New YorK: Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to US President Joe Biden, has said that he was encouraged by early reports on the severity of the new omicron variant, but warned against drawing premature conclusions.
"Thus far, it does not look like there's a great degree of severity to [the omicron variant],'' Fauci told CNN.
"But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn't cause any severe illness, comparable to delta," he added.
The medical expert's comments followed reports that hospitalization rates have not appeared to rise in any worrying way in South Africa, where the highly contagious variant was first detected.
Fauci went on to say that he was hopeful that the travel ban against several African countries could be lifted "in a quite reasonable period of time."
Omicron has been detected in dozens of US states already, but the delta variant remains by far the dominant strain, fueling a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
Experts have warned that even if the omicron variant proves to be milder in its effects, the highly contagious virus will keep giving some of the people it infects serious problems.
Health authorities around the world continue to recommend vaccines and booster shots against COVID-19.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 27,836 new coronavirus cases and 81 new deaths on Monday. The seven-day rate of infection per 100,000 people increased slightly to 441.9.
Police in Belgium fired water cannons and tear gas as around 8,000 people marched through the capital in protest against forced health restrictions.
Denmark has recorded a jump in omicron cases, with the total number of detected infections of the variant rising to 183.
Italy's new stricter rules for curbing the spread of the virus come into effect on Monday. Several areas of public life, such as indoor dining, clubs and cinemas, are now only accessible for people who have been fully vaccinated or recovered.
People who want to use public transport will also have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. The rules are set to stay in place until January 15.