Biden administration addresses new COVID variant

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) – President Biden updated the nation Monday morning on the U.S. response to a worrying new COVID variant, now named Omicron.

The president met with his COVID experts over the weekend who are urging vaccines and booster shots as the best line of defense.

New travel restrictions are also taking effect Monday as countries around the world try to stop the spread.

Top health officials say the White House is getting real-time information from South Africa where the variant was first detected, noting that coupled with travel restrictions, will give a head-start on the U.S. response.

Overnight, Japan joined Israel in announcing it will bar all foreigners from entering the country. Morocco halted all inbound flights.

Starting this week, the U.S. is restricting travel from South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected, along with seven neighboring countries. Though top health officials say the new strain may already be in the U.S.

NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “This is a clarion call as far as I’m concerned of saying, ‘Let’s put aside all of these differences that we have.’ And say, ‘If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you’re fully vaccinated, get boosted.’”

The White House is in close communication with South African health officials, who are urging calm.

What is concerning, experts say, is the Omicron variant shows signs of mutating easily, which could make it more transmissible and potentially able to evade immunity, even from vaccines.

Top U.S. health officials believe existing vaccines will still add a degree of protection against severe cases, predicting we’ll know more in about two weeks.

Moderna said it’s already looking into possibly reformulating its vaccine to adapt to the omicron variant and that if a new vaccine is needed, it could be ready by early next year.

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