A new strain of COVID-19, the Omicron variant, was recently detected in southern Africa, leading to new travel restrictions, stock market panic, and debates among experts and the public over how concerning it is.

The Omicron variant has shown signs of spreading quickly and being heavily mutated. The symptoms associated with it also appear to be very mild. President Joe Biden said this week that Omicron "is a cause for concern, not panic," and that his administration would focus on vaccinations to combat it rather than lockdowns. The first Omicron case in the U.S. was announced Wednesday, and the variant has been detected in more than 25 other countries. Many scientists agree that the public should avoid jumping to conclusions about the variant, and say that the transmission rate, severity, and other details will be much clearer in a few weeks.

The variant has been covered prominently across the spectrum, but often with different framing. Coverage from right-rated outlets generally reflects less concern about Omicron than reports from left- and center-rated sources. The left is concentrating more on how mutated the variant is, and often quotes experts who express fear that it could be worse than other variants and extend the pandemic. The right focused more on reports that suggest Omicron leaves people with mild symptoms and doesn't seem to have a strong impact on vaccinated individuals; some on the right also expressed concerns about the potential for new Omicron-induced lockdowns, and criticized purported media bias in the press's coverage of the new travel restrictions vs. Trump-era COVID-19 travel bans

More from AllSides:

Snippets from the Left  

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

"Banning travel from southern Africa, where the variant was discovered last week, would not stop the coronavirus from finding its way to the United States, the officials told Mr. Biden, even though Britain and several other countries had announced similar restrictions. But the measures might slow the spread."

How worried should we be about Omicron, the new coronavirus variant?
CNN (analysis)

"Many vaccine researchers believe that those who have received not just the vaccine but the booster will have a very strong antibody response that could cover additional variants. We'll find out whether this is the case by assessing laboratory data and at real-life observations to see if people who are vaccinated and boosted are less likely to be infected with Omicron."

Snippets from the Center  

South Africa new cases double in 24 hours as Omicron spreads
BBC News

"Some 8,500 new Covid infections were registered in the latest daily figures. That is almost double the 4,300 cases confirmed the previous day. By contrast, daily infections were averaging between 200 and 300 in mid-November, a top South African scientist told the BBC. Omicron has now been detected in at least 24 countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization."

Omicron brings COVID-19 vaccine inequity ‘home to roost’
Associated Press

"Perhaps nowhere is the inequality more evident than in Africa, where under 7% of the population is vaccinated. South African scientists alerted the World Health Organization to the new omicron variant last week, though it may never be clear where it first originated. Researchers are now rushing to determine whether it is more infectious or able to evade current vaccines."

Snippets from the Right

Biden to Extend Mask Mandate on Planes, Toughen Testing for Travelers Amid Omicron Jitters
The Epoch Times

"International travelers coming to the United States will have to test for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, within 24 hours of departure, regardless of nationality or vaccination status. That’s a change from the current 72 hours."

Omicron has arrived — but there’s no reason for broad restrictions
New York Post (opinion)

"...the world should know by now the severe cost — both economically and in terms of public health — of imposing broad-based lockdowns and tough restrictions. The COVID lockdowns over the past 18 months led to countless businesses closing, supply-chains jamming, kids (needlessly) falling behind in school, social lives wrecked,  suicides rising . . . It was a mistake we can’t afford to repeat."

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