Omicron variant not a 'cause for panic', Biden says

US president does not expect further travel restrictions in light of new coronavirus strain

Joe Biden on Omicron: 'Not a cause for panic'

Joe Biden on Omicron: 'Not a cause for panic'
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Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

US President Joe Biden on Monday sought to quell fears over the Omicron coronavirus variant identified in southern Africa and urged Americans to either get vaccinated or receive booster shots.

“This is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Mr Biden said in televised remarks from the White House.

Cases of the new strain of the virus will inevitably spring up in the US, he said. Mr Biden again pressed Americans to be vaccinated and receive boosters, saying they provide the best protection against Omicron and other variants.

“If you are vaccinated, but still worried about the new variant, get your booster. If you aren't vaccinated, get that shot. Go get that first shot,” Mr Biden said.

More than 196 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and more than 37 million have received a booster shot, data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention show.

Mr Biden also urged Americans to continue wearing face masks while indoors.

He said the administration does not yet believe new formulations of coronavirus vaccines will be necessary, but that it is already working with Pfizer and Moderna on contingency plans. He said he will issue a new strategy to combat a winter surge of coronavirus on Thursday, but promised the US will not have to practice further shutdowns.

The new variant has been detected in more than a dozen countries, including Canada, though it has not yet been identified in the US.

On Friday, Mr Biden imposed travel restrictions on eight countries in southern Africa, where Omicron is believed to have emerged.

Mr Biden also applauded South Africa for promptly notifying the global community of the new variant.

The travel restrictions buy the US valuable time to increase vaccination rates before Omicron arrives in the US, he added. The president said he does not expect needing to enact further travel restrictions.

A greater effort from the global community will also be needed to combat Covid-19, Mr Biden said, while noting that the US leads the world in distributing vaccines to other nations.

“Vaccinating the world is just one more tool in how we need to meet our moral obligation as Americans and how to best protect Americans as well,” Mr Biden said.

“So we can't let up until the world is vaccinated.”

Doctors in South Africa have said symptoms of the new variant appear to be milder than the Delta variant, which drove a surge in infections in the US this year. But they have cautioned that it is too early to reach conclusions about whether Omicron is more or less dangerous than its predecessors.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: November 30, 2021, 6:07 AM