Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and President Joe Biden‘s chief medical advisor, stated over the weekend that the newly-discovered omicron strain of Covid-19 is likely to be spreading in the United States even though no cases have been reported.

“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve been noted in Israel and Belgium and in other places — when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said on Saturday’s edition of Weekend Today.

Omicron was first identified by scientists in South Africa last week and has been detected in at least half a dozen other countries. Researchers fear that the variant’s numerous mutations – of which there are at least 30 – may render it exceptionally virulent and able to evade the protections offered by vaccines and boosters. Whether omicron causes more severe disease than delta, for example, is the subject of ongoing study.

“We don’t know that yet, but we’re going to assume that’s the case,” Fauci said of Omicron’s potential to plunge the world into another devastating winter wave of the pandemic, which globally has killed five million people. The United States is still leading the world in coronavirus fatalities. According to Worldometer’s Covid Tracker, the American death toll will surpass 800,000 before November concludes.

Fauci also sternly reminded the public that it is “absolutely essential that unvaccinated people get vaccinated and that vaccinated people get boosters” to help slow the spread and lessen the impact on infected individuals.

On Sunday, Fauci cautioned on ABC’s This Week that while it is too early to consider if additional lockdowns are necessary, people should continue social distancing and wearing masks. He stressed, however, that the potential for disaster is very real.

“We just really need to, as I’ve said so often, prepare for the worst,” Fauci told host George Stephanopoulos. “It may not be that we’re going to have to go the route that people are saying. We don’t know a lot about this virus. So, we want to prepare as best we can, but it may turn out that this preparation, although important, may not necessarily push us to the next level.”

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