US President Joseph Biden Thursday forecast a quick spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus throughout his country this winter and an ensuing outbreak of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated.
Due to the new strain, European nations are implementing harsher travel restrictions, while the United States, the hardest-hit country in the world, is currently averaging 1,150 daily COVID-19 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of December 1, the average of new daily cases of infection was 86,000. On December 14, it had shot up to 117,000 -- an increase of 35 percent.
In this scenario, Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated or boosted. A few weeks ago, Biden had said Omicron was no reason to panic. The only real protection is to get your shot, Biden said.
I want to send a direct message to the American people: Due to the steps we've taken Omicron has not yet spread as fast as it would have otherwise done, he went on. But it's here now and it's spreading and it's gonna increase. ... We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated -- for themselves, their families and the hospitals they'll soon overwhelm. But there's good news: If you're vaccinated and you have your booster shot, you're protected from severe illness and death.
Biden also insisted vaccination was good for the economy. If we do this, we're gonna keep schools and businesses open ... and I want to see everyone around enjoy that. I want to see them enjoy the fact that they're able to be in school, that businesses are open and the holidays are coming.
When the Omicron strain was identified weeks ago, the United States halted travel from several African countries but did not introduce any other restrictions, and has not tightened health measures on domestic flights.
Health ministers from the G7 Thursday called for international cooperation in the face of the Omicron strain, which they called the biggest current threat to global public health.
As the number of cases grows in the US, Broadway shows are being canceled and many universities are reverting to classes and tests online to try to halt the spread of the virus. The National Football League has introduced stricter health controls after 100 or so players tested positive since the beginning of the week. The NBA has also been hit with games being postponed.
The United States surpassed 800,000 Covid deaths Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. This year, around 450,000 people have died of Covid, most of them non-vaccinated, even though effective and free vaccines became available around March. According to the latest reports, only about 1 in 6 people in the US are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
The CDC has predicted an increase in Covid-19 deaths would bring the tally to 837,000 to 845,000 people by Jan. 8, as hospital admissions are expected to reach record levels.
Omicron will soon become the dominant coronavirus variant in the US, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It has what we call a doubling time of about three days, said Fauci.