The new coronavirus strain Omicron was detected in South Africa on November 24. WHO considered it a threat following reports that it can be transmitted faster than other strains, also among young people, and could be resistant to vaccines.
Omicron cases have been identified in Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong and some European countries.The new COVID-19 variant, potentially more contagious and resistant to the immune system, may already be in the US, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Saturday.
“We don’t know that yet, but you have to be careful and assume that that’s the case. It also has a bunch of mutations that would suggest it could evade the protection, for example, of monoclonal antibodies and perhaps even convalescent plasma for people who’ve been infected and recovered and possibly the vaccine. These are all ‘maybes,’ but the suggestion is enough,” he said in an interview on NBC’s “Weekend TODAY” show.
On @TODAYShow, Dr. Fauci discussed how travel restrictions will give us time to better assess Omicron as officials work quickly to learn more about the variant. He went on to say it’s “absolutely essential” for people to get vaccinated and get boosted.pic.twitter.com/tJsWIXIKuP
— marielsaez46 (@marielsaez46) November 27, 2021
Fauci noted that the mutation is “something you got to pay really close attention to and be prepared for something that’s serious.” Even if it “may not turn out that way,” he said, the US is doing everything possible to control the situation.
“You know, I would not be surprised if it is,” he said when asked whether the Omicron variant is already in the US. “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 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.”
After the Omicron variant was detected in South Africa, many countries, including the US, Britain, Germany, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong, have suspended flights to African states or prohibited entry from there.
“The issue of blocking travel from a given country is to just give us time to assess it better. That’s the reason for doing that,” Fauci said. “Not any reason to panic. But we want to give us some time to really fill in the blanks of what we don’t know right now.”
Earlier in the day, the chairperson of council of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, expressed concern that the new coronavirus strain might be as dangerous as the Ebola virus, and as contagious as the Delta coronavirus variant.
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified the new South African strain as one of concern, as it potentially may be more transmissible and dangerous. The WHO dubbed the variant Omicron, which is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.