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President Biden on Monday said the new omicron variant of coronavirus is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” while maintaining that his administration’s plan to combat COVID-19 this winter will not involve “shutdowns or lockdowns,” but rather a strategy for more widespread vaccinations.
The president spoke from the White House Monday, just days after the World Health Organization designated omicron a “variant of concern,” its most serious designation of a COVID-19 variant.
Biden, last week, restricted travel from South Africa and seven other countries over concerns of the “heavily mutated” omicron variant of COVID-19–a move he said Monday gives the United States “time.”
“It gives us time,” Biden said, noting that the American people need to “understand that you have to get your vaccine, you have to get the shot, have to get the booster.”
“Sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the U.S.,” Biden continued. “We’ll have to face this new threat like we’ve faced those that have come before it.”
The president, though, stressed that the omicron variant is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day,” he said, adding that the U.S. “will fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable action and speed – not chaos and confusion.”
Biden said the U.S. has “more tools today” to fight the omicron variant than the country has had before, citing vaccines and boosters for adults, and vaccines for children.
The president stressed the importance of getting vaccinated, saying the shots are “the best protection against this new variant, or any out there.”
Amid concern that the new omicron variant could be resistant to current vaccines, the president stressed that the administration is working to accelerate development of updated vaccinations if needed.
“In the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool,” Biden said. “We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed.”
Biden, though, said his administration is working with Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for “contingency plans if needed,” and will direct the Food and Drug Administration to get those potential vaccines approved and on the market if needed “without cutting any corners.”
“I am sparing no effort and removing all road blocks to keep the American people safe,” Biden said.
The president said that the White House plans to release an updated strategy to fight COVID-19 during the winter months – a strategy, he said, that would not involve “shut downs or lock downs,” but instead, “more widespread vaccinations, testing and more.”
The president stressed that individuals, whether vaccinated or not, should be wearing masks and face coverings in public settings again.
When pressed on why he was taking shut downs off the table, the president said: “If people are vaccinated and wearing their masks, there is no need for the lock downs.”
Meanwhile, Biden maintained the importance of sharing vaccination supply around the globe, saying that he will “always make sure our people are protected first,” but warned that both the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19 emerged “elsewhere in the world.”
“So we can’t let up until the world is vaccinated,” Biden said.
Last week, the president followed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Dr. Anthony Fauci in his move to restrict travel from several African nations, after the identification of the variant, which officials said appears to be highly contagious among young people. Travel restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents, but all international travelers must test negative prior to travel.
Biden, on Monday, said his administration has no plans to extend travel restrictions to other countries at this point.
The World Health Organization said that it could take some time to get a full picture of the threat posed by omicron. Over the weekend, WHO said that it wasn’t clear whether omicron is more transmissible – more easily spread between people – compared to other variants, and said it was not yet clear whether infection with omicron would cause more severe disease.
Cases of the omicron variant have been detected in African countries, as well as the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Canada, Italy, Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, and France.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.