Fauci Says Omicron Variant Will ‘Inevitably’ Be In US, Speculates It Could Be ‘Highly Transmissible’

Screenshot ABC News, This Week With George Stephanopoulos

Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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The new Omicron variant will “inevitably” be found in the U.S. and early evidence suggests it could be “highly transmissible,” President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

Omicron, first identified in South Africa, is believed to be the most mutated coronavirus variant yet. The Biden administration announced upcoming travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries Saturday due to the variant, and Fauci noted that while it hasn’t been found in the U.S. yet, it will be at some point.

“But as we all know, when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here. The question is: Will we be prepared for it?” Fauci told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”

Despite it’s possible high rate of transmissibility, at least one doctor – Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and one of the first to believe there was a new strain – is noting that the variant may have “very mild” symptoms.

“Most of them are seeing very, very mild symptoms and none of them so far have admitted patients to surgeries. We have been able to treat these patients conservatively at home,” Coetzee said according to Reuters.

“The most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days. With them, the headache and the body aches and pain,” Coetzee added.


Fauci, meanwhile, touted America’s “surveillance system” regarding COVID-19 and said U.S. officials plan to meet with South African colleagues sometime Sunday to learn more about current cases. Fauci also said early evidence suggests Omicron “has a disturbingly large number of mutations in the spike protein.”

“It has the molecular characteristics that would strongly suggest that it would be transmissible,” he added.

Fauci said implementing travel restrictions, which the U.S. has already announced, “will slow things down,” but ultimately won’t prevent a “highly transmissible” virus from entering the country. He said the idea behind travel restrictions is to essentially buy time until the country is “better prepared.”

“It’s going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness,” he said. “I think we have to give kudos to the South Africans for being so transparent so quickly by giving us this information. They’re giving us time to be better prepared.” (RELATED: ‘The Choice Is Yours’: In Line With CDC’s Mask Guidance, Biden Gives Americans An Ultimatum On Vaccines)

Scientists still don’t know much about the Omicron variant, including whether it could cause more severe disease and how resistant it may be to vaccines. Fauci noted that it’s unclear whether the country will see yet another set of lockdowns or more mandates due to this new variant, telling Stephanopoulos that it’s “too early to say” but that the plan is to “prepare for the worst.”

He also urged Americans to get vaccinated, arguing that it’s “the most important way to prevent” an individual “from being at such a high risk.”

“People talking about lockdowns, people talking about that, let’s see what the information we’re getting in real time tells us,” Fauci concluded. “We’ll make decisions based on the science and the evidence the way we always do. You want to be prepared to do anything and everything. That’s the reason why we’re paying such close attention to this and why we’re all over it.”