FILE – In this April 13, 2020 file photo, Dr.Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady press room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo / Alex Brandon)

U.S. health officials said on Sunday that if the omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly across the country, early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than the Delta, which continues to cause an increase in hospitalizations.

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about the severity of the disease. omicron.

Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly.

“So far, it doesn’t appear that there is a great degree of seriousness,” Fauci said. “But we really have to be careful before we determine that it is less serious or that it does not really cause any serious illness, comparable to the delta.”

Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions on non-nationals entering the United States from several African countries. They were imposed when the omicron variant exploded in the region, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lambasted measures such as “travel apartheid.”

“I hope we can lift this ban within a reasonable enough time frame,” Fauci said. “We all feel very bad about the hardships that have been imposed not only on South Africa but on other African countries.”

Omicron had been detected in about a third of US states on Sunday, including the northeast, south, great plains and the west coast. Wisconsin and Missouri were among the last states to confirm cases.

But the delta remains the dominant variant, accounting for more than 99% of cases and leading to a wave of hospitalizations in the north. National Guard teams have been dispatched to help overwhelmed hospitals in western New York, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has issued an emergency order requiring all hospitals facing limited patient capacity. reduce scheduled procedures that are not urgent.

U.S. officials have continued to urge people to get vaccinated and receive booster shots, as well as to take precautions such as wearing masks when they are among strangers inside, saying everything what helps protect against delta will also help protect against other variants.

Even though omicron is found to be less dangerous than delta, it remains problematic, World Health Organization epidemiologist Dr Maria Van Kerkhove told CBS ‘Face The Nation.

“Even though we have a large number of mild cases, some of these people will need to be hospitalized,” she said. “They will have to go to intensive care and some people will die. … We don’t want this to happen on top of an already difficult situation with a delta circulating on a global scale.

Two years after the start of the epidemic, COVID-19 has killed more than 780,000 Americans, and the death toll is around 860 per day.

More than 6,600 new hospital admissions are reported daily, according to tracking data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States have fallen by about half since the Delta peaked in August and September, but at more than 86,000 new infections per day, the numbers are still high, especially in approaching the holidays, when people travel and get together with family.

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