The Biden administration’s restrictions on travel from southern Africa due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus will be temporary, Anthony Fauci said Wednesday after health officials identified the first U.S. case of the mutated virus.
The travel ban will not prevent infected people from arriving “but we needed to buy some time to prepare,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday at the White House. He is also the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.
Join heated discussions with the Moneyweb community and get full access to our market indicators and data tools while supporting quality journalism.
R63/month or R630/year
You can cancel anytime.
Omicron cases now spread from the US to South Korea
The Omicron variant was spotted in the Netherlands prior to SA flights
“We view this as a temporary measure,” he said.
Biden has said that Omicron is concerning, but has urged avoiding panic. Fauci said a day earlier that it was too early to say how transmissible, harmful and vaccine resistant the variant will be.
“We are really very early in the process,” he said Wednesday at a briefing for journalists.
Meanwhile, Biden and Fauci have urged vaccines as a way to bolster protection against the Delta and Omicron variants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced moments before Fauci began speaking Wednesday that the first American case of Omicron had been identified in California. The infected person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22.
“We knew it was only a matter of time,” Fauci said.
Biden plans to outline his strategy for fighting a winter surge of Covid in a speech Thursday. That will include measures aimed at curbing the spread of Omicron, including reducing the testing window for people boarding flights bound for the United States to one day.
Omicron has more mutations, about 50, than any other variant, including more than 30 in the spike protein, Fauci said during a news conference Tuesday. The mutations have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion, he said, while other effects are unknown.
Read: Daily number of Covid cases doubles to over 8,500 in South Africa
While it may be more communicable than Delta, that’s still unclear, he said Tuesday, but the vaccines should provide “at least some degree of cross-protection, particularly against serious diseases.”
Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), said Wednesday that the vaccines are likely to protect against severe cases of Omicron.
WHO expects more data on omicron transmission in a few days.
© 2021 Bloomberg