A new variant of the coronavirus, known as Omicron, has been identified in South Africa and is causing concern among nations around the world. The World Health Organization labeled it as a “variant of concern,” although not much is known about the virus as of right now.
With the announcement of the new variant, many nations restricted travel from countries in Africa, although more cases of Omicron have already been popping up elsewhere. The first case of Omicron discovered in the U.S. was found in San Francisco from a person who had recently traveled to South Africa. The second case in the U.S. was found in a man from Minnesota who had recently traveled to New York City.
Scientists know very little about the new variant, and are testing it to determine if it spreads more easily or is more severe in nature than the original version of the virus or the most prominent version of the virus currently— the Delta variant.
People are beginning to question if vaccines work against Omicron, and that is also something scientists are trying to figure out currently. According to The New York Times, some experts feel hopeful that the vaccines will still be reliable at protecting against severe disease and death.
In response to the variant, President Biden has begun to put measures in place including advocating for booster shots for all. According to The New York Times, he is also creating hundreds of vaccination sites aimed at families, reimbursing people for at-home tests through insurance agencies and introducing new testing requirements for international travelers.
In an effort to best reassure Americans, Biden said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health that, “We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.”