Boris Roessler/dpa via Getty Images

Countries across Europe and Asia are rushing through new travel restrictions in response to a new COVID variant identified by scientists in South Africa.

The big picture: Israel, Japan, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Singapore are moving to restrict entry from countries in the south of Africa, AP reports. Many are also adding quarantines for their own citizens upon return from the region.

  • The U.K. ban targets "South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe," per the N.Y. Times.
  • The European Commission on Friday recommended EU countries "activate the emergency break" on travel from countries in southern Africa and other nations affected by the new variant.
  • "All air travel to these countries should be suspended ... until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. "Travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules."
  • Japan has never reopened to foreign travelers, but will now require its own citizens to quarantine upon return from the region, AP reports.

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN Friday that U.S. health officials were "rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision" on a possible travel ban.

  • He added that U.S. scientists were set to discuss the new variant with their South African counterparts later Friday.

The World Health Organization named the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

  • It was formerly known as B.1.1.529 before the WHO gave it a Greek letter name.
  • "On the ACE2 receptor — the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells — the new variant has 10 mutations. In comparison, the Beta variant has three and the Delta variant two," The New York Times reports .
  • It "likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient," said Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, Axios' Noah Bressner reported Thursday.
  • A top U.K. health official told BBC that the new variant is the "most worrying" yet.

Between the lines: Global markets tumbled amid news of the new variant. On a shortened — and typically quiet — trading day, U.S. stocks were on pace for their worst day of the year.

  • Oil prices plunged over 10% to their lowest levels in over two months as traders weighed how new travel limits and other restrictions will curb demand, Axios' Ben Geman reports.
  • The price decline adds another wrinkle to the OPEC+ meeting scheduled for next week, when the coalition of OPEC, Russia and other allied producers will decide whether to alter planned output increases.

Go deeper: Axios' variant tracker

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.