Bill Gates announced Tuesday that he has largely scrapped his holiday plans due to the latest COVID-19 variant, omicron, citing concerns over its rapid spread.
"Just when it seemed like life would return to normal, we could be entering the worst part of the pandemic," Gates began in a Twitter thread. "Omicron will hit home for all of us. Close friends of mine now have it, and I’ve canceled most of my holiday plans."
The Microsoft founder said that the variant "is spreading faster than any virus in history" and "will soon be in every country in the world."
"The big unknown is how sick omicron makes you," Gates continued. "We need to take it seriously until we know more about it. Even if it’s only half as severe as delta, it will be the worst surge we have seen so far because it’s so infectious."
Gates went on to encourage people to wear masks, avoid large indoor gatherings, and get vaccinated against COVID-19, adding that "getting a booster gives the best protection."
Gates said last month that COVID-19 could possibly fall to seasonal flu levels sometime next year as more folks get vaccinated, and new treatments continue rolling out. The billionaire philanthropist said Tuesday that he still sees a possibility of that happening, just not right away.
"If there’s good news here, it’s that omicron moves so quickly that once it becomes dominant in a country, the wave there should last less than 3 months," he tweeted. "Those few months could be bad, but I still believe if we take the right steps, the pandemic can be over in 2022."
A recent study from earlier this month found that the risk of reinfection is more than five times higher with omicron than with the delta variant, and that the latest strain does not appear to be milder.
The rise of omicron has prompted the cancellation of some holiday events leading up to Christmas. The Rockettes dance company's "Christmas Spectacular" shows have been canceled for the remainder of the season, for instance, and Cornell University scrapped its graduation ceremony and returned to online learning due to the variant.
Meanwhile, President Biden says vaccinated Americans should continue with their holiday plans.
"I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends," Biden said in a speech from the White House Tuesday afternoon. "The answer is yes, you can if you and those you celebrate with are vaccinated – particularly if you've gotten your booster shot."
Biden said that Americans "should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked."