Fauci warns ‘raging’ Omicron will strain US hospitals

Fauci warns ‘raging’ Omicron will strain US hospitals

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has warned of mounting “stress” on the US hospital system as new coronavirus cases tied to the highly transmissible Omicron variant start “raging” through America and the world.

“Our hospitals, if things look like they’re looking now, in the next week or two, are going to be very stressed with people,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told ABC on Sunday.

“We have so many people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet been vaccinated. And that’s going to be a real problem for stress on the hospital system,” he added.

Fauci’s warning came as Covid-19 infections in America have spiked over the past week: both New York State and the District of Columbia have reported successive days of record cases. On Sunday, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker both announced that they had tested positive.

The big concern is that this new surge could overwhelm the US medical system assuming it is accompanied by a rising hospitalisation rate, particularly among Americans who are either unvaccinated or did not receive a booster shot.

The spread of the Omicron variant has also put pressure on the White House to step up its own Covid response: Biden is expected to speak on Tuesday to lay out his administration’s plans to fight the surge.

Access to vaccines as well as rapid tests has been difficult in some cities, jeopardising the response to the new wave of cases. Fauci acknowledged that the availability of tests was “spotty” but said within a “week or two or three” there would be much more. The goal, he added, was to “get anywhere from 200m to 500m tests available per month, which means that there will be a lot of tests”.

In a separate interview with NBC on Sunday, Fauci said Biden’s focus on Tuesday would be on “upscaling some of the things that we’ve been talking about”.

These included “getting people boosted who are vaccinated, getting children vaccinated, making testing more available, having surge teams out because we know we’re going to need them because there will be an increased demand on hospitalisation, strengthening the safety of travel and providing vaccines for the rest of the world”.

White House officials have so far ruled out any new travel restrictions, though the US does now require a Covid test within one day of travelling to America.

Fauci also urged Americans to be “prudent” with their holiday plans.

“You have to be wearing a mask on a plane. Do not do things like go to gatherings where there are people who you do not know what their vaccination status is . . . some people are even going the extra step or the extra mile of maybe even getting tested when you have people coming over the house,” he said.

“Nothing is 100 per cent risk-free, but I think if you do the things that I just mentioned, you’d actually mitigate that risk enough to feel comfortable about being able to enjoy the holiday,” he said.

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