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European markets edge higher as investors digest omicron news

LONDON — European stocks were cautiously higher on Wednesday, with investors continuing to digest the latest news around the new omicron Covid variant.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 added 0.3% in early trade, with health care stocks gaining 0.9% while autos slid 0.4%.

The mildly positive start in Europe came after a strong session on Tuesday, with global markets rallying as concerns about the potential severity of the omicron variant eased.

There have been mixed news regarding the omicron variant since. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Tuesday said the omicron variant appears to be milder than previous strains, but also seems to spread faster and could lead to more mutations in the future.

However, South African scientists said Tuesday that omicron significantly reduces the antibody protection generated by Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, according to a small preliminary study. Still, people who have recovered from the virus and received a booster shot will likely have more protection from severe disease, the study showed.

Earlier, the White House’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said preliminary data from South Africa last week was “encouraging” as it suggested omicron is not as severe as initially feared, while noting that more data is needed to fully assess the risk posed by the variant.

In the meantime, the U.S. CDC said Tuesday that the new variant has now been found in 50 countries and 19 American states.

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Overnight in Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong stocks lagged other markets, with troubled Chinese real estate developers back in the spotlight. Chinese social media giant Weibo also had a disappointing market debut in Hong Kong.

U.S. stock futures rose modestly in early premarket trading on Wednesday after stocks continued their upward climb from the omicron sell-off seen last week.

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