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Omicron Variant Watch: Multiple Cases Reach North America

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - North America has now joined the list of continents with reported cases of the newest COVID-19 variant - Omicron.

Two cases were reported in Canada on Monday, bringing the worldwide total of countries with a documented instance to over 14. Other countries include: Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa, the United Kingdom and more.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa days before Thanksgiving.

On Friday, the Netherlands held two planes that had arrived from South Africa on a tarmac at one of their airports in order to test all passengers onboard.

The tests revealed 61 positive COVID-19 cases - 13 of which were of the Omicron variant. As of now, the Delta variant is still the dominant strain present in America, but experts predict that Omicron could soon take charge in the coming weeks.

In response, the United States has announced a travel ban to and from eight African countries, including: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

State leaders remind Americans to remain vigilant and get vaccinated to ease what is likely an oncoming surge of new COVID-19 cases.

President Joe Biden, in a public address from the White House on Monday, stated that the variant, "is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Medical experts also urge that people eligible for booster shots get those as soon as possible.

Doctor Anne Rimoin of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health offered a reminder to the United States, stating that vaccinations are still expected to prevent serious disease, hospitalizations and potential death despite the fact that the Omicron variant may be able to evade immune responses generated by vaccinations. The effect of the vaccine would likely still be enough to tide whatever symptoms are presented with a positive case.

She also indicated that the Omicron variant is already likely here in the United States - and spreading. Rimoin issued a somewhat harrowing reminder on the COVID-19 pandemic that has plagued the world for the greater part of two years:

"An infection anywhere is potentially an infection everywhere."

Rimoin also opined that while the travel bans may do well to prevent additional exposure over coming days the new variant should be handled in a separate manner when it comes to travel - mandatory quarantine and testing procedures for all for travelers coming into the United States.

Experts from the World Health Organization warn that the global risk from the Omicron variant is very high, as it is potentially more contagious. However, the severity is currently unclear. This is the WHO's most explicit warning in regards to a coronavirus variant to date, as Omicron could lead to new surges with "severe consequences" worldwide.

Doctor Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases and Chief Medical Officer to the President, stated that scientists could need up to two weeks to determine the specifics of the newest COVID-19 variant.

The Omicron variant is rumored to have at least 50 mutations - with 30 different mutations on the spike protein, which allows the virus to enter the human body. The high number of mutations could ease the virus's bypass of natural immunity and/or immunity by vaccination.

Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health remarked that researchers are still somewhat in the dark when it comes to Omicron: "We don't have enough information about whether it's more transmissible, whether it's more severe disease and critically is it able to escape the effects of the vaccines."

On Monday, Los Angeles County reported 10 deaths from COVID-19 and 694 new positive cases, disclosing the fact that numbers are always lower at the beginning of the week due to lack of reporting over the weekend.

L.A. County also announced on Sunday that 100 percent of the current positive cases reported are of the Delta variant.

A strict COVID-19 vaccine mandate was also officially instituted on Monday, with the goal of requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and more.

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