Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks sink over new COVID variant

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed sharply lower on Wall Street Friday after a coronavirus variant from South Africa appeared to be spreading across the globe and the European Union moved to suspend air travel from southern Africa. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 905 points. The S&P 500 index fell 2.3%, its worst day since February and the Nasdaq composite had its worst drop in two months. Travel and energy stocks are among the biggest losers, with Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruises all off over 10%. The New York Stock Exchange closed early, at 1 p.m. Eastern.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-VARIANT-TRAVEL BAN

EU orders travel ban on South Africa to halt variant spread

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union nations have agreed to impose a ban on travel from southern Africa to counter the spread of a new COVID-19 variant. The 27 nations on Friday acted within hours upon the advice of the EU executive. The EU presidency, currently held by Slovenia, called on all member states “to test and quarantine all incoming passengers.” It said all needed to be extra cautious in dealing with the variant until it became clear how serious a threat it would be. Britain has also banned flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries and announced that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

A World Health Organization panel on Friday classified the variant as a highly transmissible virus of concern, and named it “omicron.”

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MERCK PILL

FDA: Merck COVID pill effective, experts will review safety

UNDATED (AP) — U.S. health officials say Merck’s experimental COVID-19 pill is effective but they raised questions about its safety during pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration posted its review Friday ahead of a public meeting next week where outside experts will debate the drug’s benefits and risks. If FDA authorizes the drug it would be the first pill for U.S. patients infected with the virus. All FDA-authorized drugs currently used against coronavirus require an IV or injection. The FDA will ask its experts whether the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks for various patient groups, including pregnant women.

VACCINE EXPORTS

EU eases its controls on COVID-19 vaccine exports

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union says it will ease its restrictions on exporting COVID-19 vaccines. The Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said Friday that as of January it will no longer require vaccine producers to request special authorization to export outside the 27-nation bloc. Earlier this year when vaccines were still in short supply, the EU introduced a mechanism to keep some of the coronavirus doses it secured from AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish drug company, from being diverted elsewhere. The supply of vaccines is no longer the issue that it was then. The bloc has now vaccinated over 65% of its total population of some 450 million inhabitants.

BLACK FRIDAY-SHOPPING

Black Friday is back but it’s not what it used to be

NEW YORK (AP) — On this year’s Black Friday, things almost seem normal. Malls and stores are reporting decent-sized crowds, if not the floods of people that used to fight over the latest toys and electronics. Online shopping is much too common for that now, and big discounts are spread out over the weeks leading up to Christmas, on both websites and in stores. But out-of-stock items due to supply crunches, higher prices for gas and food, and labor shortages that make it more difficult to respond to customers are also causing frustrations for shoppers.

BRITAIN-AMAZON PROTEST

Activists block Amazon warehouses in Europe on Black Friday

UNDATED (AP) — Climate activists have blockaded Amazon warehouses in three European countries. It’s part of a global effort to pressure the ecommerce giant on one of its busiest days of the year to improve working conditions and end business practices that hurt the environment. Members of Extinction Rebellion targeted 15 Amazon fulfilment centers in the U.K, Germany and the Netherlands. Their aim is to disrupt 50% of the company’s deliveries on Black Friday, which marks the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season. Activists blocked the entrance to Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury, east of London, with an effigy of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sitting on top of a rocket.

FRANCE-BRITAIN-FISHING

French fishermen block ports, Eurotunnel in spat with UK

CALAIS, France (AP) — French fishing crews briefly blocked French ports, ferry traffic across the English Channel and the freight entrance to the Eurotunnel on Friday to disrupt the flow of goods to the U.K., in a protest over post-Brexit fishing licenses. It’s the latest tension point between the neighboring countries, which are also trading blame for not doing enough to prevent the deaths of at least 27 migrants whose boat sank Wednesday off Calais. French fishermen are angry at the British government for not granting more licenses to fish in U.K. waters — and angry at their own government for not doing more to defend them. The fishing industry is economically tiny but symbolically important for both Britain and France.

BIDEN-OIL LEASING

Biden sets out oil, gas leasing reform, stops short of ban

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has recommended an overhaul of the nation’s oil and gas leasing program to focus on areas that are most suitable for energy development and raise costs for energy companies to drill on public lands and water. The long-awaited report by the Interior Department on Friday stops short of recommending an end to oil and gas leasing on public lands, as many environmental groups have urged. But officials say the report will move toward a more responsible leasing process that provides a better to return to U.S. taxpayers for oil and gas drilling on the nation’s vast public lands and waters.

FEDEX-PACKAGES IN WOODS

Hundreds of FedEx packages are found in Alabama woods

HAYDEN, Ala. (AP) — Authorities are trying to figure out how hundreds of FedEx packages ended up dumped in the woods in Alabama. The Blount County Sheriff’s Office says 300 to 400 packages of various sizes were found in a ravine near the small town of Hayden on Wednesday. Sheriff Mark Moon said deputies were sent to guard the scene until FedEx workers could arrive to pick up the packages. FedEx said in a statement that it’s cooperating with law enforcement and is working to transport the packages as quickly as possible. The sheriff said it wasn’t clear why the packages were in the ravine, but he hoped to have some answers soon.

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