In an opinion piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week, authors described the stock market panic resulting from the “newest variant of concern” as “driven more by the fear of new government lockdowns and social distancing than by the variant itself.”
As the U.S. joined other countries in restricting travel to South Africa in response to the rapid spread of the Covid variant, the Dow reportedly dropped 2.5% on Friday, and U.S. crude oil prices sank 13%. The WSJ editorial team aptly notes that “the frantic response by governments and markets may be overwrought given how little we still know about Omicron and how much we’ve learned during the pandemic.”
Here is the little we know so far, based on reported cases in South Africa and beyond:
The first virus sample originated from Botswana in November and has since seen rapid spread throughout South Africa. The effectiveness of vaccines against transmission and severity of illness remains unknown due to the variant’s novelty. A statement issued by the World Health Organization suggests that the new variant may involve increased reinfection in comparison with other variants, based in part on its large number of mutations.
Unsurprisingly, a healthy dose of political correctness shrouds the naming of Omicron, as the World Health Organization skipped over the letters “Nu” and “Xi” in the Greek alphabet to avoid confusion with “new” and in acknowledgment of the common Chinese name of “Xi” (take Chinese President Xi Jinping, for example). This decision is in keeping with the agency’s best practices to “minimize the unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
Regarding observed symptoms, Reuters reports on symptoms recorded by one of the first South African doctors to note the new variant. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of the South African Medical Association, described symptoms in her patients as “very very mild,” and the “most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days,” along with “headache and body aches.” No patients, at the time of the interview, had been admitted to the hospital, and all had symptoms that could be managed at home.
Much remains unknown about the Omicron variant. America’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci used the emergence of the new strain as another reason to push for vaccination and boosters. Fauci also stated that it’s “really too early to say” if another round of lockdowns is imminent.