Early signals about the severity of the new Omicron coronavirus variant that has spread worldwide are “encouraging,” according to a top U.S. health official, with booster boost potentially providing a “significant degree” of protection.
Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, acknowledged on Sunday that it was too early to know the full effects of the new strain, but was optimistic about the initial data. Omicron has created considerable alarm since its rise less than two weeks ago in South Africa and Botswana.
“We have to be really careful before we make any determinations that it’s less serious or really does not cause any serious illness comparable to Delta, but so far the signals have been a bit encouraging,” he said in an interview with CNN. said. “There does not seem to be a great deal of seriousness to it.”
Omicron, which has now been detected in about 40 countries and in at least 15 states across the US, was named a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization shortly after its identification. The strain has an extraordinarily large number of genetic mutations which can mean that it is more easily transmitted and more likely to circumvent the protection provided by current vaccines or previous infections.
The Biden administration immediately imposed travel restrictions on eight African countries – measures also introduced by European leaders and others, which sparked controversy and a sharp reprimand from the WHO, who said they were “placing a heavy burden on lives and subsistence farm ‘.
Fauci said on Sunday that the ban was being revalued “on a daily basis” and that he hoped the US would be able to lift it “within a reasonably reasonable period”.
The White House announced additional measures last week in an effort to stop the spread, including free rapid tests, an extended mask mandate on public transport and stricter testing requirements for international travelers.
Officials have also repeatedly urged vaccinated Americans to get the booster sting – a message that was repeated again on Sunday by Fauci and other top officials.
“Boosters are going to be really critical in addressing whether we are going to be able to handle this or not,” he said. “If you get a boost. . . we feel that there will be some and perhaps a significant degree of protection against the Omicron variant if it actually starts to take hold in this country in a dominant way. ”
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, encouraged people to be vaccinated and take precautions, but stopped supporting a nationwide mask mandate.
“I would rather see people being vaccinated, getting a boost and following our recommendations. “I would rather not have requirements to do that,” she told ABC News. “People have to do it for themselves.”
Economic policymakers have also expressed concern about the new variant. Jay Powell, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, warned last week that it could exacerbate the supply chain disruption that has helped push US inflation to its highest level in 30 years.
Loretta Mester, president of the Cleveland Fed, tell the Financial Times on Thursday that it could also exacerbate worker shortages, which halted a faster recovery of the labor market. US jobs grow slow down significantly last month, with just 210,000 jobs created. This is less than half of October’s pace and far short of economists’ expectations.
Despite the potential Omicron risks, the Fed appears ready to expedite the withdrawal of its stimulus program at its policy meeting this month, as it takes a more aggressive stance against inflation and gives itself the flexibility to raise interest rates earlier next year.