The World Health Organization reported that a new potentially dangerous coronavirus variant—Omicron— started to spread in southern Africa and some other countries. Also known as B.1.1.529, the new variant caused countries, including the U.S., to restrict travel from people in parts of Africa.
South Africa saw the number of new daily cases rise from about 200 cases to 2,465 last Thursday. Prof Túlio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, said in a Twitter post that there was an “unusual constellation of mutations” and that it was “very different” to other variants.
News reports say that the variant contains more mutations to the spike protein— the component of the coronavirus that binds to cells—compared to the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant. This new Omicron variant features about 50 mutations, while the delta strain has just two mutations to the receptor binding domain.
The BBC said, “the concern is this virus is now radically different to the original that emerged in Wuhan, China. The concern is that vaccines previously made to tackle the original outbreak, may not be as effective. However, “Some of the mutations have been seen before in other variants, which gives some insight into their likely role in this variant.”
The new variant has been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. It’s still early on, but due to the uncertainty of it’s dangerous impact, restrictions are being put in place, including travel restrictions.
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President Biden previously mandated in late September that employers with 100 or more workers must make sure employees are fully vaccinated. Those without vaccinations will have to undergo weekly testing. Lawsuits were filed over this mandate, and the courts put a hold on it. The regulatory agency responsible for enforcing the policy, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, agreed not to enforce it until a legal decision was rendered.
With this potentially new dangerous variant, it may open the door to revisiting Biden’s mandate and enacting tougher rules and regulations. New York State Governor, Kathy Hochul, declared a state of emergency over the Omicron variant. She said in a statement, “While the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,” and “We’ve taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic.”
Professional money managers and people involved with the stock market are getting concerned. The market has been hitting record new highs on a regulator basis. Based on the news of the possible health threat, there was massive selling and the market took a hit on Friday.
Companies offering work-from-home products and services saw their prices rise with the anticipation that people won’t be returning to their physical offices anytime soon. According to Barrons, the investment newspaper, shares of Quide, which sells a rapid Covid-19 test, jumped 10%. Zoom Video Communications was up nearly 6%, and Peloton Interactive rose 5.7% on Friday.
The uncertainty may cause companies to think twice about their return-to-the-office plans. If this strain spreads, like it’s doing in other countries, workers would likely protest over being required to commute back to an office. They’d worry about catching the new variant, in addition to concerns over Covid-19 and the Delta variant. Businesses will be concerned over legal liabilities if they force their staff to commute via bus, train and mass transit into the city, possibly endangering them.
Whether this strain rapidly spreads or not, a lot is about the perception. We’ve become unfortunately accustomed to the annoying changes in requirements. The possibility of this happening again may push companies to reconsider their hybrid and back to the office plans.
New York City was the epicenter of covid during the early dark days of the outbreak with a heartbreaking amount of cases and casualties. It doesn’t seem likely that workers will come back to the City if there is a renewed health threat.
Workers have been resistant to returning to the office. Surveys showed that people would rather quit than go back to an office. They’ve previously pointed to childcare issues, public schools which closed down, mental health issues, the danger of commuting into a hotspot, walking crowded streets and being in close proximity to other people.
It’s been proven that employees were highly productive working from home. Studies show that remote workers put in longer hours well into the night and weekends. The amazing rise in the stock prices is a great indicator of how well companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook fared during the outbreak when their workers were at home.
Now with the potential for a new wave, it would almost be malpractice to make people go back to the office. Even if they pushed for it, employees would likely revolt and stay home.
Hopefully, the new wave is overblown. While there’s a new strain, even if it’s not so terrible, we will see renewed calls for the unvaccinated to get their jabs and take booster shots to be safe. Without complete clarity, it’s only reasonable to conclude that compassionate leaders would have no other choice than keeping their people safe at home until there is more certainty over how this will play out.