US health officials have confirmed the new country’s first case. strongly mutated coronavirus variant named Omicron in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday.
White House senior medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said the person who was fully vaccinated had just returned to the San Francisco area from a trip to South Africa on November 22nd and tested positive on November 29th.
“The person is in self-quarantine and all close contacts have been contacted and all close contacts have so far tested negative,” he announced at a press conference at the White House, at which further details on the case were disclosed. “We feel good that this patient not only had mild symptoms, but that symptoms actually appear to be improving.”
The CDC said genome sequencing was originally performed at the University of California at San Francisco and confirmed by the CDC as an Omicron variant.
California Governor Gavin Newsom warned residents not to panic. “But we should stay vigilant,” he said on Twitter. “That means get vaccinated. Get empowered. Wear a mask indoors.” Newsom has scheduled a press conference on the variant at 3 p.m. ET. Newsom and local officials in San Francisco said they did not expect to put new restrictions on residents in the face of the Omicron.
“There is more panic than information about this new variant,” Newsom said, adding that everyone needs to be more vigilant, but bans are not being considered. “I think we can communicate to avoid closings, we can avoid closing our schools or shops. None of us want that to happen. “
Since South Africa first reported the variant to the World Health Organization a week ago it was found in the Canada, UK, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Hong Kong, among others. World leaders are on high alert and fear that the virus is already spreading around the world.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that Omicron has been reported in at least 23 countries.
Fauci said over the weekend that the variant would inevitably arrive in the US. Two cases were identified in Ontario, Canada, on Sunday. The variant originally known as B.1.1.529 was first discovered in Botswana and the South African province of Gauteng, where Johannesburg is located.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel warned on Monday that Omicron had already spread around the world. He pointed to flights arriving in Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday, when 61 out of 624 passengers tested positive for Covid. A total of 14 of them are infected with the Omicron strain, said the Dutch health authorities.
The Portuguese health authorities announced on Monday that 13 members and employees of a professional football team in Lisbon became infected with the variant after one of their players returned from a trip to South Africa.
“We also believe that it is already there in most countries,” said Bancel. “I believe that most of the countries that have had direct flights from South Africa in the past seven to 10 days already have cases in their country that they may not be aware of.”
The USA a travel ban was imposed from Monday for non-citizens who have traveled in the past 14 days in South Africa and seven other nearby countries. The UK and the European Union have similar travel restrictions in place.
President Joe Biden said Monday directs the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use “the fastest, no-compromise method available” to approve and bring potential vaccines for Omikron to market.
Current Covid vaccines are believed to provide at least some protection from the highly mutated Omicron strain, and booster vaccinations “greatly strengthen that protection,” Biden said in a White House speech.
Omicron was named “Variant of concern“By the World Health Organization on Friday, meaning it is more contagious, virulent or adept at bypassing public health measures, vaccines and therapeutics. The variant contains more than 30 mutations in the spike protein that allows the virus to enter the body. The new strain has a total of around 50 mutations, 10 of them in the receptor binding domain, the part of the virus that comes into contact with cells first.
Officials have warned that many of these mutations could lead to increased antibody resistance and transmissibility, which could limit the effectiveness of Covid vaccines.
“The molecular profile of the types of mutations you see (in Omicron) suggests that they may be more transmissible and elude some of the protection offered by vaccines,” Fauci said Wednesday. “But we don’t know that now.”
He said we need to prepare that immun protection from vaccines and recovery from Covid against Omicron could be diminished and stressed the need for boosters.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, Chair of the South African Medical Association, described the symptoms associated with Omicron as “extremely mild” until now. However, Bancel cautioned that the symptoms reported in South Africa may not be a good predictor of the variant’s virulence, with less than 5% of the population being over 60 and far fewer comorbidities than in the US and Europe, where people do tend to get older and sicker.
“I think today it’s really impossible to know … I don’t think what is going to happen in South Africa in the next week or two will predict the full virulence of a virus,” said Bancel.
Drug manufacturers have responded quickly to the new variant. Pfizer and BioNTech said they could study Omicron and adjust their vaccine if necessary. Johnson & Johnson said it was already testing its vaccine against the variant. Modern said it would test three booster candidates against Omicron, including a higher dose of its original Covid booster. The company also said it will develop a booster dose specific to the variant.
For Americans going on vacation, they should still feel safe after Fauci celebrating indoors with the vaccinated family and friends.
“You can feel safe without wearing a mask and having dinner or a reception,” he said. “But if you are in a public gathering where you do not know the vaccination status of the people involved, it is very advisable to wear a mask.”
– CNBC’s Robert Towey and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.