European stocks rise on signs of hope about omicron

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LONDON — European stocks are set to open slightly higher Thursday as traders looked to signs that the omicron Covid-19 variant is not as severe as previously feared.

Britain’s FTSE 100 is seen climbing 27 points to 7,347, Germany’s DAX rising 51 points to 15,617 and the French CAC up 30 points at 7,068, according to data from IG.

Investors reacted to a study out of South Africa — where the omicron strain was first discovered — suggesting a reduced risk of hospitalization and severe disease compared to delta.

The study, which is not yet peer reviewed, found people diagnosed with omicron in South Africa from Oct. 1 to Nov. 3 were 80% less likely to be hospitalized than if they caught another variant in the same period.

Experts say it is still too early to know for sure the severity of omicron, but the study offers hope that both the human and economic cost of the strain will not be as severe as initially feared. Omicron’s rapid spread has led governments around the world to reimplement some Covid restrictions in a bid to contain it.

More good news arrived Wednesday as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized an antiviral Covid pill from Pfizer for people aged 12 and above at risk of severe illness.

These glimmers of hope have boosted global share markets. In Asia, stocks rose Thursday and stateside, stock futures were trading slightly higher.

Investors also digested data showing that U.S. consumer confidence ticked up in December, despite fears over omicron.

Back in Europe, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday suggested he would be willing to become the country’s president, saying his government had laid the foundations for key work to continue.

In corporate news, Ryanair on Wednesday said it was more than doubling its forecast for full-year losses, citing the emergence of travel restrictions in several big markets due to the coronavirus.

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