Dr Fauci, who had earlier said that omicron will “inevitably” reach the US, met President Biden on Sunday with his Covid-19 response team to update him about the latest developments related to the new variant.
“It will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the variant,” Dr Fauci told Mr Biden, according to a statement by the White House.
Dr Fauci asserted that the “existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of Covid.” He also strongly urged all vaccinated adults to get booster shots as soon as possible and asked those unvaccinated to get fully inoculated against the virus.
The president was briefed as he is expected to provide more updates about the potentially more contagious omicron variant on Monday, the White House said.
Mr Biden on Friday announced travel restrictions for foreign nationals who had travelled to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe in the last 14 days and warned Americans against traveling to those nations.
US citizens and other permanent residents will still be able to enter the US and no new tracing and screening requirements have been introduced so far.
The decision to impose travel restrictions came as the Biden administration faced criticism over delay in following the lead of other countries that had implemented restrictions with immediate effect. Mr Biden pushed back by saying it was “because that was the recommendation coming from my medical team.”
The coronavirus variant B.1.1.529, dubbed omicron by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has been found to have as many as 32 mutations in its spike protein. These include E484A, K417N and N440K, which are associated with helping the virus to escape detection from antibodies. Another mutation, N501Y, appears to increase the ability of the virus to gain entry to our cells, making it more transmissible.
The variant was first spotted in Botswana on 11 November, where 19 cases have now been recorded. The B.1.1.529 variant was detected and announced by South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases on 25 November.
In the wake of the new strain’s discovery, besides the United States, Australia, countries in Europe and Asia have also tightened their border restrictions and banned air travel from South Africa and its neighbouring countries.