By Marie Saavedra and Asal Rezaei
CHICAGO (CBS) – The world is watching as a potentially dangerous new variant of COVID-19 has prompted the United States to block travel from South Africa and seven other African countries.
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Meanwhile, many of the doctors we’ve heard from in recent weeks have said they expect the number of COVID-19 to increase as we go through this holiday season, and that more and more more people come together and travel.
As CBS 2’s Asal Rezaei reported on Friday evening, a local doctor said that with a spike in cases comes the possibility for the virus to continue to mutate – giving life to new variants.
Officials say it’s an over-cautious move, but the concern is real.
It was enough to bring down the Dow Jones today by more than 1,000 points. The S&P and NASDAQ both fell more than 2%.
The B.1.1.529 variant was found in South Africa. Over the past eight hours we have seen the world change because of it.
On Friday afternoon, the World Health Organization named it Omicron, calling it a variant of concern, due to a large number of mutations that lead to an increased risk of reinfection.
Here at home, doctors say it pays to be careful.
“We are not surprised that a new variant has emerged, we were expected to see new variants,” Dr Rachel Rubin of the Cook County Department of Public Health told CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra .
Rubin said the risk of re-infection is indeed a concern.
“This indicates that very likely we will see more revolutionary cases,” she said.
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The risk of rupture cases with the variant – along with concerns about increased transmissibility – was enough for health officials to continue their efforts to get vaccinated and keep the mask warrants in place.
That’s a lot of action to take for a strain that is still very mysterious.
“There’s no way to know if it’s still there, although we’ll find out soon, or if it’s going to become widespread,” Rubin said.
Dr Rubin says research in the coming weeks will answer these questions.
Meanwhile, the Delta variant continues to spread across Chicago. She says getting a shot or a booster is the best way to fight this variant. The masking and distance should stay put until we know more about the next one.
“That’s why these other things we do to protect ourselves from vaccines become all the more important,” Rubin said.
Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the COVID Response Team briefed President Joe Biden as information emerged.
“It’s in a fluid motion,” Fauci said. “We’re finding more about it and it’s literally something in real time. We are learning more and more.
As they continue to learn more, President Biden ordered these restrictions on air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. . The restrictions will not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, who will still need to test negative for the coronavirus before traveling.
Meanwhile, Dr Rubin said the new variant won’t be the last.
“We certainly know and expect other variations to develop over time,” she said.
The race is also on to find out how well current vaccines work against this new variant. Moderna and Pfizer say it will take a few weeks to find out if its doses are effective against Omicron.
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And in his statement on Friday, President Biden called on other countries to donate as many vaccines as the United States. He also wants intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines to be lifted. If that happens, they can be made globally and reach more people.