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The Rise of Omicron

The Rise of Omicron

The Rise of Omicron may sound more like a Marvel Universe film than the latest iteration of COVID-19, and it may or may not prove a hugely significant development. It has underlined both the naivety of those thinking, or perhaps more accurately hoping, that the worst is behind us and the fragility of the global economic recovery.
These threads intertwine into a fiendishly complex equation, but the crucial input into that algorithm is the lack of data about Omicron. In recent days, respected scientists have suggested the variant is very much of concern because of the unusually high number of mutations it displays and an apparent step change in transmissibility from Delta. But we have also had equally respected researchers suggesting the level of infection might be less severe than, for example, Delta, the currently dominant strain of the coronavirus. One of those outcomes sounds worse than the other, but they are not mutually exclusive. The critical factor limiting our knowledge is precisely that; limited knowledge. We need more data, which implies more people infected, to understand Omicron better.

Not that lack of knowledge stopped investors from passing judgment. On Friday, Nov. 26, in the wake of the news of the discovery of Omicron breaking, the Budapest Stock Exchange’s main BUX index fell 2.6%. On Monday, Nov. 29, having had a weekend to mull it over and buoyed by the hope that things might not be as catastrophic as at first thought, a partial recovery saw the BUX back up by 2.1%. The day after that saw shares drop again right at the end of trading, this time by 0.2%. The Budapest bourse is by no means alone in these bipolar mood swings.

What would calm the markets would be news that the current vaccines, developed at such remarkable speed starting from all but scratch back in early 2020, are at least reasonably effective against Omicron. The problem is that it will take a little while before we can know that; buckle up and jump aboard the stock exchange roller coaster.

In the meantime, Hungary’s retailers, hoteliers and resterauters will all be hoping that the mask-wearing reintroduced by the government for indoor settings is the limit of the restrictions redeployed in the run-up to Christmas. For now, the Advent Market is still open, albeit behind a cordon, which you need a COVID immunity card to get past. That is more than can be said for the market in Vienna, which was closed when the lockdown on the unvaccinated in Austria was extended to all citizens.

All of this makes for a rather downbeat editorial this issue, for which I can only apologize. By the time you read this, we will be just three weeks from Christmas. Keep well, and keep your fingers crossed.
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