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The Omicron variant was first detected in North America after being reported in Canada. Photo: Juan Ruiz Paramo
The Omicron variant was first detected in North America after being reported in Canada. Photo: Juan Ruiz Paramo

The world braces for COVID-19’s Omicron variant

There are no known cases of the Omicron variant in the U.S. right now, but officials are in planning stages for its likely arrival.

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The new Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been at the forefront of the pandemic discussion since last week.

First reported in South Africa on Nov. 24, 2021 by the World Health Organization, the Omicron variant has now made its way to North America after being detected in Canada.

The United States will now impose updated travel restrictions, starting today, Nov 29. The update restricts South Africa and seven other African nations from traveling to the United States.

Travel to the United States is officially restricted from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Malawi.

Other nations have implemented similar restrictions. The new travel restrictions come as countries outside the U.S. continue to confirm cases of the Omicron variant. 

In addition to South Africa and Canada, the variant has appeared in a number of countries and regions.

Italy, Israel, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Botswana, the U.K., Portugal, Germany, Hong Kong, the Czech Republic and Australia all have confirmed cases.

Experts expect the variant to eventually reach the United States.

After quickly spreading through South Africa, experts found that the variant has different mutations in the spike protein, making the effectiveness of current vaccines less understood.

As was the case with the Delta variant, there will be distinct qualities of the Omicron variant that pose threats through a lack of current understanding.

Experts are continuing to promote vaccinations in the fight against COVID. Last week in Philadelphia, there were an average of 254 cases per day.

As the city and surrounding areas dive further into the holiday season, worry may arise particularly around storefronts and dinner tables.

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb expressed on Sunday, Nov. 28 — on Face The Nation — that he and others are placing confidence in the protection of three full vaccine doses:

“[Experts] have a pretty good degree of confidence that a boosted vaccine, so three full doses of vaccine is gonna be fairly protective against this new variant,” said Gottlieb.

U.S. President Biden met with Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts on the same day to discuss the coronavirus and Omicron variant.

Those in the discussion concurred that vaccines will continue to be a focus while more information about Omicron’s characteristics will need to be determined in a two-week period.

This approximate two-week period will reveal the severity, effects and transmissibility of the Omicron variant — factors that will illustrate vaccine efficiency against the variant.

Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer-partner BioNTech are each investigating the variant’s effect on their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The CDC has reported that 59.1% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated with 19.1% of this group having received a booster shot.

While the Omicron variant will understandably be a dominant topic in health discussion going forward, it is important to also receive a flu shot in addition to a COVID-19 vaccination.

Resources are available to help residents pinpoint a location to receive a flu shot and COVID-19 booster shot in Philadelphia.

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