The newly discovered Omicron variant of COVID-19 is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” President Biden said Monday.
“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day,” Biden said during a speech in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”
The president was responding to reports over the weekend about the new variant, which was first reported by public health officials in South Africa. The World Health Organization has officially named Omicron — also known as B.1.1.529 — as a “variant of concern.”
“It is to their credit the scientific community in South Africa quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant,” Biden said. “This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats. And that’s exactly what we did. The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in southern Africa. But while we [know] that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it. But here’s what it does — it gives us time to take more action.” Specifically, it allows the U.S. “to make sure people understand: you have to get your vaccine; you have to get the shot; you have to get the booster.”
Asked during a question-and-answer session whether other countries will be less likely to report new variants because South Africa was rewarded with a U.S. travel ban after doing so, Biden replied, “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.”