Dr. Anthony Fauci: People should get vaccinated and boosted

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks from the White House on the omicron variant, which was discovered in a patient in California. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2NGeIvi 

U.S. health officials have confirmed the country’s first case of the new, heavily mutated coronavirus variant called omicron in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said the individual, who was fully vaccinated, had just returned from traveling in South Africa to the San Francisco area on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29.

“The individual is self quarantining and all close contacts have been contacted and all close contacts, thus far, have tested negative,” he announced at a White House press briefing providing more details of the case. “We feel good that this patient not only had mild symptoms, but actually the symptoms appear to be improving.”

The CDC said genomic sequencing was initially conducted at the University of California, San Francisco and confirmed by the CDC as the omicron variant.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom cautioned residents against panicking. “But we should remain vigilant,” he said over Twitter. “That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.” Newsom has scheduled a press briefing at 3 p.m. ET on the variant.

Since South Africa first reported the variant to the World Health Organization a week ago, it’s been found in the Canada, U.K., Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Hong Kong, among other places. World leaders are on high alert, worried the virus is already widely seeded across the globe.

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that omicron has been reported in at least 23 countries.

Fauci said over the weekend that the variant would inevitably arrive in the U.S. On Sunday, two cases were identified in Ontario, Canada. The variant, initially known as B.1.1.529, was first detected in Botswana and South Africa’s Gauteng province, where Johannesburg is located.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel warned Monday that omicron has 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. A total of 14 of them are infected with the omicron strain, Dutch health authorities said.

Portuguese health authorities said Monday that 13 members and staff of a professional soccer team in Lisbon were infected with the variant after one of its players returned from a trip to South Africa.

“We also believe it is already present in most countries,” Bancel said. “I believe most countries that have 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 U.S. imposed a travel ban starting Monday for noncitizens who have traveled in South Africa and seven other nearby nations in the past 14 days. The U.K. and the European Union have implemented similar travel restrictions.

President Joe Biden said Monday he is directing the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use the “fastest process available without cutting any corners” to approve potential vaccines that target omicron and get them on the market.

The current Covid vaccines are believed to provide at least some protection from the heavily mutated omicron strain, and booster shots “strengthen that protection significantly,” Biden said in a speech at the White House.

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