Early reports encouraging about Omicron variant – Fauci
US health officials said Sunday that while the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading throughout the country, early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than Delta, which continues to drive a surge of hospitalisations.
President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about omicron’s severity.
Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest that hospitalisation rates have not increased alarmingly.
“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci said. “But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to Delta.”
Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions against noncitizens entering the United States from several African countries. They were imposed as the Omicron variant exploded in the region, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has blasted such measures as “travel apartheid”.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to lift that ban in a quite reasonable period of time,” Fauci said. “We all feel very badly about the hardship that has been put on not only on South Africa but the other African countries.”
Omicron had been detected in about a third of US states by Sunday, including in the Northeast, the South, the Great Plains and the West Coast. Wisconsin, Missouri and Louisiana were among the latest states to confirm cases.
But Delta remains the dominant variant, making up more than 99 per cent of cases and driving a surge of hospitalisations in the north. National Guard teams have been sent to help overwhelmed hospitals in western New York, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring any hospitals facing limited patient capacity to reduce scheduled procedures that are not urgent.
US officials continued urging people to get vaccinated and to receive booster shots, as well as take precautions such as wearing masks when among strangers indoors, saying anything that helps protect against Delta will also help protect against other variants.