Biden says that the Omicron variant 'is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic'
- Biden on Monday said the newest variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, is "not a cause for panic."
- "We'll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed," he said.
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"This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic," the president said at the White House. "We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day."
"We'll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion. We have more tools today to fight the pandemic than we've ever had before — from vaccines to boosters to vaccines for children 5 years and older, and much more," Biden added.
Countries around the world, including the US, are seeking to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa. The rise of the variant led Biden to issue travel restrictions that took effect on Monday for several countries in southern Africa: South Africa, Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
When asked about the decision on Friday, Biden told a group of reporters that he wanted to be "cautious."
"We don't know a lot about the variant except that it is of great concern; it seems to spread rapidly," he said at the time.
On Monday, Biden said that he didn't "anticipate" the need for additional travel restrictions and also threw cold water on the need for lockdowns.
"If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there is no need for a lockdown," he said.
The president also noted what he saw as the US's continued progress against
"A year ago, America was floundering against the first variant of COVID. We beat that variant significantly, and then we got hit by a far more powerful threat — the Delta variant. But we took action, and we're seeing deaths from Delta come down," Biden said.
"We're going to fight and beat this new variant as well," he added.
Omicron features several mutations found in additional variants of concern — including Delta and Alpha – that could potentially reduce the efficacy of existing vaccines. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at the UTHealth School of Public Health, told Insider's Aria Bendix that the Omicron variant also contains unfamiliar mutations.
"There are a number of mutations that we don't have any information about," Jetelina said. "They've never seen them on previous variants of concern. So, I think, one of the first questions is: What are these? Do we need to worry about them or not?"
Scientists have pinpointed 32 mutations on the Omicron's spike protein — the knob-like structure on the surface of the virus that it uses to hold onto the cells it infects. However, the elevated number of mutations doesn't necessarily mean that the variant will be deadlier or more infectious than other variants of concern.
"We don't know yet if this new variant is outcompeting Delta," Jetelina told Insider. "We also still don't know if it will evade our vaccines yet, either."
As of Monday, more than 776,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the US, with 48.2 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
This story has been updated.
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