The new omicron variant of the coronavirus could already be in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci says.
“I would not be surprised if it is,” the White House’s chief medical adviser told NBC’s Weekend Today.
“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 other places, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” he said Saturday.
The US will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other nearby countries beginning Monday, as fears grow over the new variant. The variant, named by WHO after a letter in the Greek alphabet, was first detected in South Africa.
“The issue of blocking travel from a given country is to just give us time to assess it better,” Fauci said. “That’s the reason for doing that, 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.”
He said people shouldn’t panic about the new COVID-19 variant, but should continue to take precautions like wearing masks, social distance and avoid large indoor gatherings. He also said the threat of this new variant should also encourage people to get vaccinated.
“The vaccines that we use may very well be able to contain this, and then [omicron] won’t be as serious as some people are surmising it might be,” he said. “A lot of unknowns, which is the reason why we’re all over this.”