President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans on Monday that the United States was prepared to handle the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, pledging to accelerate development of vaccines to handle it if necessary.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House following a meeting with his COVID-19 team.
“Sooner or later we are going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States,” Biden said. The White House is working with vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans, if needed, to handle Omicron, he said.
Earlier, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the United States was unlikely to impose further restrictions amid the anticipated arrival of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
A U.S. ban took effect earlier on Monday that blocked most travelers from eight southern African nations from entering the country in an effort to slow transmission and give experts more time to assess Omicron, including its severity, transmissibility and impact on vaccines.
Biden said the travel restrictions were put in place to give the country time to get more people vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy in the United States and around the world has thwarted public health officials’ efforts to get the pandemic under control.
Urging Americans to mask up, Biden said: “Please wear your mask when you’re indoors, in public settings around other people.”
Asked if other curbs were imminent, Fauci told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” program: “I don’t think so at all.”
Much of the United States shut down in early 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, and other measures such as face masks and vaccine mandates have become politically contentious even as health experts tout their effectiveness.