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With Scant Information on Omicron, Biden Turned to Travel Ban to Buy Time

  • November 30, 2021

In his remarks on Monday, Mr. Biden promised that he was “sparing no effort, removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.”

That pledge came as some Republicans seized on the existence of another variant to attack the president. The Republican National Committee issued a statement saying that “Biden failed to shut down the virus as he promised.” Representative Ronny Jackson of Texas, who served as President Donald J. Trump’s White House physician, suggested that Omicron was created by liberals eager to impose further Covid restrictions.

White House officials dismissed the political criticism. Natalie Quillian, the deputy Covid-19 response coordinator, said the potential dangers from the new variant were serious enough to prompt a flurry of meetings among officials from multiple agencies, calls with pharmaceutical companies and urgent messages to health officials in other countries.

“There was a sense of concern, a sense that this felt different from other variants,” Ms. Quillian said. “This had enough of the markers to differentiate itself in the level of concern we felt. We sort of kicked into action Thursday night and Friday.”

The new variant upended the Thanksgiving holiday for administration officials and top scientists, who had scattered across the country for celebrations.

The variant was identified by South African scientists on Thursday afternoon, as many U.S. officials were sitting down to dinner. Shortly before midnight, Dr. David A. Kessler, the chief science officer for the government’s coronavirus response, reached out to a South African partnership, which sent back a genomic sequencing report on the variant.

Dr. Fauci and Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, were in contact with their counterparts in South Africa late on Thanksgiving Day. Jeff Zients, the president’s Covid-19 response coordinator, and others spent most of the night making calls.

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