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Anthony Fauci during a Senate hearing committee on March 18. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom may account for up to 30% of new COVID infections across the U.S., NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said during a White House briefing on the virus Friday.

Why it matters: The variant, called B.1.1.7, has been detected throughout the U.S., and studies have suggested it appears to spread more easily than the original strain of the virus.

Context: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in January that the B.1.1.7 variant could become the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. this month.

  • The news comes after multiple states across the country have relaxed or rolled back their coronavirus restrictions.

What he's saying: "This variant, as you know, is everyday getting more and more dominant in our own country," Fauci said. “We’re at a position right now where we have a plateauing at around 53,000 cases per day."

  • “The concern is that throughout the country there are a number of states, cities, regions that are pulling back on some of the mitigation methods that we’ve been talking about: the withdrawal of mask mandates, the pulling back to essentially non-public health measures being implemented," he added.
  • Fauci said the best way to counter the variant is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible while maintaining public health measure to prevent the spread of the virus.

The big picture: Multiple European countries are currently managing a surge of cases as a result of variants.

  • Italy entered another lockdown this week that is expected to last at least through Easter weekend.
  • Regions across France, including Paris, entered month-long lockdown on Friday.
  • German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned Friday that COVID-19 cases are spiking at an "exponential rate" in the country and there may not be enough vaccine doses available to avoid a third wave.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said last week he believes the U.S. could face another surge from the B.1.1.7 variant.

Go deeper

Sep 28, 2021 - World

Japan to lift nationwide COVID-19 emergency restrictions

Photo: Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Japanese government announced Tuesday that the country's coronavirus state of emergency will end this week.

State of play: Japanese economic minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said "[m]easures will be gradually eased out to prevent early re-infection." Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said restrictions will end to allow people "to resume daily lives," adding that vaccination efforts will continue to prepare for a future virus resurgence, per AP.

Sep 28, 2021 - Sports

LeBron James confirms he is vaccinated against COVID

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

NBA star LeBron James confirmed Tuesday that he has been vaccinated against COVID-19 as the league prepares for the start of the 2021-22 season next month.

The big picture: Over 90% of NBA players are fully vaccinated, the National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said in a statement Tuesday.

Judge temporarily blocks South Carolina ban on school mask mandates

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked South Carolina's ban on mask mandates in schools, ruling that it discriminated against students with disabilities and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Why it matters: As mask bans extend to public schools around the country, parents and disability rights activists have sounded alarm bells. The ruling may signal the outcomes of legal fights playing out across the country.