Omicron variant: Florida doctors studying new COVID strain ahead of expected emergence in U.S.

ORLANDO, Fla. — A new variant of the COVID-19 virus is making its way across the globe, and doctors say it’s just a matter of time before it appears in the United States.

>>> STREAM CHANNEL 9 EYEWITNESS NEWS LIVE <<<

On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization classified the new variant, B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern” and named it omicron.

READ: Omicron variant: What are the symptoms; are vaccines effective; what we know now

It was first identified in South Africa and, according to researchers, has more than 50 variations from the original COVID-19 virus.

Experts say it’ll take several more weeks of testing before it’ll be known with certainty whether the omicron variant is more transmissible than the original strain of the virus or the highly contagious Delta variant.

Scientists are also analyzing whether Omicron evades the protection offered by natural infection or vaccines.

READ: 9 things to know about the new COVID-19 omicron variant

“The variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” President Joe Biden said in an address to the nation on the omicron variant Monday.

New travel restrictions have already been put in place and new vaccine recommendations set in response to the emergence of omicron.

Local doctors say the swift response was due in part to lessons learned from the nearly two years since the coronavirus pandemic first started.

READ: CDC recommends COVID-19 booster for all adults amid latest threat

“I think public health authorities have learned it’s better to act early than late,” UF Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Kartik Cherabbudi said. “I think it’s better to be aware and be prepared.”

Cherabbdi says when it comes to the general public, there’s no need to be afraid of omicron, or change the plans that are already in place.

The World Health Organization says the overall global risk is quite high due to the variant’s mutation.

READ: Canada reports first 2 cases of omicron COVID-19 variant in Ottawa

As of Monday, more than a dozen countries had identified cases of the new variant.

Dr. Cherabuddi says it’s likely in the United States already, although no cases have been reported.

“I don’t mean it as a scary thing,” Dr. Cherabuddi said. “It’s just that variants co-exist, and spread easily across the world, and we probably have it.”

READ: When will the COVID-19 pandemic end? Experts weigh in

The doctor who detected the omicron variant in South Africa says symptoms in those infected with the strain seem to be “mild” so far.

Researchers say it’s still too soon to tell if current COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against the omicron variant.

Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, and click here to watch the latest news on your Smart TV.