WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden on Monday called the coronavirus variant omicron a "cause for concern, not a cause for panic" as he urged Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Biden plans to outline Thursday a "detailed strategy" on how the administration will fight COVID-19 in the coming winter.
"Not with shutdowns or lockdowns," he said. "But with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."
Biden's remarks came on the day travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries begin. Biden announced the travel rules Friday, days after the variant was first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa.
WHO has urged countries not to impose flight bans on southern African nations.
"Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the organization said in a statement Sunday.
But Biden said the restrictions are necessary to give Americans more time to get their first vaccines or to get booster shots.
"It gives us time to take more action, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get the vaccine," he said.
Though advisers do not believe yet that new vaccines will be needed to fight the variant, Biden said, the administration is working with vaccine manufacturers on contingencies.
WHO warned Monday that the omicron variant is likely to quickly spread around the globe, possibly with "severe consequences." Since South Africa's first report, the variant has been detected in multiple countries, including Canada.
"Sooner or later, we're going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States," Biden said. "Do not wait. Go get your booster, if it's time for you to do so. And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to get vaccinated and to take your children to be vaccinated."
Biden made ending the pandemic and getting the economy and daily life back on track the top priority of his administration. At a Fourth of July celebration this year, Biden declared the nation was "closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus."
But the highly contagious delta variant has caused infections to surge.
Now Biden is dealing with a heavily mutated new variant as more people are traveling and gathering together for the holidays.
In a White House meeting with the COVID-19 response team Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Biden existing vaccines - particularly those augmented with booster shots - will provide protection against severe cases of COVID-19.
Fauci also said it will take about two more weeks to get more definitive information on how easily omicron is spread, whether it causes more severe illness and how well vaccines protect against it.
Biden's requirement that workers at larger businesses get vaccinated or be regularly tested for the coronavirus is on hold while legal challenges from conservative states and businesses proceed.
The administration announced last week that 92% of federal employees had received at least one dose of the vaccine by the Nov. 22 deadline for those workers.
Maureen Groppe has covered Washington for nearly three decades and is now a White House correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter @mgroppe.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden says coronavirus omicron variant 'not a cause for panic'