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Scientists push back against idea that Omicron is more dangerous than other COVID variants

December 2, 2021, 11:29 AM UTC

When news of the Omicron variant emerged, countries were quick to shut borders, and global financial markets were rattled. Now as the panic subsides, some scientists are saying the new variant doesn’t look so bad.

Vaccines seem to be effective against the new variant, GlaxoSmithKline and the World Health Organization found, and scientists around the world reiterated that there is no evidence the Omicron variant is more deadly than previous strains.

“Currently, there is no reason for panicking, as we don’t see severely ill patients,” Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told the Telegraph.

Drugs and vaccines

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline reported Thursday that in early testing, COVID-19 antibody treatments were effective against new mutations found in the variant, and that GSK was now conducting in vitro testing to confirm this further.

Meanwhile the WHO, which labeled Omicron a “mutation variant of serious concern” last Friday, has now said that vaccines are likely to protect against severe cases. “We still need to find out if there’s any loss of protection, but we think vaccines will still protect against severe disease as they have against the other variants,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, also said in a recorded message that there wasn’t any indication that the Omicron variant was more deadly than other strains: “Of the over 300 cases that have now been diagnosed in many countries, they have all been very mild or in fact had no symptoms at all.”

These optimistic claims build upon other recent statements from drugmakers and scientists who have expressed confidence that antiviral drugs will prove effective in combating the variant.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC this week that he has a “very high level of confidence” that Pfizer’s antiviral pill “will not be affected by this [Omicron] virus,” while Merck noted that its molnupiravir antiviral pill should perform similarly against Omicron as against other existing variants.

Buy the dip

In the face of positive news coming from the medical and scientific community, the Omicron-caused market downturn offers an opportunity for investors to “buy the dip,” JPMorgan Chase advised, with a possible V-shaped recovery enabling investors to position themselves for the reopening and commodity trades.  

“We view the recent selloff in these segments as an opportunity to buy the dip in cyclicals, commodities and reopening themes, and to position for higher bond yields and steepening,” bank strategists said in a note.

The JPMorgan strategists expressed optimism that Omicron would follow the historical pattern of viruses where less severe and more transmissible viruses crowd out severe variants, eventually making the disease more akin to a seasonal flu than a deadly pandemic.

“If that scenario were to happen, instead of skipping two letters and naming it Omicron, the WHO could have skipped all the way to Omega [the last letter of the Greek alphabet],” the strategists said.

Since it was first detected in South Africa, the Omicron variant has been found in 24 countries, leading many nations in the Global North to impose travel bans or other curbs to delay the variant from entering their borders. On Friday, the day the WHO named Omicron and classified it as a “variant of concern,” bourses around the globe fell—and have yet to fully recover.

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