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Macy’s, Walmart, Armani React as Omicron Sends Covid Cases Soaring

With Omicron sweeping the nation, retailers and brands are beginning to adjust course.

Macy’s, for example, is trimming its U.S. retail hours for the rest of the month “due to the rise of Covid-19 cases.” Stores will now open an hour later, at 11 a.m., and close an hour earlier, at 8 p.m., Monday to Thursday. Weekend hours will remain the same. Employees will continue to work their normal allocated hours, Macy’s said.

Walmart, meanwhile, is shutting down certain U.S. stores to sanitize them against the virus as part of a temporary closure initiative it began in 2020. Of the more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the U.S., the company said it closed almost 60 last month.

“This is a proactive measure, based on market-specific data, and is intended to present a safe in-store environment for our associates and customers,” a Walmart spokesperson said. “These temporary closures take a day and a half to carry out, and we plan to continue the program for as long as needed.

The same day that Project announced it would be postponing its New York show—previously set to return Jan 26 after a two-year hiatus—Giorgio Armani pulled out of both Milan Men’s Fashion Week and Paris’ Haute Couture Week. Both were scheduled to take place this month.

“This decision was made with great regret and following careful reflection in light of the worsening epidemiological situation,” the fashion house wrote on LinkedIn Tuesday. “As the designer has expressed on many occasions, the shows are crucial and irreplaceable occasions but the health and safety of both employees and the public must once again take priority.”

First detected—and then soon identified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO)—in November, Omicron has quickly become the dominant Covid variant in the United States. According to Our World in Data, the country is recording more than 553,000 cases every day, more than double the seven-day average reached at the height of last winter’s surge. New York, one of the first states to see case numbers really pick up last month, is averaging 344 cases per day per 100,000 people, more than four times last winter’s peak, according to state data.

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Early reports, however, suggest hospitalizations and deaths will likely not experience as strong an increase. Last week, the South African government released a statement saying it had seen lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves and a marginal increase in the number of deaths. “All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” the statement said.

“The only difficulty is that if you have so many cases, even if the rate of hospitalization is lower with Omicron than it is with Delta, there is still the danger that you will have a surging of hospitalizations that might stress the healthcare system,” Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, told CNN Sunday.

Hospitalization numbers are growing in the United States, increasing 51 percent on a two-week basis, though they remain below the high recorded a year ago, according to New York Times data. In New York state, 10,411 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Monday—the highest number recorded since April 2020. The number of Covid patients in the ICU, 1,302, remains below the high reached last winter, 1,621.

In the January issue of National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Monthly Economic Review, NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz admitted that the Omicron variant could bring further uncertainty and contribute to inflation, but said it “is unlikely to cause widespread shutdowns or slowdowns.” Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) had increased an unadjusted 6.8 percent over the prior 12 months, the largest 12-month inflation increase since the period ending June 1982.

“Little is certain about Omicron’s impact on consumer demand, but people who stay at home because of the variant are more likely to spend their money on retail goods rather than services like dining out or in-person entertainment,” Kleinhenz wrote. “That would put further pressure on inflation since supply chains are already overloaded across the globe.”

Reports of a new variant in France have added to the uncertainties. Fortunately, as of now all indicators suggest it is not nearly as contagious as Omicron. Outlined in a pre-print study released last week, the so-called IHU variant—research team members named it after the Méditerranée Infection University Hospital Institute, where they work—was first detected in November, around the time Omicron emerged. Though the variant contains a large number of mutations, like Omicron, it has not spread nearly as far. GISAID, a pandemic-tracking database, has gathered more than 120,000 sequences of Omicron. This week, experts said around 20 samples of the IHU variant had been logged.