Biden said it would take two weeks to have definitive data on the Omicron variant

WASHINGTON, Nov.28 (Reuters) – America’s top infectious disease official Dr Anthony Fauci told President Joe Biden on Sunday that it would take about two weeks to have definitive information on the new variant of the Omicron coronavirus that has triggered new travel restrictions and rocked financial markets.

Biden, back in Washington after Thanksgiving weekend, was briefed in person by his coronavirus response team on Sunday afternoon as officials expect the new variant to reach the United States despite an impending ban on travelers from southern Africa, where it was first detected.

Fauci said he believed existing vaccines were likely to provide “a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID,” and officials reiterated their recommendation that vaccinated Americans receive boosters, according to a reading of the briefing.

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Biden was expected to brief the public on the new variant and the U.S. response on Monday, the White House said.

Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa, has now been confirmed in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Great Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Countries -Bas, in France, in South Africa and in the neighbor of the United States. north, Canada. Read more

Earlier Sunday, Fauci told ABC News “This Week” that the new variant would “inevitably” reach the United States.

“This is a clear indication that he has the ability to transmit quickly. That’s what concerns us now,” he added on NBC.

US officials were seeking more information in South Africa on the new variant. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra spoke with South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla on Sunday, praising the country’s transparency, according to a report of the meeting.

Its emergence in the United States, where 30% of the population has received zero doses of the vaccine, could threaten to undermine the country’s recovery almost two years after the emergence of COVID-19 and put more pressure on systems. health care providers already taxed by the recent Delta variant. .

The increase in cases as colder weather forces more people indoors has also prompted some hospital systems and US states, including New York, to declare emergencies.

So far, nearly 782,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 since the start of 2020, the largest number of countries in the world, amid more than 48 million infections, according to the reports. Reuters data.

FORBIDDEN TRAVELERS, NOT FLIGHTS

The United States is joining other countries in trying to block transmission by imposing travel restrictions.

People enter the baggage claim area from the international arrivals terminal as the United States reopens its air and land borders to travelers vaccinated against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for the first time since COVID restrictions -19 were imposed, at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, Washington, United States, on November 8, 2021. REUTERS / Lindsey Wasson

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Starting at 12:01 am ET (0501 GMT) on Monday, it will bar entry to nearly all foreign nationals who have visited any of the eight southern African countries in the past 14 days and warned Americans against travel to these countries. Read more

U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents of the United States who have traveled to the countries will still be able to enter the United States, and no new screening or tracing requirements have been introduced. Read more

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and United Airlines (UAL.O) flights have continued from South Africa to the United States since the discovery of the variant.

Fauci and other senior officials said the sudden explosion of cases made Omicron worrisome and it was not clear how current vaccines or therapies might be affected.

“We need more data before we can say for sure that this is not a serious version of the virus, but we should find out within the next two weeks,” said outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr Francis Collins. . “

Vaccine makers Pfizer / BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) and Moderna (MRNA.O) said they were waiting for more information soon. Read more

“We still have to go through a few weeks of uncertainty,” Moderna chief medical officer Dr Paul Burton told CNN, saying the transmissibility and severity of Omicron were also still unknown, as well as the effectiveness of the vaccines. current against him.

‘CLARION CALL’ FOR SHOTS

Fauci urged Americans to continue to procure COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots while experts assess Omicron.

“It’s a bugle call … (to) get vaccinated,” he told NBC.

The United States has recorded more than 1.1 million new cases of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, up 9% from the previous two weeks, according to Reuters data, with Michigan and Minnesota being leading the country in new cases, based on infections per 100,000 population.

The proportion of COVID-19 tests coming back positive in New York state has doubled since last month to 4.23%, underscoring the need for vaccinations, Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement.

“Cases are increasing across New York State, and the new Omicron variant poses a very real threat to the progress we’ve made,” Hochul said.

The variant could cast a veil over the rest of the US holiday season and potentially impact companies’ back-to-office plans.

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Writing by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose, Chris Gallagher, Joel Schectman, David Shepardson and Simon Lewis in Washington; and Matt Scuffham, Megan Davies, Peter Szekely and Nathan Layne in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Stephen Coates

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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