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US Will Lift Travel Restrictions on Southern African Countries

The Biden administration this morning announced that it will lift a current ban on non-U.S. travelers from eight African nations, which was imposed back on November 29 out of an “abundance of caution” and in hopes of impeding the highly-infectious Omicron variant’s migration to America.

At present, foreign nationals who have been within any of these southern African countries within the previous 14 days are forbidden from entering the U.S., but the temporary ban will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. ET on December 31, a senior White House official confirmed to Reuters.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

The countries affected by these temporary restrictions are South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The order did not, however, prevent American citizens and legal residents returning from these countries from re-entering the U.S., nor did flights to the region stop running.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz tweeted out the news on Friday, saying that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had recommended removing the travel curbs because their continuation wouldn’t have an appreciable impact Omicron’s spread in the U.S., given the levels of community transmission already present here.

“The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted,” Munoz said in his tweet. The White House official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said, “This travel pause has served its purpose. It bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant.”

Talking of the temporary travel restrictions, the official said, “This was not meant to keep Omicron out. We knew we couldn’t do that. The point was to reduce the number of cases coming in— in those early days and weeks.”


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Close-up world map detail of southern Africa. (photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/omersukrugoksu)

Reuters also reported that medical experts are now confident that existing COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots remain highly effective against the new strain, and that there’s no need to develop an Omicron-specific vaccine to combat it.

The nation’s top immunologist and the White House’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, earlier this week opined that the decision to lift restrictions on travel from the region likely came, “because we have enough infection in our own country…We’re letting in people from other countries that have as much or more infection than the southern African countries.”

The unnamed official also emphasized that the restrictions were always intended to be temporary measures, and said that removing them after only four weeks or so would send a positive message to any other nations where future variants may emerge. The source said that it, “sends a pretty clear signal that there’s not going to be a significant penalty” for disclosing information on any new variants that might be detected.

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