A little-known cryptocurrency, Omicron, shot up 10 times within days last week as the news of a new variant of the coronavirus, discovered in southern Africa, spread across the world. Soon after the World Health Organization listed Omicron as a variant of concern, the crypto coin of the same name jumped from around $65 (Rs. 4,874) on November 26 to more than $680 (Rs. 50,996) by November 29, according to CoinMarketCap, a market research agency. The virtual coin's price has, however, lost half of its peak value since and was trading at $312 (Rs. 23,404) on Thursday with a fully diluted market capitalisation of $312 million (Rs. 2,340 crores).
The Omicron cryptocurrency traded steadily for most of the past week until a virus variant began dominating the news cycle, triggering fear of another devastating surge of cases worldwide. CoinMarketCap said the Omicron coin was launched at the beginning of November.
Experts said that the sudden rise was most likely due to the fact that both the new coronavirus variant and the coin share the same name. However, it was also a coincidence in the sense that the WHO skipped two Greek alphabet letters in naming the virus variant – Nu and XI. The WHO said naming the variant "Nu" would have led to confusion as it could be mistaken for the English word “new”. Using the letter XI would have risked stigmatising a region.
CoinMarketCap cautioned investors against getting blown by the rapid rise of the Omicron crypto coin, saying though it has outperformed popular coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum, this does not mean it's a worthwhile investment. "Little is known about this decentralised finance project, and robust data surrounding the project is proving hard to come by," it added.
Omicron's official website describes the coin as a "decentralised currency protocol built on Arbitrum." So far there's no indication that this coin is any riskier than any other cryptocurrency, but many are drawing parallels between its sudden rise with that of Squid Game coin, which had no connection to the hit Netflix show.
The Squid coin surged to a high of over $2,800 (Rs. 2.10 lakhs) and then immediately crashed to $0.01.