Biden: No need for a lockdown, urges Americans to remain vigilant while bracing for new Omicron variant

Biden: No need for a lockdown, urges Americans to remain vigilant while bracing for new Omicron variant

WASHINGTON (CBS 58) -- Federal officials are bracing for the new Omicron variant to be detected in the U.S.

The variant was center stage during a White House briefing on the matter which President Joe Biden said is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

The President added as of right now there's no plans to issue any lockdowns in attempt to prevent the spread, but urged Americans to remain vigilant.

"If people are vaccinated and wear their masks, there's no need for a lockdown," Biden told reporters.

The briefing on Monday comes the same day the administration's travel restrictions go into effect from several countries in southern Africa.

Biden said issuing the travel restriction will give them more time to learn about the virus and take action if necessary.

"While we know travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it, but here's what it does -- it gives us time to take more actions to move quicker," said Biden.

The President's chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said he believes current vaccines provide at least some protection against new variants and added boosters should strengthen that protection even more.

"There's no reason to believe that if you get a high level of antibodies from the vaccines we already have, there's no reason to believe that's not going to have an important impact on this new variant," Fauci said.

Locally, it's concerning for doctors who see one challenge stacked against another.

"It seems to be quite transmissible. We're seeing it in a number of different countries," Milwaukee County Chief Health Policy Advisor Dr. Ben Weston said.

Doctors said it will likely be weeks before the new variant's impact on the community will be known.

"We don't know whether it's more or less likely to cause hospitalizations than the delta variant," Weston said. 

While there are currently no confirmed Omicron cases in the U.S., Fauci said PCR tests should be able to detect the variant to alert the proper officials.

"Fortunately for us, the PCRs that we usually use would pick up this very unusual variant that has a large constellation of mutations," Fauci said.

Biden also is prepared to fast track vaccine development if Omicron requires it.

"In the event, hopefully unlikely, updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment."

On Thursday, the President said he will be releasing a detailed strategy outlining how to fight Covid-19 this winter.

He said part of that plan includes more widespread vaccinations, boosters and testing.

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