Pandemic Thread: The Omicron Variant

I said in a comment last night that Laurie Garrett is my personal ‘panic, or nah?’ pandemic guide — she’s enough of an expert on this topic that I trust her judgement. Well, do not panic, but yes it looks like this has the potential to be serious…

The Trickster God is a capricious bastid, but you have to admire his timing. Here’s an AP article summarizing what we know at the moment:

The White House said the U.S. will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning Monday. It did not give details except to say the restrictions will not apply to returning U.S. citizens or permanent residents, who will continue to be required to test negative before their travel.

Medical experts, including the WHO, warned against any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa was better understood. But a jittery world feared the worst nearly two years after COVID-19 emerged and triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe…

There was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, South African experts said. The WHO panel drew from the Greek alphabet in naming the variant omicron, as it has done with earlier, major variants of the virus.

Even though some of the genetic changes appear worrisome, it was unclear if the new variant would pose a significant public health threat. Some previous variants, like the beta variant, initially concerned scientists but did not spread very far…

It has yet to be detected in the United States, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert. Abroad, the variant “seems to be spreading at a reasonably rapid rate,” he told CNN. And although it may be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines than other variants, “we don’t know that for sure right now.”…

Fauci said U.S. public health officials were talking Friday with South African colleagues. “We want to find out scientist to scientist exactly what is going on.”…

Statement from President Biden, this afternoon:

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