Fauci says United States needs weeks to understand omicron variant

November 29, 2021
Omicron variant may 'evade immune protection,' Fauci says. COVID news.
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The United States will need about two more weeks to learn more definitive information about the omicron variant’s transmissibility and severity, Dr. Anthony Fauci told President Joe Biden on Sunday, according to a White House news release.

The variant sprung out of South Africa last week, and has since been identified in countries across the world, including France, Canada, Australia, and Hong Kong. 

The U.S. will restrict travel from South Africa and several other countries due to omicron, just weeks after the country reopened to international tourists.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told Reuters that the symptoms from omicron were “very mild” and could be treated at home. However, initial reported infections were among university students – younger individuals who tend to have relatively mild symptoms, according to the World Health Organization.

“There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with omicron are different from those from other variants,” WHO said in a statement released Sunday.

Despite the unknowns of omicron, Fauci told Biden that he believes “existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID,” reiterating that booster shots on top of full vaccination will provide stronger protection. 

About 36% of Americans have gotten their booster shots, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said last week.

— Celina Tebor, USA TODAY

Also in the news:

►The World Health Organization urged countries not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant.

►The United States’ Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra met with the South African’s minister of health, Mathumr Joseph Phaahla, on Sunday to discuss the emergent omicron COVID-19 variant. 

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 776,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 261 million cases and nearly 5.1 million deaths. More than 196 million Americans — roughly 59.1% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: After nearly two years of combating COVID-19, health experts thought the U.S. would have been in a better position to control the pandemic. Instead, many people remain unvaccinated and ignore mitigation measures, slowing the pace of progress and burning out health care professionals

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group

WHO gathers for special session discussing new rules for outbreaks

The World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly will meet for a special session starting Monday to discuss a single topic: A new global treaty for responding to future pandemics.

The session will be geared toward establishing an “intergovernmental process to draft and negotiate such a convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response,” according to a news release from the organization. 

The WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told NPR that the international response to the current COVID-19 pandemic has been slow and uncoordinated.

“Everybody has seen to what extent we were really disorganized and all have seen the failures of the global system,” Tedros said.

The special session is the second in the history of the WHO, and will last until Wednesday. 

— Celina Tebor, USA TODAY

Omicron variant identified in more countries across the globe

Cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world Sunday and many governments rushed to close their borders.

Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday — among the most drastic of a growing raft of travel curbs being imposed by nations around the world as they scrambled to slow the variant’s spread. Scientists in several places — from Hong Kong to Europe — have confirmed its presence.

The Dutch public health authority confirmed that 13 people who arrived from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was implemented. 

Canada’s health minister says the country’s first two cases of omicron were found in Ontario after two individuals who had recently traveled from Nigeria tested positive.

Authorities in Australia said two travelers who arrived in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the new variant. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival. Two German states reported a total of three cases in returning travelers over the weekend.

— Associated Press

Contributing: The Associated Press

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