A new COVID-19 variant and crypto’s ups and downs this year

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… A new variant of COVID-19 has been discovered, sending the global community diving into the research and enacting travel bans. Also, Americans continue to travel for the holidays at nearly pre-pandemic rates, indicating less concern about potential variants. Real estate has gone virtual, creating new opportunities for cryptocurrency to extend its reach. Read about the hottest headlines and trends in another edition of The Weekender. Thanks for joining us. 

THE BIG FIVE

No matter how you pronounce it, Omicron is here

It wouldn’t feel like 2021 without daily COVID-19 updates, and the next one is big. On November 24, South African researchers discovered a new variant of COVID-19, known as Omicron. Six days after the new variant was announced, Dutch health officials said that Omicron reached The Netherlands before the South African discovery. In short, this news means that the variant was spreading in Europe sooner than initially thought. Much like with the Delta variant, the World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about Omicron’s quick progress and potential. Researchers are still digging into how transmissible it is compared to other variants we have seen, while manufacturers are trying to find out how their vaccines will bode against the new variant. Pfizer is even seeking approval to provide boosters for 16 and 17-year-olds. With more than 70 percent of American adults having received at least one dose of the vaccine, the White House administration has said that they will continue to push booster shots amid the holidays. Also this week—the United States saw its first-known omicron case in California, with a second case popping up in Minnesota. As of Friday morning, at least five states were reporting confirmed infections. Scientists are still unsure how this variant compares to others, despite the quick action from the global community. This news, however, comes as another point of concern for overwhelmed healthcare workers who expect to see even more labor shortages due to vaccine mandates. While the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel may seem far off, we are continually learning more about COVID-19 and, in turn, creating new and innovative ways to find senses of normalcy. Read more in The Skimm

Here’s what to expect this holiday season

After 2020’s quieter holiday celebrations, 2021 is generating large expectations. As discussed in our last edition of The Weekender, Americans celebrate holidays nearly at pre-pandemic levels. This news should be grounds for celebrating the retail and travel industries, right? Maybe. According to data from Adobe Analytics, consumers participated less in Cyber Monday than they previously have. Adobe noted that Cyber Monday 2021 was the first time the organization had ever seen a slowdown in spending during a major shopping holiday. The data revealed that consumers spent $10.7 billion, which is a 1.4 percent decrease from just a year ago. However, this doesn’t mean that consumers are shopping less entirely. Adobe believes the slowdown is caused by consumers spreading out their spending over more days. Early holiday shoppers in October and surveys about consumer spending are offering a positive light for retailers. Despite the rise in gas prices and other uncertainties, travelers are confident about their plans for the holidays, with 42 percent of Americans planning to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January. While being home for the holidays was the popular choice in 2020, it seems that more people are itching to take a vacation. Read more in CNBC.  

Cryptocurrency’s controversial year

To use crypto or to not use crypto— that is the question for what seems to be the entire world. It’s not uncommon to see cryptocurrency stocks hit both high and low values within the same month. Needless to say, crypto has the spotlight, and it has been quite the year for the unregulated yet growing currency. In June, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that he had invested in Bitcoin, the world’s leading cryptocurrency. What should have been a high for the company has instead brought on turbulence as investors have connected Musk’s companies- Tesla, Bitcoin, and Space X– as a three-in-one. However, Musk is not the only thought leader in crypto—government officials have become increasingly supportive of cryptocurrency. Last month, New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams announced he would like to see his first three paychecks in Bitcoin. This announcement followed Miami Mayor Francis Suarez revealing he would like his first paycheck in Bitcoin. While crypto has seen growth in popularity, its loudest critics aren’t slowing down. Recently, both China and India have announced that the nations are seeking ways to ban cryptocurrency as a whole. Closer to home, members of Congress are looking to secure a tighter set of rules on cryptocurrency, including adding regulations to tax online payments on Venmo and PayPal. Despite its growing influence and use, cryptocurrency still has a fuzzy future in the U.S. and abroad. We’ll be keeping a close eye on it as 2022 pans out. Read more in Go Banking Rates

The newest trend in real estate: digital properties

Metaverse has become so much more than Facebook’s first steps in rebranding. In fact, it may be leading the digital real estate frontier (or is it virtual estate?). With the growing popularity of cryptocurrency, nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and blockchain, investors are getting in on the increase of virtual real estate transactions. So, there’s a virtual world with properties that aren’t real. How is this profitable? Investors purchase properties in hopes that revenue will be generated through advertising and leases. COVID-19 has changed the ways that we come together in large gatherings. However, the Metaverse has come up with a solution. With only so much capacity through social distancing, the Metaverse offers an innovative way to get together without actually having to be in person. As more people join the Metaverse, it allows events like concerts and conferences to become more realistic. Much like the traditional real estate we all know, it’s all about location. The New York Times reported that these digital parcels, equivalent to buying ad space on Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue, can be sold for up to $2.5 million. Whether it’s a concert or a digital visit to Central Park, the Metaverse may be the newest real estate hot spot. Read more in the New York Times

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has officially joined the founders’ retirement club for social media moguls

On November 28, then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “I love Twitter.” Then, he tweeted his resignation from the company only a day later and has since announced that he would be stepping down as CEO immediately, having founded the company in 2006 and run it since 2015. While social media once started as ranking your best friends and adding music to your MySpace profile, it has turned into balancing the fine line between free speech and misinformation, all while looking to further innovation within the company. Axios reports that Dorsey’s departure from the company is an indicator that social media company founders are focusing on other innovations. In addition to Twitter, Dorsey also served as the CEO of the online payment company Square. When one door closes, another one opens. Just days after his departure, he announced that Square would now be Block. This rebrand comes after plans for the company to diversify beyond its original credit card business and focus on new technology such as blockchain. Facebook’s recent expansion into the Metaverse and Dorsey’s announcement are indicators that social media’s innovation is reaching outside of the network and into unexplored terrain. Read more in Axios. 

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

How travel bans keep economies safe (or not)

The recently discovered omicron variant has reinforced the travel bans we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. Just as borders were reopening and families were reunited, governments across the globe are limiting international travel from various regions. The United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and others immediately announced travel bans from South Africa and other southern African nations. Japan and Israel announced blanket bans on all foreign travelers until more information from the new variant becomes clearer. This slowdown in travel is limiting the global economy in huge ways. The United Nations recently reported that the pandemic would cause the international tourism industry to lose $2 trillion in 2021. In addition, the UN found that tourism was responsible for 70 percent of the total drop in world GDP last year. Economies around the world have taken a massive hit due to tourism restrictions. In addition, there are significant uncertainties about how slower travel over the past two years will affect the future of the international travel industry. While world governments are announcing travel bans in the name of safety, studies may say otherwise. Experts worldwide have come forward saying that the quick reaction from global leaders could set a harmful precedent, NPR reports. In addition, studies have found that there is little evidence to prove that international travel bans are effective in controlling the spread of disease and should only come at the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has advised against travel bans. This is not the first and likely not the last time international leaders make decisions against the recommendation of WHO and other health organizations. However, the omicron variant is so new and quickly spreading, so nations have limited choices and options when it comes to keeping their citizens alive and healthy.  Read more in Axios. 

DATA POINTS

300,000: The number of “shares” available for purchase from the Green Bay Packers, going for around $300 per share, which would net the team approximately $90 million. Packers’ stock isn’t really stock, but the “ultimate piece of memorabilia”.

60%: The percentage of American firms redesigning their offices for the COVID-19 era, creating an open plan and café-like seating areas for collaboration. Where you sit and work no longer denotes your place in the hierarchy.

3: The newest wave of tech that industry leaders are calling “Web3,” built on the foundation of cryptocurrency and blockchain. Web3 aims to reorganize the economy around digital assets through new currencies and NFTs.

$8.9 billion: The total online spending on Black Friday, with in-person foot traffic up 48% over 2020. This year marks the first year where both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday did not see an increase in online spending – another sign that consumers are shifting their spending to earlier in the season.

83 million: The estimated number of Americans who are fully vaccinated but have not gotten a booster shot. With the spreading omicron variant, experts say those folks are more and more vulnerable every day to infection with their waning immunity.

2.3 million: The number of Americans who flew for the Thanksgiving holiday, setting a pandemic record that is close to 2019 numbers. Experts say these full Thanksgiving flights are “remarkable,” considering fewer planes are flying and fewer workers at the airport. 

1048%: The increase in searches for the word “vaccine” in 2021 compared to 2019, making it Merriam-Webster’s 2021 Word of the Year.

110: The number of delegations invited to President Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” next month. Notably, Taiwan is included on the list, set to infuriate the Chinese government.

210,000: The number of jobs added to the economy in November, the lowest increase since December 2020 (which actually saw job loss). The numbers were well under economists’ predictions – even more worrisome since the Omicron COVID-19 variant was not known until late in the month. 

FEATURED TWEET

Credit: The New York Times on Twitter. 

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