Biden announces measures against new omicron variant 0:56
President Joe Biden's attempts to limit the spread of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus begin this Monday with the entry into force of new restrictions in the United States on travel from South Africa and seven other countries, while his administration tries to assure Americans that they are acting swiftly to try to contain the threat.
Much is still unknown about the transmissibility of the new variant and the efficacy of vaccines in protecting Americans against it, but the administration is trying to take a more proactive stance than it did this summer, when the delta variant appeared to be very contagious, I catch them off guard.
Delta now accounts for the vast majority of cases in the United States, and has slowed Biden's efforts to return the country to normal in the first year of his tenure.
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In his haste to turn the page on the pandemic, Biden predicted a "summer of freedom" as the delta variant took hold in the United States and went so far as to proclaim that the United States was "closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus "in an act of July 4.
With these mistakes in mind, Biden spent Sunday night meeting with his advisers and is scheduled to speak about the situation on Monday.
He rushed to announce the new travel restrictions on Friday, after the World Health Organization (WHO) called the omicron a "worrying variant," a sign that the White House was taking seriously the new variant identified by first time by scientists in South Africa.
Worldwide concern over omicron variant of the coronavirus 1:51
However, travel bans alone may offer Americans little comfort, given the widespread debate among public health officials about their effectiveness.
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Anxiety about this new covid-19 threat is particularly high after a week of long trips and a Thanksgiving holiday that offered a fleeting sense that the country was back to normal.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Americans set a new record for air travel in the era of the pandemic.
The Transportation Security Administration reported that 2.3 million passengers passed through airports that day alone.
Canadian health authorities confirmed the first two cases of the omicron variant in Ottawa on Sunday.
Germany and the United Kingdom have also confirmed cases within their borders, and on Sunday British authorities announced that it will be mandatory to wear a mask in shops and on public transport, while all travelers returning to the United Kingdom will have to undergo the test. PCR to detect covid-19.
Scientists are especially concerned that omicron has more than 30 mutations in a part of the virus called spike protein, a structure that the coronavirus uses to enter the cells it attacks, raising concerns that it may bypass the protections that offer the vaccines currently available in the United States.
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The uncertainty surrounding the new variant has meant a new setback for Biden and for the Democratic-controlled US Congress, given that their political success in next year's elections will depend in part on their showing that they have taken the ballot. pandemic nation.
Biden's numbers in the polls have plummeted amid concerns about the economy, rising inflation and the supply chain crisis, but the erosion of confidence among Americans about his handling of Covid-19 has It has been particularly notable, given that it was previously the area where voters gave it the best marks.
As he tries to restore faith in his government's handling of COVID-19, Biden's biggest challenge may be stubborn resistance among the roughly 60 million American adults who remain unvaccinated and political polarization around the tools to be used. their disposition, including the mask and vaccination mandates.
Public health officials on Sunday expressed new urgency about the need for unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated, and for those who qualify for booster shots to get them. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, has warned that omicron may already be present in the United States. On NBC's "Meet The Press" program on Sunday, Fauci called the threat of the new variant "a wake-up call" for the country to "put aside all these differences that we have and that if they are not vaccinated, they will be get vaccinated; if they're fully vaccinated, get the booster dose; and get the children vaccinated. "
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, acknowledged that many Americans are feeling burned out with pandemic mitigation strategies, such as mask use and physical distancing, but said it was time to redouble those efforts. and avoid complacency in the face of the new threat.
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"We have to use all kinds of tools in our toolbox to prevent (omicron) from getting into a situation that makes this worse," he told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union" on Sunday, adding that officials are working with vaccine manufacturers to try to evaluate their efficacy against the new strain.
"There is no reason to panic. But it is a great reason to go get a third dose."
Many unanswered questions remain
Moderna's chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Burton, said Sunday that Americans should prepare for several weeks of uncertainty as scientists and vaccine manufacturers investigate the transmissibility of the new variant, the level of disease it causes, and whether antibodies produced in response to current vaccines will be effective in thwarting it.
Moderna is exploring the possibility of a booster vaccine specifically for omicron if needed, Burton said.
"This is a virus that now has at least 50 mutations, many of which span the earlier variants of interest, alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. At least 30 mutations in the spike protein alone that we know lead to evasion immune and escape, and also further replication, "Burton said in CNN's" Newsroom. " "This is a new difficulty that has been launched in the fight against covid-19."
Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, has warned that data on the transmissibility of the new variant seem "worrisome" so far, in part because it has taken off rapidly in South Africa.
In an article published this weekend in The New York Times, he warned that there is no time to lose, because if "it turns out to be as contagious and immunoevasive as many experts are concerned about, waiting until we know all the data will inevitably leave us far behind." .
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In an interview on CNN's "Inside Politics" show on Sunday, he explained that "we see all these mutations in the spike protein in areas that our vaccines and our immune systems target, and that makes many of us worry about the immune evasion. We do not believe that our vaccines will be rendered useless, but, at the same time, we do not know how much the vaccines will suffer, "he said.
Jha argued that the effect of the travel restriction on foreign nationals of the eight African countries would be "modest at best" and urged the Biden administration to increase genomic surveillance, to work with vaccine manufacturers to create specific vaccines for omicron and drive a stronger effort to vaccinate more people in Africa.
Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore health commissioner, said she believed travel restrictions for all eight countries were necessary, but added that the Biden administration should go even further by quarantining and re-targeting. Screen all international travelers.
He added that since the US allows permanent residents and US citizens to return from African countries affected by the restrictions, they should also be required to undergo further testing and quarantine to prevent the spread of the variant.
"Otherwise, there are too many loopholes and we are not meeting our goal, which is to contain omicron and try to prevent it from reaching this country, recognizing that it may already be in the United States," he said.
Some of the sharpest criticism of travel bans applied by the US and other countries came on Sunday from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
"These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our sister countries in southern Africa," Ramaphosa said in a speech on Sunday.
"The travel ban is not based on science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the travel ban will do is further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their capacity to respond and also to pandemic recovery ".
Biden will have to answer those criticisms and whether there are more effective measures he can take against the new variant when confronted with a nation seeking answers.
Covid-19Joe BidenVariants coronavirus