Joe Biden says Omicron variant ‘a cause for concern, not panic'

Joe Biden says the Omicron variant is a cause for concern but ‘not a cause for panic’ and he won’t reinstate widespread lockdowns.

The US president urged Americans to get fully vaccinated, including booster shots, and return to wearing face masks indoors to slow any spread.

Speaking on Monday at the White House, Mr Biden said it was inevitable the new variant would reach the USA but he also said the country has the tools necessary to protect Americans — particularly the approved jabs.

When Omicron arrives, and it will, he said, America will “face this new threat just as we’ve faced those that have come before it”.

He appealed to the around 80 million unvaccinated Americans aged five and over to get their shots and for the rest of the country to seek out booster shots six months after their second dose.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Omicron carries a “very high” risk of infection surges.

US President Biden meets with CEOs in Washington (REUTERS)

The new Covid variant has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic.

Countries around the world have moved quickly to tighten border controls to prevent a recurrence of last year’s strict lockdowns and steep economic downturns.

The UK is among countries ramping up Covid measures to combat the new Omicron variant.

From Tuesday, face coverings are again compulsory in England in shops and settings such as banks, post offices, hairdressers, and public transport.

Meanwhile all travellers returning to the UK must take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

Two more cases of Omicron have been detected in London bringing the total number of people with the strain identified in the UK to 11.

First reported on November 24 from South Africa, Omicron has since spread to more than a dozen countries.

The WHO has urged countries to use a “risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures”.

The United States has blocked entry for most visitors from eight southern African nations, saying this would give the country time to get more people vaccinated.

The global curbs, however, have triggered concerns about vaccine inequality.

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa and and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

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