Pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine sit on a table at National Jewish Health on Nov. 3, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.
Michael Ciaglo | Getty Images News
The U.S. has not found any cases of the new omicron Covid variant so far, the CDC said late Friday, referring to a heavily mutated strain of the virus that has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.
“No cases of this variant have been identified in the U.S. to date,” according to the statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country. We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.,” it said.
However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s Weekend TODAY show on Saturday that he “would not be surprised” if the omicron variant is already in the U.S.
“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said.
The newly identified strain — referred to as lineage B.1.1.529 — was first detected in South Africa and raised concerns due to the rapid rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country’s Gauteng province.
The UN health agency only designates Covid strains as variants of concern when they’re more transmissible, more virulent or more adept at evading vaccines and therapeutics.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the World Health Organization said. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other [variants of concern]. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.”
The U.S. on Friday imposed travel restrictions for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa and seven other countries in the region. The restrictions will begin on Monday, and are part of global efforts to blunt the spread of omicron, according to senior Biden administration officials.
The other countries included in the ban were Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
There was no indication of how long the restrictions will be in place.
On Saturday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Department advised against travel to eight southern African countries.
The CDC raised its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High” for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana, while the State Department issued parallel “Do Not Travel” advisories Saturday. On Monday, the CDC had lowered its COVID-19 travel advisory for South Africa to “Level 1: Low.”
—CNBC’s Christina Wilkie and Reuters contributed to this report.