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No immediate plans to shut border with Canada over omicron variant, U.S. says

The White House says it has no immediate plan to tighten the border with Canada again after new COVID-19 cases involving the omicron variant.

Biden spokesperson asked about Canadian cases at White House briefing

The U.S. just loosened its travel restrictions on Nov. 8. Here's a view that day of the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge connecting Ontario and New York. (Jacques Corriveau/CBC)

This item is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What's new

The White House says it has no immediate plan to tighten the border with Canada again after new COVID-19 cases involving the omicron variant.

A presidential spokesperson was asked during Tuesday's daily briefing whether new cross-border travel restrictions were being considered.

"The president's decisions related to travel restrictions will be based on the recommendations of his health and medical team. They have not advised that to this point," Jen Psaki told reporters during the briefing, delivered on Air Force One.

"But we will continue to assess what steps we need to take to keep the American people safe."

What's the context

Cases of the newly discovered variant have been found in Quebec, Ottawa, Alberta and possibly in Hamilton

A number of countries, including the United States and Canada, have restricted travel to a number of African nations that have reported the variant.

This is just a few weeks after the U.S. relaxed its previous restrictions on non-essential travel, while Canada also recently loosened some of its testing rules for some travellers.

Omicron has forced a new conversation about shutting down movement again.     

What's next

The U.S. has not reported any omicron cases, but public-health experts expect that to change any day. One of the reasons the U.S. hasn't announced a case yet is the small percentage of COVID tests that undergo genetic sequencing to detect variants. 

The U.S. has scaled up that capacity over the last year, going from just one per cent of positive tests subjected to genetic sequencing to five per cent today.

American officials are also urging people not to draw hasty conclusions about the danger represented by omicron. While it's been listed as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, it will take more time to know not only how contagious it is, but whether it's more or less lethal than earlier variants.

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