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The announcement of a COVID-19 variant called B.1.1529 this week by scientists in South Africa, where it was first detected, has sent governments and financial markets around the world reeling. The World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency meeting on Friday, where it designated the new strain, which it called omicron, a “variant of concern,” or VOC, a label applied when a particular strain is especially virulent, transmissible or able to defeat public health measures.

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