Nov 29 (Reuters) - Pandemic-weary corporations struggled to
assess the impact of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus
on Monday, with industries from Hollywood movie studios to
airlines and autos awaiting more details to help determine how
it might affect their operations and profits.
The World Health Organization warned on Monday the Omicron
variant carries a very high global risk of infection surges.
Spooked investors wiped roughly $2 trillion off global stocks on
Friday, but markets regained some ground on Monday.
Countries have swiftly imposed bans on travel from southern
Africa, where the variant was first uncovered. Japan and Israel
went even further, announcing bans on all foreign visitors.
Some airlines said they were not heavily changing schedules,
but industry sources said big carriers moved swiftly to protect
their hubs by curbing passenger travel from southern Africa.
Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary saw no reason to
cancel flights although he was worried about some countries
potentially shutting air travel. Lufthansa, Germany's
flagship airline, said its flights were still well booked.
U.S. President Joe Biden met with chief executives of major
retailers and other companies on Monday to discuss how to move
goods to shelves as the U.S. holiday shopping season begins in
the shadow of Omicron.
Before the meeting, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon cited
improvement in the supply chain, noting the retailer had seen a
26% increase in shipping containers going through U.S. ports
over the past four weeks.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Monday it was
too soon to tell if Omicron will have any impact on global
The prospect of a fast-spreading variant has raised fears of
a return of the sort of restrictions that shut down a swathe of
industries in 2020.
In Hollywood, where production on film and television shows
returned to pre-pandemic levels this summer thanks to stringent
health and safety precautions, the studios were waiting to learn
more about this latest mutation of the coronavirus.
"With COVID, it keeps shape shifting. It's like mercury --
we can't get our hands around it," said Dr. Neal Baer, a
physician who was a longtime producer of "Law & Order: Special
"It's going to take a couple of weeks for us to know, one,
how well vaccinations protect us, two, whether you need a
booster and whether a booster helps or three, whether the
vaccine needs to be modified to make it effective against this
Movie theater attendance has been returning in fits and
starts since the summer, but a spokesman for the National
Association of Theatre Owners said variants remain a concern --
especially after the pullback in attendance that accompanied the
In the United States, auto plants were closed for two months
last year. Even after automakers restarted operations, they have
curtailed production schedules due to semiconductor chip
shortages and other supply-chain constraints. Automakers said it
was too soon to predict the impact of Omicron.
"This is new," Nissan Motor Co's U.S. spokeswoman
Lloryn love-Carter said. "We're monitoring of course, but we
still have a lot of pretty strict COVID protocols in place."
General Motors Co, the largest U.S. automaker, said
it was watching closely and its COVID-19 safety protocols remain
in place at its plants.
"We continue to strongly encourage our employees to get
vaccinated given the broad availability of safe and highly
efficacious vaccines," GM spokeswoman Maria Raynal said in an
email. "We will continue to review and adjust our protocols as
new information regarding this variant becomes available."
Toyota Motor Corp said its U.S. management team
will meet on Tuesday to discuss the Omicron variant.
"Right now we're in the 'gathering info' mode," Toyota's
U.S. spokesman Scott Vazin said. "Since most of our employees
are based in plants, we've never stopped COVID protocols such as
social distancing, health screenings, masking up."
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, additional reporting by
Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles, Tim Hepher in Paris and Alex
Alper in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff, Bill Berkrot and