Stimulus Update: Will the Omicron Variant Necessitate a Fourth Stimulus Check?

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  • The World Health Organization has identified omicron as a variant of concern.
  • Lawmakers in the U.S. have already taken action in response.
  • Further lockdowns could be possible and lead to a fourth stimulus check.

More restrictions could lead to another stimulus check.

Lawmakers have shown no signs of passing legislation to provide a fourth stimulus check -- despite calls to do so from consumers struggling with the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic. But that could all change if a new strain of coronavirus called omicron necessitates further lockdowns.

Here's what Americans need to know about the possibility of another direct payment.

Omicron could present an elevated risk -- necessitating a fourth stimulus check

Omicron is the newest variant of COVID-19 identified by scientists. The novel strain of the coronavirus, first identified in South Africa, was designated by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern in large part because it may be more transmissible than previous COVID strains.

Much remains unknown about the omicron variant because it is so new. However, early evidence indicates it could be much more contagious than past iterations of the virus. In fact, while it has similarities to the delta variant, which also spread more quickly than the original virus, it may be even more contagious and spread even faster than delta did.

The good news, though, is that it is an open question whether it causes more or less severe illness than prior strains or whether the vaccines already developed will remain as effective against it. And there's some indication it may cause more mild illness.

Despite the uncertainty, omicron has already prompted action from world leaders, many of whom have imposed new restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread. President Joe Biden is one of those leaders, as the president recently suspended travel from South Africa in response to concerns about the variant.

U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci also indicated that Americans must be prepared to do "anything and everything," in order to fight the spread of the new variant. Fauci went on to say that while it was "too early to say" if lockdowns would be necessary, Americans need to "prepare for the worst."

If government officials do put further restrictions in place that result in businesses being shut down, this would slow the economic recovery that is occurring in the U.S. It would likely lead to substantial job loss if more lockdowns occurred. When the coronavirus pandemic was first declared in March of 2020, the U.S. lost 701,000 jobs in a month -- the largest loss of jobs since the 2009 recession. Further lockdowns could cause similar consequences, especially if there are concerns about whether a vaccine will be effective at stopping the spread and getting people back to work.

Lawmakers took bipartisan action when these original lockdowns occurred, passing two stimulus packages under President Donald Trump that provided for checks to be deposited into most Americans' bank accounts. While only Democrats signed onto the third stimulus bill that was authorized early in Biden's presidency, it is likely that Republicans would get on board to work with Democrats to provide a fourth check if the economy must shut down again.

Obviously, this is a worst case scenario and hopefully this new strain of the virus will turn out to be both mild and prevented by the vaccines that are already on the market. But if that's not the case, omicron could be the only chance Americans have to get a fourth stimulus check in 2022.

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