US travel ban begins as omicron variant spreads globally

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The United States began restricting travel to at least eight African countries Monday as the omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread globally.

It’s unclear where the new variant first emerged, but scientists in South Africa alerted the World Health Organization, and it has now been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands.

President Joe Biden met with his COVID-19 response team Sunday as the White House urged Americans to get their booster shots. The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Biden that it would take two more weeks to learn how transmissible and how severe the omicron variant really is.

This comes after Fauci said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the United States.

“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said.

President Biden is set to address the public on the spread of the omicron variant Monday morning. NewsNation will live stream his remarks in the player above.

“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is of great concern and it seems to spread rapidly,” said Biden to reporters Sunday.

Both Pfizer and Moderna said they are monitoring the variant and expect more information about the current vaccines’ effectiveness in the coming weeks.

Pfizer said it could adjust its vaccine to be more effective against this variant “within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days” if needed.

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said to the BBC Sunday that the vaccine maker could introduce a reformulated vaccine against the omicron variant next year.

“We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks, but the remarkable thing about the MRNA vaccines, Moderna platform is that we can move very fast,” Burton said.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

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