Omicron Variant Threatens Global Pandemic Recovery Timeline

Key Takeaways

• The proliferation of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 will compound pre-existing epidemiological trends entering Q1 2022, including severe infection waves in Europe and North America.

• Corporate decisionmakers should ensure contingency plans for operational resiliency in these regions remain in place as we anticipate moderate restrictions across countries with high vaccination levels continuing into Q1 2022. International travel will remain a convoluted process due to the patchwork of passport apps, testing and quarantine requirements across the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

• National and local authorities in Europe and North America will issue enhanced restrictions and expanded vaccination mandates to protect healthcare services. These restrictions will trigger demonstrations and protests as already witnessed in major European cities.

• In countries where vaccination levels remain low - particularly across Africa and parts of Asia - the pandemic will continue to constrain economies and constrict social mobility, heightening the likelihood
of protests, rioting and communal violence.

• Continuing challenges around the equitable distribution of vaccines will heighten the risk of new variants proliferating among unvaccinated populations over the next six months. The uneven distribution of vaccines will also jeopardise long-term economic recovery rates and intensify a global K-shaped recovery through 2022.

1

On 26 November, the World Health  Organization (WHO) classified the 'Omicron' variant of SARS-CoV-2 as a variant of concern. Initially detected in South Africa on 9 November, the WHO has underscored the highly divergent nature of Omicron, including 26-32 mutations found on the spike protein. Early data from South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases confirmed the potential for greater infection spread driven by the variant. November infection data identified Omicron genomic patterns in 73% of sequences in November 2021, highlighting a shift in the primary variant circulating in South Africa. However, it is too early to draw firm conclusions with research into the variant's transmissibility advantage ongoing. There are also concerns that Omicron could potentially escape vaccine protection although new data from Pfizer released this week indicates that a third booster of its vaccine will neutralise the variant. This is welcome news for high-income and upper-middle-income countries with high vaccination rates, but the accelerated roll out of boosters will frustrate vaccine distribution in poorer countries with low vaccination levels, prolong their economic recovery and heighten the risk of new variants like Omicron emerging.

2

The emergence of Omicron will exacerbate epidemiological trends entering Q1 2022 Data projections provided by the WHO suggest the Omicron variant has a high likelihood of global proliferation entering 2022, amplifying pre-existing epidemiological patterns. At the time of writing, health officials in at least 42 countries confirmed cases of the Omicron variant among returning travellers from Southern Africa, prompting over 40 national governments to tighten international entry requirements for highrisk jurisdictions. Europe's virus situation is of particular concern as Omicron threatens to compound the continent's sustained Covid-19 infection wave that has accounted for over 50% of new global cases through early December. Mathematical modelling from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) suggests Omicron will account for over half of infections in the European Economic Area (EEA) within the next 90 days. To mitigate pressure on already strained hospital systems, European Union (EU) member states are increasingly resorting to the adoption of Covid-19 health pass systems to regulate non-essential public activities, as demonstrated by stringent health certificate requirements issued in Italy this week, and the UK government's decision to impose its 'Plan B' anti-virus strategy.

3

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called for discussions around an EU vaccine mandate for certain demographics, citing the EU's lagging immunisation uptake entering the winter holiday period. Incoming German chancellor, Olaf Schulz, echoed similar sentiments after signalling his intent to issue more stringent anti-virus ordinance, building on existing lockdown orders targeting unvaccinated residents. Similarly, policymakers in Vienna will make vaccines compulsory for all Austrian residents from 1 February 2022, while Greece has mandated vaccines for individuals over the age of 60. Vaccination mandates have proven highly effective in blunting previous epidemics, but the implementation of segregated regulatory frameworks based on immunisation status by European states is likely to incentivise further anti-restriction sentiment. The uptick in mass demonstrations and protests since mid-November is indicative of this trend, with violent clashes between residents and police forces occurring across urban
centres in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Romania....

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Special reports form part of Sibylline’s World Risk Register, a ground-breaking analytical service designed to help organisations of all sizes navigate an uncertain world.

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