New COVID Strain Prompts Renewed Travel Restrictions
President Joe Biden announced on Friday new travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries due to a new COVID-19 variant.
First identified in South Africa, this new variant, called Omicron, is believed to be the most mutated coronavirus variant yet. The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is a “variant of concern.” The Biden administration’s announcement comes at the same time that several other countries have also announced travel restrictions due to the mutated virus.
The administration’s travel restrictions were made “out of an abundance of caution.” Locations included in the restrictions include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi, senior administration officials said Friday afternoon. They will go into effect on Monday and officials noted the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution.”
President Biden was briefed on the Omicron variant by his chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Faci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Based on their advice, Biden put the travel restrictions in place and he further implored Americans who are fully vaccinated to get the booster shot and unvaccinated Americans to get fully vaccinated in a statement Friday.
Senior administration officials noted that the policy does not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. These individuals must still test negative before traveling, in compliance with the administration’s travel rules.
Biden urged other countries to donate more vaccinations, citing that the U.S. has “donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined.”
“It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity,” Biden said Friday. “In addition, I call on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally. I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly.”
The U.S. has sent over 275 million doses of vaccines to 110 countries across the world, senior administration officials said. This number includes 93.9 million doses for Africa and 13.3 million for the countries now included on the restricted travel list.
Even as the U.S. has made vaccine donations, many countries are still struggling with low vaccination rates. South Africa, for example, has just around 24% of its population fully vaccinated.