White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci delivers opening remarks at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on “The Way Forward: The Next Steps Against COVID-19” on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 4, 2021.
Elisabeth Franz | Reuters
On Friday, the US will hold talks with scientists in South Africa to “get the facts” about an emerging, highly mutated variant of omicron Covid-19 found there in a small number of samples, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN to New Day. … “Friday morning.
The South African Study Review will help the United States better understand omicron could bypass the antibodies against the virus provided by vaccines and previous infection, Fauci said.
With countries in Europe and Asia imposing travel restrictions for several countries in southern Africa, Fauci added that analyzing the data could help determine if similar measures might also be needed in the United States. Biden administration officials later confirmed that the US would restrict travel for non-citizens. from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“It’s really what moves,” Fauci said. “And we just had a discussion right now between our scientists and scientists in South Africa a little later in the morning to really get the facts, because you hear a lot of things back and forth.”
Fauci stressed that the US is in “very active contact” with South African scientists and is working on the molecular composition of this option for laboratory testing.
The new strain is now being found in an increasing number of countries, including Belgium, Botswana and Israel. Fauci said that “there is no indication” that omicroNS still got to the USA.
Omicron contains even more mutations than the world’s most abundant Covid strain, the highly transmitted delta variant. New strain contains about 50 mutations, according to data presented by scientist Tulio de Oliveira at a briefing organized by the South African Ministry of Health on Thursday. This includes over 30 mutations in the spike protein that allows Covid to enter cells, and 10 mutations in the receptor-binding domain that first comes into contact with cells.
In comparison, delta has only two receptor binding domain mutations.
According to de Oliveira’s presentation at the briefing, some of the mutations found in the omicron are associated with increased antibody resistance and may lower the barrier posed by Covid vaccines. He noted that some mutations could lead to more infectiousness, while others have not been reported so far.
The first data indicate that omicron carries a higher risk of re-infection than other worrying options, the WHO said in a statement Friday.
World Health Organization officials said Thursday that the omicron contains a large number of mutations, but has only been found in small numbers across South Africa. The organization announced a special meeting on Friday to further discuss the possible implications of this option for vaccines and treatments for Covid.
On Friday, WHO assigned the Greek letter omicron to the strain, and its technical advisory group on the evolution of the virus has formally classified omicron as an option of concern, a designation for mutations that are more infectious and more virulent and that can more easily escape vaccination and treatment. …
Fauci said the US will decide to impose travel restrictions “as soon as possible” if health officials deem it necessary after reviewing South Africa’s data. The 27 member states of the European Union jointly agreed on Friday to suspend travel from southern Africa, and the UK also suspended flights from six countries in the region.
In Asia, Singapore has banned flights from southern Africa, and Japan has tightened border controls for anyone entering the region.
“You are willing to do whatever you need to do to protect the American public, but you want to make sure there is a reason for that,” Fauci said. “And that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Correction: South African Department of Health provided a briefing on B.1.1.529. Covid option on Thursday. previous version this story incorrect date.