US records first Omicron case in person who returned from S Africa

Officials say patient is fully vaccinated with mild symptoms which are improving

 Dr Anthony Fauci urged Americans to take a vaccine if they had not already done so and to take a booster if eligible. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Dr Anthony Fauci urged Americans to take a vaccine if they had not already done so and to take a booster if eligible. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

 

The first case of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the United States has been recorded in California.

The person concerned had returned from South Africa earlier this month, Dr Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a briefing at the White House, Dr Fauci said that the patient concerned was fully vaccinated and had experienced mild symptoms which were improving at this point.

He said he understood the patient had not received a Covid booster shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States said the patient had returned from South Africa on November 22nd and had tested positive on November 29th.

Since the new variant was first reported in South Africa last week, it has been identified in at least 19 countries across the globe. Health officials as well as Mr Biden had anticipated that it was only a matter of time before an Omicron case was confirmed in the US.

Dr Fauci urged Americans to take a vaccine if they had not already done so and to take a booster if eligible. He urged people not to wait for any Omicron-specific vaccine to be developed.

White House Covid-19 response co-ordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday that Mr Biden’s medical team continued to believe that existing vaccines would provide some level of protection against severe illness from Omicron and that individuals who received boosters “have even stronger protection”.

Continued vigilance, not panic

“The president will have more to say about our strategy for fighting Covid-19 this winter [on Thursday], but for now, we know that this new variant is cause for continued vigilance, not panic. We know what it takes to limit the spread of Covid – get vaccinated, get boosted, and take public health measures like masking and distancing.”

“We will remain steadfast in our fight against this virus. And we will continue to be guided by the science and proven public health measures to keep people safe.”

Biden administration officials have been working on plans which could involve passengers travelling to the United States from Ireland and elsewhere facing stricter Covid testing requirements.

Under the proposals reportedly being examined, those travelling to the United States, including returning Americans, would have to be tested one day prior to boarding their flights, rather than within three days as is the case at present.

US media reported on Tuesday that officials were also looking at plans that would involve travellers to the United States having to undergo re-testing for Covid-19 within three to five days after arrival. However, they said no final decisions had been taken.

In addition, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday night that the Biden administration was understood to be considering controversial proposals which would see all travellers, including American citizens, having to self-quarantine for seven days even if they have negative test results.