(WJW) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says not to let your guard down as the omicron variant, a new strain of COVID-19, spreads internationally.
He told viewers in an interview on Weekend TODAY Saturday that it was possible the omicron variant is already in the United States.
“I would not be surprised if it is. We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said.
South African scientists identified the variant this week, saying it’s behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.
It’s unclear where the new variant first emerged, but scientists in South Africa first alerted the World Health Organization and it has now been seen in travelers to Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
In a statement on Friday, the World Health Organization designated it as a “variant of concern,” naming it “omicron” after a letter in the Greek alphabet.
As of noon Friday, travelers arriving in the U.K. from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will have to self-isolate for 10 days.
European Union nations also moved quickly on Friday to ban air travel from southern Africa, and the U.S. also said it would ban travel from South Africa and seven other African nations by non-US citizens beginning Monday.