By Ciara Linnane
The World Health Organization said Friday it has not seen any reports of deaths caused by the new variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 dubbed omicron, and again urged people not to panic as for now the delta strain remains dominant around the world.
Delta currently accounts for 99% of all COVID infections, Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, told Reuters, adding that it’s impossible to predict whether omicron will overtake it. The new strain, which was classified a “variant of concern” by the WHO last Friday, has so far spread fast in South Africa, where doctors first reported on it, and has been detected in at least two dozen countries.
But further testing is required to determine whether it is more transmissible than other variants, including delta, more lethal or more resistant to vaccines and treatments.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing in Geneva that vaccine makers should get ready to tweak their products, and Ugur Sahin, head of Germany’s BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +1.32% said that company should be able to adapt the vaccine it co-developed with Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +2.99% relatively quickly.
Sahin has said this week that the current vaccine should still offer protection against severe disease, even with the many mutations carried by omicron.
Multiple cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in New York, health officials said Thursday, including a man who attended an anime convention in Manhattan in late November and tested positive for the variant when he returned home to Minnesota, as the Associated Press reported.
“No cause for alarm. We just want to make sure that the public is aware of information when we receive it,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The U.S. has already implemented restrictions on travel from South Africa and neighboring countries and President Joe Biden on Thursday called for unity as his administration rolled out a plan for fighting COVID-19 during the winter, while also pushing back on Republican opposition to his vaccine mandate for large employers.
“While my existing federal vaccination requirements are being reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates,” Biden said, during a brief speech at the National Institutes of Health headquarters in Bethesda, Md.
It’s “a plan that all Americans hopefully can rally around, and it should get bipartisan support, in my humble opinion. It should unite us, not continue to separate us,” he added.
The administration’s winter COVID plan , which comes as the omicron variant of the coronavirus sparks concerns, includes an expansion for at-home testing in the U.S. and tighter COVID testing timelines for travelers entering the country.
The U.S. is averaging more than 1,000 COVID deaths a day, and cases and hospitalizations are rising again, according to a New York Times tracker. New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota are leading the country in new cases measured on a per capita basis, the tracker shows.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker, meanwhile, is showing that almost 198 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 59.6% of the overall population, one of the lower rates for a wealthy country.
The government is planning to again push unvaccinated people to get their shots and encourage all adults to get boosters, Biden said Thursday. Most of the recent cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, as they have been for months.