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Editorial: Caution against the Omicron variant

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ABU DHABI, 17th December 2021 (WAM) – The new Omicron variant is driving a spiral in infections not just in South Africa, but in other parts of the world as well. Seventy-seven countries have now reported cases of Omicron.

In an editorial today, 'Gulf Today' said this has raised alarm bells, particularly in the portals of the World Health Organisation which warned that the new coronavirus variant was spreading at an unprecedented rate.

Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has warned Boris Johnson to expect a "significant increase" in hospitalisations from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the UK.

Johnson told cabinet that the UK can expect a "huge spike" of Covid cases as Omicron becomes the dominant variant in the UK.

But there is a sliver of relief: the Omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease than previous versions of the coronavirus.

It is a highly transmissible virus that may cause less severe disease, and one that can be slowed – but not stopped – by today’s vaccines.

It’s too soon to draw conclusions about the outcome from Omicron since the variant is still quite new and hospitalisations can lag weeks behind infections.

US health officials estimate that a small, but growing proportion of new COVID-19 infections are due to the Omicron variant, and that the rise is particularly dramatic in some places.

Researchers around the world are rushing to figure out what the variant will mean for the coronavirus pandemic, now well into its second year. More information came on Tuesday from Pfizer, which announced that its experimental pill to treat COVID-19 – separate from its vaccine – appears effective against Omicron.

In the weeks since the variant was detected, South Africa has experienced rapid spread of the virus. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in the country rose over the past two weeks from 8.07 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 29 to 34.37 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 13, according to Johns Hopkins University. The death rate hasn’t increased during that same period.

Many are now looking to South Africa for clues about what the world could be in for.

The Omicron-driven fourth wave has a significantly steeper trajectory of new infections relative to prior waves. National data show an exponential increase in both new infections and test positivity rates during the first three weeks of this wave, indicating a highly transmissible variant with rapid community spread of infection.

Although case numbers are rising, hospital admissions for adults diagnosed with COVID-19 are 29% lower compared to the wave that South Africa experienced in mid-2020, after adjusting for vaccination status, according to the analysis.

The study indicated significant protection against hospital admission even among older age groups, with 67% for people aged 60 to 69 and 60% for people aged 70 to 79.

New cases of the Omicron variant were found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off. Although South Africa’s findings indicate that Omicron may cause milder disease, reports from Denmark show the opposite, he wrote. There are many variables that can affect the findings, including any previous infection, potentially waning immunity and the age range of people infected so far.

Is Omicron milder, or more severe than Delta? Time will tell. The world’s finest scientists, including many in the global south such as in South Africa, will find out. The South African analysis supports an earlier assessment by UK authorities.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Friday that new data from the UK confirm that Omicron is more easily transmissible than other variants.

The highly contagious variant is thought to have become the dominant strain in hotspot London today and will "inevitably" soon overtake Delta elsewhere in the country, said the British prime minister’s official spokesperson.

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Emirates

Dubai Mercantile Exchange gained oil producer confidence, consolidated its position as region’s most reliable source of oil pricing: Maktoum bin Mohammed

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DUBAI, 25th January, 2022 (WAM) — H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, affirmed that the Dubai government provided all support needed for the growth of the financial markets operating in the Emirate through developing legislatives framework and infrastructure to allow exchanges to consolidate their presence regionally and globally.

Sheikh Maktoum added that Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME) was able to gain the confidence of major oil producers and consolidate its position as the most reliable source of oil pricing in the region.

During the meeting, Sheikh Maktoum praised the achievements of DME during the last stage, marking that the successful exchange strategy contributed in the growth of trading volume and enhanced its ability to benefit from the steady growth of crude oil trading in the Middle East and Asia regions.

H.H. Sheikh Maktoum reviewed with the DME board of directors the latest regional and global developments in the sector, especially during the rapid changes experienced by the energy market, and the great growth opportunities that it holds.

Also, Sheikh Maktoum reviewed the qualitative achievements of DME during the last period, as the number of companies using the exchange platform for physical delivery reached 60 companies, and the number of barrels of oil delivered through the DME mechanism reached 2.5 billion barrels. An equivalent of 17 billion barrels was traded, while the number of barrels of oil that are priced according to the Oman Crude Oil Futures Contract on a daily basis is 5.2 million barrels.

DME lists the Oman Crude Oil Futures Contract (DME Oman) as its flagship contract, providing the most fair and transparent crude oil benchmark for the region. DME Oman is the explicit and sole benchmark for about 170 million barrels of crude oil per month since 2018, after it was limited to pricing about 30 million barrels per month.

The meeting was attended by Ahmad Sharaf, Chairman and Dubai Holding independent rep.; Nasser Al Jashmi, Secretary-General of Oman's Ministry of Finance; Abdullah Al Harthy, Under-Secretary of Oman's Ministry of Finance, Derek Sammann, Senior Managing Director and Global Head of Commodities, Options and International Markets, CME Group, and Raid Al Salami, DME Managing Director.

DME Oman is pricing more than 170 million barrels of crude oil per month since 2018 compared to around 30 million barrel per month prior to Saudi, Kuwait and Bahrain switch. The contract is regarded as the most reliable crude oil futures price benchmark, due to the quality of Oman Blend, which represents the majority of the GCC crude oil grades.

DME is the first operator of international energy futures and commodities exchange in the Middle East. The company focuses on bringing fair and transparent price discovery and efficient risk management regulated by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and is a recognised body by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) thus, addresses the growing market need for price discovery of sour crude oil.

DME is a joint venture between Dubai Holding, Oman Investment Authority and CME Group. In addition to its core shareholders, global financial institutions and energy trading firms such as Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Shell, and Vitol have taken equity stakes in DME, providing the exchange with a resounding vote of confidence by major players in global energy markets.

DME is located within the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a financial free zone designed to promote financial services within the UAE. DME is regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority and all trades executed on DME are cleared through and guaranteed by CME Clearing. CME is regulated by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and is a Recognised Body by the DFSA.

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Mansour bin Zayed chairs Mubadala Investment Company board meeting

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ABU DHABI, 25th January, 2022 (WAM) — H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mubadala Investment Company, chaired the meeting of the Executive Committee of the company’s board, at Qasr Al Watan in Abu Dhabi.

The committee approved the company's work plan and the annual budget for 2022.

The committee also reviewed the work of the board’s sub-committees during the past year and discussed several topics on the agenda and took appropriate decisions in this regard.

The meeting was attended by Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure; Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs; Abdulhamid M. Saeed; and Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority (EAA) and Managing Director of the company.

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Emirates

Khalifa bin Zayed issues new family business ownership governance law

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ABU DHABI, 25th January, 2022 (WAM) — In his capacity as Ruler of Abu Dhabi, President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has issued a new family business ownership governance law that further strengthens the sector’s contribution to the economy and facilitates the transition to successive generations.

The new law aims to further enhance the family-owned business legislative ecosystem by adopting a more flexible and sustainable economic model, in line with best international governance practices. The law also aims to boost family businesses’ contribution to the diversification and growth of the economy.

The new family business ownership governance law empowers owners of family business to: prevent selling of shares or dividends to individuals or companies outside the family, and to require prior approval from family partners before a shareholder sells their respective equity stake to a non-family member.

Owners of family businesses can also issue family-owned shares with weighted voting rights and prevent the pledging of family-owned businesses as encumbered assets, to avoid expropriation.

The current law is not applicable to family-owned businesses where non-family members own more than 40 per cent of shares.

The provisions of this law are applied to family-owned businesses on an opt-in basis for owners or co-founders by submitting a request to the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED), which will issue the executive and administrative regulations of the new law from March 2022.

Commenting on the new law, Mohamed Ali Al Shorafa, Chairman of ADDED, said, "This law is a major pillar in enhancing the vital role played by these businesses in driving economic development. It also provides a legislative framework to ensure the growth and sustainability of family-owned companies in line with the evolving business sector, since it allows ownership by non-family members up to 40 per cent of the capital. This will support the expansion and development of family-owned businesses."

He added, "Family-owned businesses in Abu Dhabi continue to contribute to economic diversification and the knowledge-based economy, equipped with decades-long experience in the market, strong resilience, and experience in partnering with government entities, as well as investing in sectors targeted by strategic initiatives launched by the emirate of Abu Dhabi."

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