President Joe Biden said Monday that the Omicron variant is “not cause for panic” while defending the administration’s decision to implement travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries.
Biden, giving a speech to the nation on the new variant, pushed for unvaccinated Americans to get the shot and for vaccinated individuals to get a booster. He argued that this is how Americans can be the “most protected against COVID,” and though it remains unclear how effective the vaccines are against Omicron, Biden’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci believes they will “provide a degree of protection.”
The president vowed to “fight and beat this new variant” and told Americans that while it’s a “cause for concern,” people should not panic. His comments coincide with the administration’s quick decision to implement travel restrictions in light of the variant – a move that’s garnered criticism on both its effectiveness and whether it’s necessary.
“I think you already have it there in your country,” said Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and one of the early doctors to tell authorities about a new potential variant, according to Real Clear Politics. “You’re not even knowing it. I would say at this stage definitely [you are panicking unnecessarily]. Maybe two weeks from now I will have a different opinion.”
Biden kept his focus on pushing vaccinations and boosters but also acknowledged the travel restrictions. Responding to a question from the press, Biden said he doesn’t believe implementing such restrictions will cause other countries to be reluctant to report future variants. South Africa has been critical of travel restrictions put in place across the world in light of the new variant, with its minister of health arguing that it’s “not an answer” and is the “wrong approach.”
“The reason for the immediate travel ban is there were a significant number of cases, unlike any other country in the world,” Biden said. “We needed time to give people an opportunity to say, get that vaccination now before it – it’s gonna move around the world. I think it’s almost inevitable … that that strain is here in the United States.” (RELATED: ‘The Choice Is Yours’: In Line With CDC’s Mask Guidance, Biden Gives Americans An Ultimatum On Vaccines)
Many of the areas that the White House announced travel restrictions from have not yet reported any cases. In fact, only two of the countries – South Africa and Botswana – have reported cases so far, according to a CNN report published Monday. The administration has not announced restrictions on other countries that have found Omicron cases, such as Canada and the U.K.
The president also said he plans to put forth a detailed strategy to fight COVID-19 through the winter on Thursday. This strategy will be focused on things like vaccinations, boosters and testing, and the president was quick to note that lockdowns are off the table “for now.”
“If people are vaccinated and wear their masks, there’s no need for the lockdown,” Biden said, going back to his vaccine-focused message.