UPDATED 11/29, 1:38 p.m. ET: President Joe Biden addressed the public on Monday, saying the Omicron COVID-19 variant is something the U.S. will see cases of “sooner or later.”
“This variant is a cause for concern—not a cause for panic,” Biden said, according to NPR. He added that “the best protection against this variant or any of the variants out there is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot.”
As the president explained, travel restrictions from southern African nations would slow the variant—which has already touched down in North America—from entering the United States, but cannot prevent it entirely. Biden added that the country is “throwing everything we can at this virus” and his administration is working with vaccine manufacturers to develop protection against Omicron if it ends up being necessary.
“If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there’s no need for a lockdown,” Biden said.
Biden reiterated his comments on Twitter, adding it will take weeks for the White House to know how well the current vaccines can combat the new variant.
“But Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and our medical team believe that our vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease,” he wrote.
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The two people recently traveled to Canada from Nigeria, according to Ontario health officials.
“We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travelers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant,” Christine Elliott and Kieran Moore, top health officials in Ontario said in a joint statement.
The province is now rapid testing travelers who have recently been to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe
News of the cases came a day after Fauci—the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—told NBC’s “Weekend TODAY” that Omicron could potentially be in the U.S. already. As he explained, its mutations could make it highly transmissible and potentially allow it to escape the body’s immune response or vaccine protections.
“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve been noted in Israel and Belgium and in other places — when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said.
President Joe Biden is expected to discuss the U.S. response to the variant on Monday. According to NBC, Israel closed its borders to travelers, with exceptions, on Saturday in response to the variant.