President Joe Biden speaks during an event to commemorate Veterans Day in the Memorial Amphitheater, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 11, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
“On Thursday, I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter,” Biden said during remarks at the White House. “Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed Omicron a variant of concern and, in a subsequent update on Sunday, said it appears to be highly infectious. However, it’s not clear if the virus presents more severe disease symptoms, according to the WHO, as several doctors in South Africa and Israel told news outlets that those who are infected with Omicron may have milder symptoms.
Nonetheless, the European Union, the United States, and other countries implemented travel bans on several southern African countries this week. The U.S. travel ban went into effect on Monday at 12:01 a.m.
When pressed by a reporter, Biden qualified his statement saying that “if people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there’s no need for lockdown,” adding that top federal health officials believe the current vaccines can provide at least some protection against the Omicron variant.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” he said, calling on all eligible people to get vaccinated, to get their kids vaccinated, and to also get a booster shot.
During questioning from another reporter, Biden also touted mask-wearing. “I encourage everyone to wear a mask when they’re indoors in a crowded circumstance like we are right now, and unless eating or speaking at a microphone,” he said.
Other than federal government property and agencies, the White House has little latitude in mandating lockdowns. In the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the federal government instead relied on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which some state governments and local municipalities later adopted.