New Omicron variant of Covid-19 sends ripples through global markets as WTO postpones conference

Mon 29 Nov 2021
Posted by: Jo Welling
Trade News


The World Trade Organization (WTO) postponed its first ministerial meeting in four years following hastily imposed travel restrictions in the wake of concern about the new Covid variant.

The announcement on Friday (26 November) came after the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the B.1.1.529 variant, detected in South Africa, as a SARS-CoV-2 “variant of concern”.


It is feared that the new strain may spread more quickly than other forms and could even have some resistance to vaccines.

Countries, including Switzerland where the WTO conference was due to be held, banned flights from South Africa where the variant was detected, reports Reuters.

According to CNN, global markets are bracing for a volatile week as evidence of how the Omicron variant could disrupt the global economy and affect markets emerges.

Vaccine battle

The postponement to the WTO’s ministerial conference is a blow to the Geneva-based body’s director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who had hoped to use the event to gain headway in the battle to get developed countries to waive Intellectual Property (IP) protections on vaccines.

Talks on the matter are currently at a standstill, according to Politico, although US President Joe Biden has voiced support for proposals of a waiver.

UK response

In Britain, PM Boris Johnson confirmed new temporary and precautionary measures following the emergence of the Omicron variant in the UK.

All international arrivals must take a day-2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

The BBC reports health secretary Sajid Javid’s warning that the variant had a significant number of mutations, “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant”.

Red list

The UK has added several African countries to its travel red list, including South Africa, Botswana, Lesostho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola. Arrivals from these countries must quarantine for 10 days.

The EU has also proposed member states “activate the emergency brake to stop air travel” from the region, tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Markets respond

Concerns about the new variant sent stock markets falling on Friday, particularly due to concerns over the strain’s potential impact on the travel market.

The BBC reports the FTSE 100 index closed 3.7% down, its biggest one day drop in more than a year.

Shares in airlines and travel firms were hit particularly hard.

Oil down, Ocado up

Concern the new variant could slow global economic growth sent oil prices sharply lower. US WTI crude tumbled 11.3% to $69.53 per barrel, while European Brent retreated 10.2% to $73.81.

Online supermarket Ocado was the biggest beneficiary, with shares up 4.5%.

Today the FT reports some recovery of oil and stocks after Friday’s falls. However, it also covers a UN report that the pandemic could cost the global tourism industry as much as $1tn in 2021.