Omicron variant is cause for concern, not panic, Biden tells Americans

President says US will work to accelerate development of any updated vaccines needed

US president Joe Biden and, in background, his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

US president Joe Biden and, in background, his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

 

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic, US president Joe Biden has said.

In an address from the White House on Monday, Mr Biden said the new variant would be beaten and that the best protection was for people to be vaccinated and to receive a booster.

He said his administration believed that as yet no additional measures needed to be introduced or further travel restriction put in place. He said further lockdowns were not being considered at present and would not be needed if people were vaccinated and wore masks.

The president said his health advisers had maintained that existing vaccines offered some degree of protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron variant.

He said that in the unlikely event of updated vaccines or boosters being needed to deal with Omicron, the US would accelerate the development and deployment of these “with all the tools available”.

Vaccine plans

He said his administration was working with vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson on contingency plans if needed.

He added the US was learning more about the Omicron variant each day and would share these details with the American people.

However, the president told Americans that sooner or later the variant would arrive in the United States.

He praised authorities in South Africa for their transparency in alerting the world about the new variant last week.

He said the travel restrictions he had introduced on travel to southern Africa – which have been criticised by the government in Pretoria – were aimed at providing more time to take action against the variant.

Urging Americans to take steps to protect themselves against Covid-19, he said: “Please wear your mask when you’re indoors, in public settings around other people.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday the Omicron variant carried a very high risk of infection surges.

The warning came as more countries closed their borders, reviving fears over economic recovery from the two-year pandemic.

Risk ‘high’

Airlines were scrambling to limit the impact of the variant on their networks, while delays in bookings threatened an already fragile recovery for global tourism.

The WHO advised its 194 member nations that any surge in infections could have severe consequences, but said no deaths had yet been linked to the new variant.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”

Further research was needed to understand Omicron’s potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it said, adding that more data was expected in coming weeks.