A bump, then a boost. That’s what the last week of November and the first week of December looked like for consumer sentiment in the UAE on news of the Omicron variant.
On the 26th of November, the WHO declared the COVID-19 variant ‘omicron’ a variant of concern. The same day, oil dropped 10%, while stocks on the S&P 100 fell 1.2% on 1 December as news of Omicron’s arrival in the US jittered markets.
We know now, of course, that the markets overreacted and are now on course to either be net-positive on those gains or slightly off them. Concern remains, of course, with travel restrictions coming into force and social distancing entering the lexicon again in continental Europe (did it ever leave?).
But this time, what has changed, when right now so much is uncertain? Global news cycles aside, fear of uncertainty appears to be waning after 2 years of news cycles.
We’ve used our Sila platform to understand Arabic (and English) consumer sentiment around a range of topics that form our Consumer Sentiment Index. Here’s a snapshot.
The Omicron sentiment effect on the UAE
Last year, we identified that the first variant ‘of concern’, we speak of Delta, rattled the economies of the GCC, and particularly the globalised economy of the UAE. This was largely because as tourism returned and normality came to the country, it was snatched away again, quite quickly.
As we can see in the above, the increase in negative sentiment towards the impact on the economy was stark. Knee-jerk reactions around the world meant that it took time to restore consumer confidence to levels building up to that point in time. This slowed the UAE’s growth in consumer confidence by a significant margin.
So what for Omicron then?
Well, on the surface, it seems that Pandemic-fatigue set in and we ignored the news, at least for now. As the news cycles intensified after 26 November, by 30 of November there was a drop in positive sentiment and an increase in negative sentiment – especially towards the economy.
Then something interesting happened – as sentiment was trending downwards, albeit slightly, based on the uncertainty of Omicron.
Then something shifted – on 7 December the UAE announced it would change the workweek from the Friday/Saturday weekend that has been in place since 2006, to a Saturday/Sunday weekend. On top of this, government departments would work a half-day on Fridays to accommodate the traditional Islamic prayers. This has had a net effect of completely driving the Omicron impact out of the news, and certainly,
This tells a unique communications story – whether intentional or not. Consumer sentiment is a leading indicator of change, and reaction to that change. Understanding it better helps quicker reactions and helps understand at a fundamental level societal shifts.
In this case, we saw that Omicron had a mild impact on consumer sentiment in the UAE, while proportionally the new work week had a much more positive impact than one may expect. This is true given the cultural circumstances of the shift.