“The only thing that’s clear (…) is its extraordinary ability to spread,” Fauci told NBC News. “It just (…) wreaks havoc all over the world.”
Since it first appeared in South Africa in November, omicron has been recognized in dozens of countries, forcing many to resume travel restrictions and other measures.
Although it does not appear to be more dangerous than the delta variant – which remains the dominant strain – the oomicron, which is riddled with mutations, appears to have worrisome resistance to vaccines and greater transmissibility, according to preliminary data.
Fauci also cautioned against being overly optimistic about the severity of omicrons, noting that the situation in South Africa, where the hospitalization rate appears to be lower than in the Delta, may be due to underlying immunity from past and disseminated infections.
“When you have this many infections, even if they seem less serious,” he added, “it could put our hospitals under severe stress in the coming weeks,” particularly in areas of the country with low infection levels.
Fauci urged Americans who have not yet been vaccinated to do so and those who have been vaccinated to get the booster shot. About 70% of the country’s population has received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which means 50 million people who qualify remain unvaccinated.
“With omicron, (…) we will live through some difficult weeks or months, as winter enters,” Fauci noted.
The United States is the country hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 800,000 deaths from COVID-19 identified as of last Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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