Ns News Online Desk: US President Joe Biden has called the Omicron Covid-19 variant a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic” a day after it was detected in North America. He said he saw no need for a new lock-down “for now… if people are vaccinated and wear their masks”.
Cases have been found in Canada, and the US has imposed travel bans on eight southern African countries.
Mr Biden added that pharmaceutical companies were making contingency plans for new jabs if they are needed.
At the White House on Monday, the president said it was “almost inevitable” that Omicron, first reported by South Africa, would be found in the US eventually.
“We’re going to fight and beat this new variant,” he said. Late last week, the US announced restrictions on travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Canada, the UK and the EU and other countries have also restricted travel from southern Africa.
On Sunday, Canada said the Omicron variant had been discovered in two patients who had recently traveled to Nigeria. A third case was announced on Monday.
Mr Biden said the travel ban had bought some time for the US to study the new variant. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed Omicron a “variant of concern”, it is still not clear whether it is associated with more transmission or more risk of evading vaccines.
Critics noted that Mr Biden accused former President Donald Trump of “hysterical xenophobia” after he limited travel from China in January 2020 as the coronavirus spread in the US.