Biden: Omicron variant is ’cause for concern, not a cause for panic’

President Joe Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated and to receive a booster shot amid worries about the coronavirus omicron variant — saying the new strain is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”

Biden, who gave remarks at the White House, emphasized the importance of vaccination to protect against all variants of the COVID-19 virus and the urgency of vaccinating the roughly 80 million Americans aged five and up who haven’t received a shot. But Biden said he does not anticipate the need for any new virus-related restrictions beyond last week’s move to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region effective Monday.

“I expect the new normal to be, everyone ends up getting vaccinated and the booster shot, so we reduce the number of people who aren’t protected to such a low degree that we’re not seeing the spread of these viruses,” he said, noting that there won’t be a need for lockdown measures.

The president also praised South African scientists for acting fast to identify the new variant, saying the world will fight it “with scientific and knowledgable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

Biden said COVID-19 could not be defeated until the rest of the world is vaccinated, and he urged countries with abundant vaccines to supply them to those that do not.

“Delta variants, and now the omicron variant, all emerged elsewhere in the world. So we can’t let up until the world is vaccinated,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and Biden’s leading COVID-19 adviser, said earlier Monday that there were still no cases of the variant identified in the U.S. but that it was “inevitable” that it would make its way into the country eventually.

On Friday, a World Health Organization panel named the latest variant “omicron.” It classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant delta variant — which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.

Omicron’s actual risks are not fully understood yet. But early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants, the WHO said. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.

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