President Biden underlined three messages in his address to Americans on the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus:
The variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.
“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day,” he said Monday. “We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”
The best protection against Omicron is the vaccine.
“I know you’re tired of hearing me say this, the best protection against this new variant or any of the variants out there, the ones we’ve been dealing with already, is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot,” he said.
If you’re 18 years or older and got fully vaccinated before June 1, go get the booster shot today, he told Americans.
“They are free and they are available at 80,000 locations coast to coast,” he added. “Do not wait. Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so.”
He also emphasized that children who are 5 years and older should be vaccinated.
If vaccines need to be updated to fight Omicron, the US will act fast.
Scientists are currently racing to determine if the existing vaccines provide adequate protection against the Omicron variant. In the case they don’t, Biden said the US will act fast to update its vaccine supplies.
“In the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool,” he said.
“We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed,” he added. “But so that we are prepared, if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.”
“I will also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting any corners for safety to get such vaccines approved and on the market if needed.”
President Biden opened his remarks on Monday about Omicron by crediting the “scientific community in South Africa” for its “transparency” in sharing information about the new variant with the rest of the world.
“To their credit, the scientific community in South Africa quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant,” Biden said. “This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats, and that’s exactly what we did.”
He said that the “very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant” the administration “took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in southern Africa.”
Biden said that while those restrictions “can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it.”
The President said that the restrictions give the US time “to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine.”
“Sooner or later, we’ll see cases of the new variant here in the United States,” Biden said.
President Biden is giving an update about the new Omicron variant.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said. “We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day, and we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”
While no cases of the new variant have been reported in the US so far, the Biden administration is attempting to limit the spread. New US restrictions on travel from South Africa and seven other countries took effect today, as his administration seeks to assure Americans that they are moving swiftly to try to contain the threat.
Remember: Much is still unknown about the transmissibility of the new variant and how effective vaccines will be in protecting Americans against it.
Health authorities in Madrid have diagnosed the first case of the Omicron variant in Spain, they said in a statement on Monday.
“The Microbiology Service of the General Gregorio Maranon Public Hospital has sequenced and confirmed this case. It’s a 51-year-old man who returned from South Africa on November 28, with a layover in Amsterdam,” the statement read.
The man first tested positive for Covid-19 at Barajas airport in Madrid, where he underwent an antigen test after arrival.
“The patient has mild symptoms and has been placed in quarantine,” the Madrid health authorities added in their statement.
South Africa should be praised for the quality of its science and transparency around the detection the Omicron variant, not face travel bans, said World Health Organization spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris.
“South Africa should get a gold medal for the quality of its science and the quality of its transparency,” Harris told CNN Monday.
“We have not seen nearly enough of that, of transparency particularly. And indeed, to then make South Africa feel that doing all the right things leads to a very bad outcome is not good,” she added.
Harris argued that this response is also bad for the rest of the world, acting as a deterrent to be transparent.
“Other countries will then feel, ‘why would we come out and say we’ve got this issue, we’ve got this problem,’ if they see this sort of consequence,” she said.
City officials in New York City are now highly recommending residents wear masks while indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status, in an attempt to get ahead of the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
While there are currently no identified cases of this new variant in the city yet, City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said that this is a way to prevent the incoming spread.
“We do anticipate detecting the Omicron in New York in the coming days based on what we know about its global spread,” Choksi said. “A lot is still unknown about Omicron since it is so early, but studies are underway and we will know more about the variant in the coming weeks.”
Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chokshi encouraged residents to get vaccinated or get a booster in order to also prepare for the new variant. They especially recommended children get vaccinated as soon as possible.
There have been two more cases of the new Omicron variant detected in London, for a total of five in England, and six more in Scotland, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Monday in parliament.
“We expect cases to rise over the coming days,” he warned.
Javid said the variant has also been “spreading across the world,” including cases in “Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal.”
The new variant may have given the virus “extra legs,” he added.
Genome analysis of the Omicron variant from people who arrived in the Netherlands from South Africa on Friday suggests that those passengers were probably already infected before boarding their flights, the Dutch health minister said on Monday.
He said that 14 cases of the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant have now been discovered among those 624 people who arrived in the Netherlands from South Africa on Friday. That is one more case than the previously reported number.
“The sequencing analysis shows that there are different sequences, suggesting that the people affected very likely contracted the virus in different places and in any case not during the flight,” caretaker Health Minister Hugo de Jonge wrote to parliament on Monday. “More samples are being sequenced and the results are expected today. The course of the infection in the people who tested positive will continue to be followed.”
Though De Jonge did not indicate that any cases of community transmission had yet been discovered in the Netherlands, he warned that the discovery of the variant “in other countries” in people who have not recently been to southern Africa points to possible “wider circulation.”
While he said that the variant had “genetic markers that point to possibly higher transmissibility,” he wrote that “based on information now available, it is not possible to properly evaluate whether and in which way the transmissibility of the Omicron variant is higher than that of the Delta variant.”
“There is almost no information about a possibly altered sickness,” he wrote.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto Monday that the Omicron variant is another reason for people to get vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19.
“We still have, of course, in the US a serious surge of the Delta variant, we should be thinking about that,” he said, when asked what his best advice was to people as more is learned about the newly detected Omicron variant. “Your best protection against Delta is to get vaccinated, and if you’ve already been vaccinated and six months have passed since you got Pfizer or Moderna, get your booster, two months since J&J, get your booster.”
“That was a reason already, but now add Omicron to the mix,” Collins said. “And we do believe that this new variant, which will probably come to our shores, will also be something vaccines and boosters can help you with.
“Get your vaccine, get your booster, it’s the best chance we’ve got to drive this Covid-19 pandemic away,” he said.