It is different

The Omicron variant has 30 changes to it including a small insertion in the spike protein and three small deletions. Around 50% of these changes are in the receptor-binding domain – this is the part of the spike protein used to bind to human ACE-2, which is the enzyme the coronavirus targets to enter cells and infect a person. If there are mutations here this makes the spike protein less recognisable to the antibodies made in response to either vaccination or natural antibodies. The bottom line is that the Omicron is different.

It is a worry

The concern is that these changes above mean that the virus transmits more quickly. Early PCR tests showed that 90% of 1,100 new cases reported November 24 in a SA province were caused by the new variant. SA President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the average daily cases rose from 500 cases in the previous week to 1,600.

It is also uncertain how bad it is

Being more transmissible is not necessarily a bad thing if the virus has milder effects. It could actually be a good thing as Eamonn pointed out that catching a less severe variant results in lesser illness and then confers ‘immunity’. Anecdotal comments suggest that the variant is not an obvious concern.

Novavax, Moderna, & Johnson & Johnson are all onto testing the new variant against its vaccines. Even the variant is able to evade the current vaccine Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer said a new vaccine variant could be ready early next year.

The one thing that strikes is that this variant news broke over the US Thanksgiving holiday, a natural downtime for economic data and news activity. There are so many unknowns here there is a strong case for both caution and dip-buying. At any rate, note that vaccine companies like Moderna are confident in being able to put in a fresh response even if the variant does evade existing vaccines. This would make dip-buying in NZDJPY attractive around current levels. However, note that the Moderna CEO now thinks that the current vaccine will be much less effective against the variant, so that is a near term downside in risk.