Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, has that he was encouraged by early reports on the severity of the new omicron variant, but warned against drawing premature conclusions.
"Thus far, it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to [the omicron variant],'' Fauci told CNN.
"But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn't cause any severe illness, comparable to delta," he added.
The medical expert's comments followed reports that hospitalization rates have not appeared to rise in any worrying way in South Africa, which first detected the highly contagious variant.
Fauci went on to say that he was hopeful that the travel ban against several African countries could be lifted "in a quite reasonable period of time."
Omicron has been detected in dozens of US states already, but the delta variant remains by far the dominant strain, fueling a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
Experts have warned that even if the omicron variant proves to be milder in its effects, the highly contagious virus will keep giving some of the people it infects serious problems.
Health authorities around the world continue to recommend vaccines and booster shots against COVID-19.
Elsewhere in the Americas
Argentina detected its first case of the omicron variant in a person who had travelled from South Africa, the country’s Health Ministry announced on Sunday. The traveller passed through the United States and has been in isolation since their arrival.
Argentina joins Brazil, Mexico and Chile on the list of Latin American countries where cases of the new variant have been detected.
South Africa is facing an unprecedent surge in cases driven by the new omicron variant. The number of daily infections in the country rose from 2,828 on November 26 to 16,055 last Friday, representing a five-fold increase.
On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged citizens to get vaccinated. Around a quarter of South Africa’s population has been vaccinated so far.
"We are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started," Ramaphosa said.
Most of the infections are located in Gauteng province, which contains the one of South Africa’s capitals, Pretoria, as well as the economic hub Johannesburg.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 27,836 new coronavirus cases and 81 new deaths on Monday. The seven-day rate of infection per 100,000 people increased slightly to 441.9.
Police in Belgium fired water cannons and tear gas as around 8,000 people marched through the capital in protest against forced health restrictions.
Denmark has recorded a jump in omicron cases, with the total number of detected infections of the variant rising to 183.
Italy's new stricter rules for curbing the spread of the virus come into effect on Monday. Several areas of public life, such as indoor dining, clubs, and cinemas, are now only accessible for people who have been fully vaccinated or recovered.
People who want to use public transport will also have to show proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test. The rules are set to stay in place until January 15.
Russia reported its first confirmed cases of the new omicron variant on Monday. 10 people who had returned from South africa have tested positive for COVID-19, of which two had the omicron variant, according to Russian news agency Interfax.
Last week, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the government to prepare an action plan to fight omicron.
Poland will present a new package of pandemic restrictions this week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Monday. He said that vaccination will become compulsory for some professions.
Only 54% of Poles are fully vaccinated, which is below the EU average of 66.4%.
Poland’s health ministry reported 13,250 new coronavirus infections and 25 COVID-related deaths on Monday.
Croatia's state health institude announced its first two cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Monday. The two people infected had not recently traveled, but participated in a business meeting where there were guests that had arrived from abroad.
Thailand and Nepal detected their first cases of the omicron variant on Monday.
In Thailand, it was a US citizen who had traveled to the country from Spain on November 29.
"This first confirmed case of Omicron variant is a 35-year-old man who is a U.S. citizen who lived in Spain for a year," said Opas Karnkawinpong, Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, adding that the patient had mild symptoms.
Meanwhile, Nepal’s health ministry said two individuals tested positive for the new strain — a 66-year-old foreign national who arrived by air on November 19 and a 71-year-old Nepal national who was in contact with the tourist.
Taiwan launched a drive to make vaccination of essential workers in 24 government-regulated industries mandatory.
Chen Shih-Chung, the island’s health minister and chief of Central Epidemic Control Command, said essential workers will have to provide employers roof of full vaccination or negative test results beginning January 1.
India saw a rise in the number of omicron cases, with the country’s total tally rising to 21 over the weekend.
The western state of Rajasthan reported nine cases — the highest in India, followed by eight in Maharashtra, two in Karnataka, and one each in Gujarat and the capital New Delhi.
ab, sdi/jsi (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)