WASHINGTON: Just as it was recovering from the body blow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy has taken yet another hit from the Omicron variant of the virus, which has led to a raft of new travel restrictions.
First reported to the World Health Organization in South Africa less than a week ago, the new strain has rapidly spread everywhere from Africa to the Pacific, and from Europe to Canada, causing dozens of countries to announce travel restrictions.
The severity of the economic impact will depend on how dangerous the variant proves to be, and how well existing vaccinations stand up to it.
That has meant that even with the most favorable scenarios in mind, economists are already revising their 2022 forecasts downwards.
The International Monetary Fund, which expects growth of 4.9 percent for the next year, has been insisting for months that the coronavirus and its variants remain the main threat.
The economic impact could be "modest," in the order of 0.25 percentage points on global growth in 2022 if Omicron causes "relatively mild symptoms" and the vaccines are "effective", said Gregory Daco, chief economist at Oxford Economics.
In the worst-case scenario, in which Omicron proves extremely dangerous and large swaths of the world are in lockdown again, 2022 growth could fall to around 2.3 percent, as compared to the 4.5 percent expected by Oxford Economics before the variant emerged.
And in such a scenario it is not certain that governments, which have stumped up trillions of dollars in aid since the start of the pandemic, would be willing to put in place further fiscal stimulus packages, especially if vaccines are available, Daco said.
Those aspects "are going to be really key to how it affects the global economy and people's behavior," said Erik Lundh, an economist at The Conference Board.
Beyond government measures to contain the new strain, fear of infection could lead people to limit their own travel and economic activities, such as going to restaurants and reducing consumption, which will in turn impact growth, Lundh said.
Another risk is the exacerbation of the global supply chain crunch. Lundh pointed out that "a lot of air cargo is stored basically in the belly of passenger planes ... It's not just all sorts of FedEx planes".
"So if there are cancellations, if there's a lapse in demand for commercial flights for passengers, it does run the risk of limiting the route of trade," which could, in turn, worsen inflationary pressures as goods become more scarce.
In addition, a wave of Omicron infections "could cause some workers to temporarily exit the workforce, and deter others from returning, making current labor shortages worse," said Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics in a note.
Omicron has sparked more anxiety than any other variant since the emergence of Delta, itself already much more contagious than previous strains.
US President Joe Biden, however, said on Monday (Nov 29) that there was "not a cause for panic," even if the United States has closed its borders to travelers from the southern African region where the variant was first detected.
As for vaccine manufacturers, AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax have expressed confidence in their ability to combat the variant.
More than a dozen people were killed in a 5.6-magnitude quake that rattled Indonesia's West Java province on Monday, a local official said.
Herman Suherman, a government official from Cianjur, the town in West Java where the epicentre of the quake was located, told news channel MetroTV that up to 20 people had died at one hospital in the area.
The epicentre was on land in Cianjur in West Java, about 75 km southeast of Jakarta, and at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), BMKG said, adding there was no potential for a tsunami.
Some people evacuated offices in the central business district of Jakarta, while others reported feeling buildings shake and seeing furniture move, Reuters witnesses said.
Muchlis, who was in Cianjur when the quake hit, said he felt "a huge tremor" and the walls and ceiling of his office building were damaged.
"I was very shocked. I worried there will be another quake," Muchlis told the Metro TV news channel, adding that people ran out of their houses, some fainting and vomiting because of the strong tremors.
BMKG chief Dwikorita Karnawati, speaking to reporters at parliamentary building, advised people to stay outdoors in case of aftershocks.
Suko Prayitno Adi of the BMKG said authorities were checking the extent of the damage caused by the quake.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recorded the earthquake at a magnitude of 5.4 on the Richter scale.
Turkey launched airstrikes over several towns in northern Syria on Saturday, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces reported.
The airstrikes occurred a week after a bomb rocked a bustling avenue in the heart of Istanbul, killing six people and wounding over 80 others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with it. The Kurdish militant groups have, however, denied involvement.
Ankara and Washington both consider the PKK a terror group, but disagree on the status of the Syrian Kurdish groups, which have been allied with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Following the strikes, the Turkish ministry of defense posted a photo of a fighter plane with the phrase, “The treacherous attacks of the scoundrels are being held to account."
The airstrikes targeted Kobani, a strategic town near the Turkish border that Ankara had previously attempted to overtake in its plans to establish a “safe zone” along northern Syria. SDF spokesperson Farhad Shami in a tweet added that two villages heavily populated with displaced people were under Turkish bombardment. He said the strikes had resulted in “deaths and injuries.”
Syrian opposition media reported that Turkish airstrikes targeted Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces positions.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, reported that the strikes had also hit Syrian army positions and that at least 12 had been killed, including both SDF and Syrian army soldiers.
The observatory said about 25 air strikes were carried out by Turkish warplanes on sites in the countryside of Aleppo, Raqqa and Hasakah.
The Kurdish-led authority in northeast Syria said Saturday that if Turkey attacks, then fighters in the area would have “the right to resist and defend our areas in a major way that will take the region into a long war.”
Turkey has launched three major cross-border operations into Syria since 2016 and already controls some territories in the north.
Investigators have found traces of explosives at the site of the damaged Nord Stream gas pipelines, confirming sabotage had taken place, a Swedish prosecutor said on Friday.
Swedish and Danish authorities are investigating four holes in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines which link Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea and have become a flashpoint in the Ukraine crisis as gas supplies in Europe run short.
Denmark last month said a preliminary investigation had shown that the leaks were caused by powerful explosions.
"Analysis that has now been carried out shows traces of explosives on several of the objects that were recovered," the Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement, adding that the findings establish the incident as "gross sabotage".
It said the continued probe would determine whether it would be possible to identify those responsible.
Cooperation with authorities in Sweden as well as in other countries was going very well, lead prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said.
The prosecutor's office declined to give further comment, including on which explosives were believed to have been used to damage the pipelines.
Russia will wait until a full damage assessment is done before deciding on repairs, if any, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
"The very fact that data has already begun to come in, in favour of confirming a subversive act or a terrorist act... once again confirms the information that the Russian side has," Peskov told his daily call with reporters.
"It is very important not to stop, it is very important to find the one behind this explosion."
Neither Gazprom, nor the Nord Stream 1 and 2 replied to Reuters requests for comment.
Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden previously said they had registered tremors in the immediate vicinity of the leaks and that the signals did not resemble those from earthquakes.
Danish police declined to comment on the Swedish findings.
The 26 Sept ruptures of the seabed pipelines, spewing gas into the ocean that bubbled to the surface in the week that followed, triggered warnings of public hazard and fears of environmental damage.
A section measuring at least 50 metres (164 feet) is missing from Nord Stream 1, Swedish daily Expressen reported on 18 Oct after filming what it said were the first publicly released images of the damage.
Russia's defence ministry last month said that British navy personnel blew up the pipelines, a claim that London said was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.
A shooting that sent four people to hospital and another gun-related incident forced thousands of students at two Montreal area colleges to go into lockdown on Friday.
At 5:30 pm local time (2230 GMT), gunshots rang out at a park across the street from Montmorency College in the Montreal suburb of Laval, police spokeswoman Genevieve Major told AFP.
Four people who had been shot sought refuge at the college and were later taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The college, which is attended by nearly 10,000 students and faculty, remained locked down into the evening as police swarmed the area in search of the shooter.
Mayor Stephane Boyer tweeted that a police operation was "underway", while television footage showed parents of students crowding the roads around the college after they rushed to the scene.
Earlier, a 19-year-old man wearing a bulletproof vest was arrested at a junior college 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Montreal and charged with allegedly uttering threats.
Students and staff at the Cegep Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu told local media they were ordered to barricade themselves in classrooms and turn off the lights for most of the day, while a police operation unfolded outside.
"At the beginning we were very scared," student Alejandra Montequin told Canadian broadcaster Global News. "It was very tense; people were talking to their parents."
Quebec Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel said in a Twitter post that the students in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu had "experienced a difficult situation today."
"I'm relieved at the turn of events," he said, adding that he would wait for the results of the police investigation "to fully understand what happened."
Jubilant residents welcomed Ukrainian troops arriving in the centre of the strategic city of Kherson after Russia abandoned the only regional capital it had captured since its invasion began in February.
President Zelenskiy hailed "a historic day" in getting Kherson back. Special units of the military were inside with defending troops on the outskirts, he said.
Russia's defence ministry said it had withdrawn more than 30,000 soldiers across the Dnipro River in its retreat, without losing a soldier. But Ukrainians described a chaotic retreat, with Russian troops ditching their uniforms or drowning trying to escape.
The Kremlin said Russia's withdrawal from Kherson's capital would not change the region's status as annexed by Russia.
Significant new damage to the major Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine can be seen following Russia's withdrawal from nearby Kherson, US satellite imagery company Maxar said.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, at an Asian summit in Cambodia, on Saturday urged Southeast Asian countries to take all measures possible to stop Russia from playing "hunger games" over a Black Sea grain deal that could expire next week.
Ukraine says it is building a reinforced concrete wall and other fortifications on its border with Belarus, a Kremlin ally that Moscow used as a staging ground for its 24 Feb invasion.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog said an investigation of a research plant in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv found it was badly damaged, but there were no signs of a radiological release or diversion of nuclear material.
Senior UN officials met with a Russian delegation in Geneva to discuss Moscow's grievances about the Black Sea grains export initiative and address the need for unimpeded food and fertilizer exports, a UN spokesperson said.
Russian-based international ballet dancers from elite companies like the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky who fled the country, leaving behind their lives, jobs and belongings, are reuniting for one performance in California on Saturday.
More than a dozen people were killed in a 5.6-magnitude quake that rattled Indonesia's West Java province on Monday, a local official said. Herman Suherman, a government official from Cianjur, the town in West Java where the epicentre of the quake was located, told news channel MetroTV that up to 20 people had died at one hospital in the area.
Turkey launched airstrikes over several towns in northern Syria on Saturday, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces reported. The airstrikes occurred a week after a bomb rocked a bustling avenue in the heart of Istanbul, killing six people and wounding over 80 others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with it. The Kurdish militant groups have, however, denied involvement.
Investigators have found traces of explosives at the site of the damaged Nord Stream gas pipelines, confirming sabotage had taken place, a Swedish prosecutor said on Friday. Swedish and Danish authorities are investigating four holes in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines which link Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea and have become a flashpoint in the Ukraine crisis as gas supplies in Europe run short.
A shooting that sent four people to hospital and another gun-related incident forced thousands of students at two Montreal area colleges to go into lockdown on Friday. At 5:30 pm local time (2230 GMT), gunshots rang out at a park across the street from Montmorency College in the Montreal suburb of Laval, police spokeswoman Genevieve Major told AFP.