The CDC said on Wednesday it had confirmed the first U.S. case of the new, highly mutated coronavirus variant called omicron, which has been detected in northern California.
White House chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said the patient, who was fully vaccinated, had just returned to the San Francisco area on November 22 after traveling to South Africa and tested positive November 29.
“The individual is self-quarantining, and all close contacts have been contacted and (…) so far have tested negative,” he said at a press briefing to the White House providing more details on the case. “We feel good that this patient not only has mild symptoms, but in fact the symptoms seem to be improving.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said genomic sequencing was initially done at the University of California, San Francisco, and the CDC has confirmed the omicron variant.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average went from a gain of 520 points for the day to a loss of over 461 points after the CDC confirmed the deal.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom cautioned residents on Twitter, saying, “There is no reason to panic, but we must remain vigilant. It means getting the shot. Getting a boost. Wearing a face mask. interior. ”
During a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Newsom said the patient was between 18 and 49 years old and had not received a booster because he was not six months away from his treatment schedule. initial vaccination.
Newsom and local San Francisco officials have said they have no plans to impose further restrictions on residents in light of omicron.
“There is more panic than information surrounding this new variant,” Newsom said, adding that everyone needs to be more vigilant but the blockages are not being investigated. “I think we can communicate so that we don’t have any shutdowns, we can avoid shutting down our schools or our businesses. None of us want that to happen.”
Since South Africa first reported the variant to the World Health Organization a week ago, it has been found in Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands. Bas, Germany, Italy and Hong Kong, among others. World leaders are on high alert fearing the virus has already spread widely around the world.
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that omicron had been reported in at least 23 countries.
Fauci said over the weekend that the variant will inevitably arrive in the United States. As of Sunday, two cases were identified in Ontario, Canada. The variant, originally known as B.1.1.529, was first detected in Botswana and in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where Johannesburg is located.
Moderna CEO StÃ©phane Bancel warned on Monday that the omicron had already spread across the planet. He pointed to flights that arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday in which 61 of 624 passengers tested positive for Covid. Dutch health authorities have said 14 of them are infected with the omicron strain.
Portuguese health authorities said on Monday that 13 members and staff of a professional football team in Lisbon were infected with the variant after one of its players returned from a trip to South Africa.
“We also believe that it is already present in most countries,” Bancel said. “I think most of the countries that have had direct flights from South Africa in the last seven to 10 days already have cases in their country that they may not be aware of.”
The United States has imposed a travel ban from Monday on non-nationals who have traveled to South Africa and seven other neighboring countries in the past 14 days. The UK and the European Union have similar travel restrictions in place.
President Joe Biden said Monday he was directing the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to use the “fastest process available without cutting corners” to approve potential vaccines that target omicron and put them on the market. Marlet.
Current Covid vaccines are believed to offer at least some protection against the highly mutated omicron strain, and the booster shots “greatly enhance that protection,” Biden said in a White House speech.
The WHO on Friday classified the omicron as a “variant of concern”, which means it is more contagious, more virulent or more apt to evade public health measures, vaccines and treatments. The variant contains over 30 mutations of the spike protein that allows the virus to enter the body. The new strain has around 50 mutations in total, only 10 of which are in the receptor binding domain, the part of the virus that comes into contact with cells for the first time.
Authorities have warned that many of these mutations could lead to increased resistance and transmissibility of antibodies, which could limit the effectiveness of Covid vaccines.
“The molecular profile of the types of mutations you see [in omicron] would suggest that it could be more transmissible and that it could escape some of the protection of the vaccines, âFauci said on Wednesday. âBut we don’t know that now. “
He said we need to prepare for the possibility that immune protection from vaccines and recovery from Covid may be diminished against omicron, stressing the need for boosters.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association, has described the symptoms related to omicron as “extremely mild” so far. However, Bancel warned that the symptoms reported in South Africa may not be a good predictor of the virulence of the variant since less than 5% of the population is over 60 years of age and there are far fewer comorbidities than. in the United States and Europe, where people tend to be older and sicker.
âI think today it’s really impossible to knowâ¦ I don’t think what will happen in the next week or two in South Africa will predict the total virulence of a virus,â said Bancel.
Drug makers reacted quickly to the new variant. Pfizer and BioNTech said they are studying the omicron and could adapt their vaccine if necessary. Johnson & Johnson said they are already testing their vaccine against the variant. Moderna has said he will test three booster candidates against omicron, including a higher dosage of his original Covid booster. The company also said it will develop a variant-specific booster dose.
Fauci said Americans before the holidays should always feel safe celebrating indoors with family and friends who have been vaccinated.
âYou can feel safe not wearing a mask and having dinner or hosting a reception,â he said. “But when you are in a public gathering place where you do not know the immunization status of those affected, it is very safe to wear a mask.”
– CNBC’s Robert Towey and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.