Investors panicked following the variants detection in Botswana and South Africa, fearing that the new, heavily mutated “variant of concern” may send the pandemic in an unpredictable direction.
Although it has been almost a year since vaccines have been made available to adults in American, Omicron’s large amount of mutations may make the variant capable of resisting immunity, and those sending the nation– and the world’s– vaccination efforts into a tailspin.
Other financial markets were similarly impacted by the destabilizing news, with the S&P 500 index falling 106.84 points, closing at 4,594.62. This was the S&P’s worst closing since February.
The markets were affected by investors with positions in travel companies and energy, with the price of oil dropping 13%, causing Exxon shares to drop 3.5% and Chevron 2.3%, respectively.
London’s FTSE 100 index closed 3.6% down on Friday, losing 72.1 billion pounds of value. The FTSE 250 fell 3.2%, losing 13.5 billion pounds, marking a total 85 billion pounds lost from the two British markets.
The FTSEs’ sink was caused by airline companies and cruise lines, like British Airway’s and Carnival.
Experts are monitoring Omicron as it spreads
Dr. Meera Chand, the Covid-19 incident director at the UK Health Security Agency, said that agencies across the world were working together to track the variant and all Covid-19 variants from the moment of their discovery:
“As it is in the nature of viruses to mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed,” Chand said.
Some scientists believe that the variant’s many mutations could have arisen from being in the body of a severely immunocompromised individual. Professor Francois Balloux of the UCL Genetics Institute said that these mutations were likely created in a “single burst” inside a patient, possibly someone with a serious undiagnosed auto-immune disease:
“[Omicron] is a new lineage that has been found in Botswana that carries an unusual constellation of mutations. Given the large number of mutations it has accumulated apparently in a single burst, it likely evolved during chronic infection of an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.”
“I would definitely expect it to be poorly recognized by neutralizing antibodies relative to Alpha or Delta,” Balloux said. “It is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage. For the time being, it should be closely monitored and analyzed, but there is no reason to get overly concerned unless it starts going up in frequency in the near future.”