By: Fern Sidman
As reports about the new omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus have continued to raise alarms around the world, on Sunday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House chief medical adviser told George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” that the new variant with it will “inevitably” arrive in the United States.
“We all know when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here,” Fauci said on Sunday. “The question is, will we be prepared for it?”
ABC News reported that officials have said that the omicron variant, which is named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, was first detected last week in Botswana in Africa. Subsequently, cases of the new variant have been found in South Africa, Germany, Belgium and Hong Kong.
When asked by Stephanopoulos whether the omicron variant is as or more transmissible than the delta variant and other mutations that have swept the globe, Fauci said, “It appears to be.”
ABC News reported that Fauci said of the new variant, “It has a bunch of mutations,” including “a disturbingly large number of mutations in the spike protein, which is the business end of the virus.”
The AP reported that many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand and the United States, in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant. This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.
Despite the banning of flights, there are mounting concerns that the variant has already been widely seeded around the world, according to the AP report.
Italy and Germany were the latest to report confirmed cases of the omicron variant.
An Italian who had traveled to Mozambique on business landed in Rome on Nov. 11 and returned to his home near Naples. He and five family members, including two school-age children, have since tested positive, the Italian news agency LaPresse said. All are isolating in the Naples suburb of Caserta in good condition with light symptoms, as was reported by the AP.
The AP reported that Israel on Sunday approved barring entry to foreign nationals and the use of controversial technology for contact tracing as part of its efforts to clamp down on the new coronavirus variant.
The Health Ministry said the country’s coronavirus Cabinet had authorized a raft of measures, including red-listing travel to 50 African countries, banning entry by foreigners and mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad, according to the AP report.
It also approved use of the Shin Bet internal security agency’s controversial phone monitoring technology to perform contact tracing of individuals confirmed with the new omicron variant of coronavirus in Israel.
In addition, the AP reported that 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 to North America — have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 omicron cases on Sunday, and both Canada and Australia each found two.
When asked by Stephanopoulos whether the travel ban will make a difference, Fauci said, “It will slow things down,” according to the ABC News report.
Fauci told Stephanopoulos, “Travel bans, when you have a highly transmissible virus, never completely … prevent it from coming into the country. No way that’s going to happen. But what you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared. And that’s the thing that people need to understand.”
ABC News reported that Fauci warned that traveling during the pandemic is “always risky,” but if Americans have to travel, he recommended they be vaccinated and to wear a mask on flights and in airports, which he described as “one of the most congregate settings you can imagine.”
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile, emphasized that there is no data yet that suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous COVID-19 variants, as was reported by the AP.
“I do think it’s more contagious when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa. It has the earmarks therefore of being particularly likely to spread from one person to another. … What we don’t know is whether it can compete with delta,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The AP reported that Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing.
“I know, America, you’re really tired about hearing those things, but the virus is not tired of us,” Collins said.