A new COVID-19 variant, known as omicron, was first reported to the World Health Organization Wednesday by the Republic of South Africa.
The international health group said the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG) was convened Friday to study the new SARS-CoV-2 variant. TAG is an independent group of experts who monitor and evaluate COVID-19’s evolution. A WHO spokesperson noted the first known confirmed omicron infection was from a specimen collected Nov. 9.
Peter Alexander, a host of NBC’s Weekend Today Saturday asked Dr. Anthony Fauci if the omicron variant is already in the United States.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director responded, “You know, I would not be surprised if it is,” before adding the variant has not yet been detected in America.
“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 been 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,” Fauci said.
The presidential health advisor said the transmissibility of the omicron variant is concerning because it does not bind to the same receptors most earlier variants have. So, it is possible omicron will not respond to monoclonal antibodies or plasma treatments for recovered COVID-19 patients, or even current vaccines.
“Even though the numbers are relatively small, its ability to infect people who recovered from infection and even people who have been vaccinated make us say, ‘This is something you’ve got to pay really close attention to and be prepared for something that’s serious,'” Fauci told the network hosts. “You don’t want people to panic but you want them to know we’re doing everything we can to stay ahead of this.”
Increasing medical surveillance of patients infected with COVID-19 is one step officials are taking. Another step is the ban President Joe Biden announced Friday restricting travel from eight African countries effective Monday.
President Biden cited recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as his basis for the ban on travel from Africa. The ban does not apply to U.S. citizens. It applies to non-citizens who have been in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe, within 14 days of trying to enter the United States.
Pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer, said they are prepared to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of omicron, according to Fox News.
On Saturday, Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced his country has detected the omicron variant in at least two citizens.
The cases are linked and involve travelers from Southern Africa, where the omicron variant was first identified, according to an NPR report. The report added that the affected patients are isolating at home.
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