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Dow Closes Over 460 Down on First Confirmed U.S. Omicron Case

Stocks end sharply lower after health officials report the first U.S. case of the omicron variant.
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Stocks finished sharply lower Wednesday after government health officials confirmed the first case of the omicron Covid variant in the U.S.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 461 points, or 1.34%, to 34,022, after rising 500 points earlier in the session, while the S&P 500 slipped 1.18% and the Nasdaq lost 1.83%.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health authorities in California confirmed the first case of the omicron variant.

"The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive," the CDC said in a statement. "All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative."

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said the individual, who was fully vaccinated, had just returned from traveling in South Africa to the San Francisco area on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29, CNBC reported.

"Stocks gave up most of their gains after the US confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst with Oanda. "We've seen this movie before and Wall Street will likely remain COVID variant headline driven until a clear assessment over this wave can be made."

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Around 60 countries have imposed new or tighter travel and border restrictions since omicron was identified last week, according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO classified the omicron as a "variant of concern" on Nov. 26 and the U.S. followed suit a few days later on Nov. 30.

"The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and general prevention strategies needed to protect against COVID-19," the CDC said. "Everyone 5 and older should get vaccinated. Boosters are recommended for everyone 18 years and older."

Hotel stocks, such as Wynn  (WYNN) - Get Wynn Resorts, Limited Report, and airline stocks, such as Delta  (DAL) - Get Delta Air Lines, Inc. Report and United  (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Report, fell upon the CDC's announcement.

In company news, Merck & Co.  (MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. Report was up most of the session before finishing slightly off after an advisory panel to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommended the emergency authorization of its Covid antiviral treatment.

Zscaler  (ZS) - Get Zscaler, Inc. Report reversed course and finished down 8.3% even after the cybersecurity company reported earnings, revenue and billings for its fiscal first quarter that topped Wall Street targets.

Salesforce  (CRM) - Get salesforce.com, inc. Report slumped, ending down 11.3%, after the company forecast softer current quarter profits amid intensifying competition in the cloud and business software market and unveiled big changes to its top management team