The US will see cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant "sooner or later," but this is no reason to panic, said President Joe Biden on Monday.
Speaking at a press briefing on the new variant after meeting with top health officials at the White House, Biden said American states "will have to face this new threat" and urged Americans to protect themselves against it through vaccination.
"This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic," said Biden, adding that the best protection against it is getting fully vaccinated or, if a person is already fully vaccinated, getting a booster shot.
On the US’ new restrictions on travel from South Africa and seven other nations in southern Africa, Biden said they would give officials more time to take action against the new variant.
Biden also praised South African authorities for identifying the variant quickly. "This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded," he added.
South African and other officials have said the travel bans effectively punishes the country for finding the variant.
Last week, South African scientists announced that they had discovered the omicron variant, which has several mutations that may carry the risk of reinfection. Cases of the same variant have since been found in a number of Western countries.
On Friday, the World Health Organization declared the strain a "variant of concern," naming it omicron.
Since December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed nearly 5.2 million lives in at least 192 countries and regions, with more than 261.65 million cases reported worldwide, according to the US’ Johns Hopkins University./aa