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European stocks trade higher on signs of hope about omicron

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LONDON — European stocks traded slightly higher Thursday morning as traders looked to signs that the omicron coronavirus variant is not as severe as previously feared.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index opened up 0.2%, with travel and leisure shares climbing 1.7% to lead the gains amid optimism over Covid.

Airline stocks were among the top performers, with British Airways parent company IAG and Hungarian budget carrier Wizz Air both up about 3%.

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The study, which is not yet peer reviewed, found people diagnosed with omicron in South Africa from Oct. 1 to Nov. 3 were 80% less likely to be hospitalized than if they caught another variant in the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

Looking at individual stocks, Germany’s United Internet sunk toward the bottom of the Stoxx 600 Thursday, down 1.6% after news that CEO Ralph Dommermuth has increased his equity ownership of the firm to 50.1% but won’t make a voluntary acquisition offer to shareholders.

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