Starting Monday, the United States will heavily restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries by non-U.S. citizens.
The restrictions come as a global effort to stop the spread of the newly identified omicron variant of COVID-19, which exhibits a high level of mutations. Other countries included in the restrictions in addition to South Africa are Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
While there was no indication given when the restrictions were announced on Friday of how long the bans will stay in place, President Joe Biden said in a statement that going forward, he will be “guided by what the science and my medical team advises.” Biden also told reporters following the announcement, “I’ve decided we’re going to be cautious. We don’t know a lot about the variant except it is a great concern, seems to spread rapidly.”
The decision to ban travel came less than three weeks after pandemic travel restrictions were lifted from more than 30 countries, including South Africa, instead favoring vaccine requirements for international tourists.
Fifty-one countries, including Malawi, Namibia, and Mozambique, were exempted from the vaccine requirement due to low availability in those countries. In the statement announcing the travel ban, Biden also encouraged those already vaccinated to get their booster shots. He also urged parents to take their children to get vaccinated as the new doses for those ages 5 to 11 have been approved.
On Friday, the World Health Organization also formally recognized the train, which had previously been referred to as lineage B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern,” as they assigned the variant the Greek letter omicron. Health experts have expressed concern about the transmissibility of the omicron variant due to its unusual amount of mutations and its profile that is unique to other variants.
ARTICLE: ELIZABETH HERTZBERG
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: BLOOMBERG