Health experts, travelers weigh in on new COVID-19 variant of concern

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — There are growing concerns surrounding a new COVID-19 variant and because of that, the U.S. Is banning airline travel from South Africa and several other countries starting Monday.

The World Health Organization named the Omicron variant as a variant of concern Friday, making it one of five variants of concern. However, there are still tons of unknowns.

After the World Health Organization identified the new variant of concern, President Biden ordered air travel restrictions as a precautionary measure. European Union nations also agreed to impose a travel ban to counter its spread.

Health experts say travel restrictions can delay, but not prevent the spread of a highly transmissible variant.

8 On Your Side talked with an infectious disease specialist who says it’s too early to panic but understands why these restrictions are going in place.

“We’ve sadly seen this play out multiple times now,” Dr. Mohammed Reza said. “What happens in a different part of the world can affect us here in the U.S. It may not be today or tomorrow but several weeks down the line.”

Reza added, “Given air travel throughout our world, it’s really difficult to keep some of these viruses from transmitting to other parts of the world.”

Right now, health leaders are trying to figure out how contagious this new strain is.

“The concern is the large spike in infections, new infections in South Africa is what prompted everyone to take precaution,” Reza said.

So far, no one has been diagnosed in the U.S. with this new variant.

Moderna announced Friday it’s already in the process of testing three booster vaccines against the newest variant.

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