President Joe Biden urges Americans not to panic over Omicron variant, saying US is making contingency plans with pharmaceutical companies if new vaccines are needed.
President Joe Biden has called the new coronavirus variant Omicron a cause for concern but "not a cause for panic", saying he was not considering any widespread US lockdown.
Speaking on Monday at the White House, Biden said it was inevitable that the new variant would reach the US, but he also said the country has the tools necessary to protect Americans - particularly the approved vaccines and booster shots.
He urged Americans anew to get fully vaccinated, including booster shots, and return to face masks indoors in public settings to slow any spread.
When Omicron arrives, and it will, Biden said, America will "face this new threat just as we’ve faced those that have come before it."
He appealed to the roughly 80 million unvaccinated Americans aged 5 and up to get their shots, and for the rest of the country to seek out booster shots six months after their second dose.
He also encouraged everyone to get back to wearing face masks in all indoor public settings –– a pandemic precaution that has fallen out of use across much of the country.
Biden was joined by Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and the president's Covid-19 adviser, who said earlier on Monday that scientists hope to know in the next week or two how well the existing Covid-19 vaccines protect against the variant, and how dangerous it is compared to earlier strains.
"We really don't know," Fauci told ABC, calling speculation premature.
Biden said he believed that existing vaccines would continue to protect against severe disease, but added that his administration was working with vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans.
Latest test to Biden's efforts
The new variant poses the latest test to Biden's efforts to contain the pandemic, mitigate its impacts on the economy and return a sense of normalcy to the US during the holiday season.
The White House said there were no plans to curtail Biden's travel as a result of the new variant.
Biden last week moved to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in southern Africa, effective on Monday, in a bid to give scientists time to learn more about the new variant, and for more Americans to get vaccinated before it hits the US.
South African officials have argued they are being punished for speedily identifying and reporting the new variant.