Joe Biden has urged Americans not to panic about the new COVID-19 Omicron variant saying that his administration will not involve “shutdowns or lockdowns”.
President Joe Biden on Monday said that the new Omicron coronavirus variant is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and said the United States was making contingency plans with pharmaceutical companies if new vaccines are needed.
He said in remarks at the White House following a meeting with his COVID-19 team: “This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We’re going to fight and beat this new variant.”
Biden said the country would not go back to lockdowns to stop the spread of Omicron, and he would lay out his strategy on combating the pandemic over the winter.
The President told reporters lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus were off the table “for now.” He said that if people are vaccinated and wear their masks, there’s no need for a lockdown.
The President again urged Americans to get vaccinated and get their booster shots, saying it is the best protection against this new variant, as well as any other variants. He also noted that scientists and officials are learning more every day about the new variant.
Biden said: “We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day. And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed — not chaos and confusion.”
He continued: “We have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before, from vaccines to boosters to vaccines for children, 5 years and older, and much more.”
He said the new travel restrictions his administration put in place, which went into effect Monday and restricted travel from several countries in Southern Africa, gives the US more time to respond.
Cases have been found in Canada, the US neighbor to the north, they said on Sunday that the Omicron strain had been discovered in two patients who had recently traveled to Nigeria. A third case was announced on Monday.
The US has imposed travel bans on South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Mozambique, and Malawi. The restrictions do not apply to US citizens and lawful permanent residents.
No cases of the variant have yet been identified in the US but Biden says that it was only a matter of time. He said: “Sooner or later, we are going to see new cases of this new variant here in the United States, and we’re going to have to face this new threat, just as we have faced the ones that came before it.”
While the World Health Organization has considered Omicron a “variant of concern”, it is still not clear whether it is associated with more transmission or more risk of evading vaccines.
The variant was identified by researchers in South Africa and has been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Canada, Italy, Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, and France.
Amid concern that the new omicron variant could be resistant to current vaccines, the president stressed that the administration is working to accelerate the development of updated vaccinations if needed.
Health experts and officials say it will take at least two weeks to better understand the variant’s transmissibility and the degree to which vaccines protect against it.
Earlier on Monday, a federal judge blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on thousands of healthcare workers in 10 states.
Another federal court earlier this month put a hold on a separate rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated.
Biden said it was inevitable that Omicron cases would emerge in the United States. But White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the variant should not cause Americans to change their holiday travel plans as long as they are vaccinated and wear masks.
He also believed that existing vaccines would continue to protect against severe disease, but added that his administration was working with vaccine makers Pfizer (PFE.N), Moderna (MRNA.O), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) to develop contingency plans.