President Joe Biden (left) has announced travel restrictions from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe in light of the new ‘omicron’ variant (Pictures: AP)
President Joe Biden has announced that the US will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries due to a new coronavirus variant that the World Health Organization (WHO) has named ‘omicron’.
Biden announced on Friday that his administration will restrict travel from South Africa – where cases of the variant appear to be rising in nearly all provinces – as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The travel restriction will be effective starting Monday.
Biden acted on advice from his chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after WHO on Friday classified the new variant first found in southern Africa as one ‘of concern’.
WHO named it ‘omicron’ and said that preliminary evidence suggests ‘an increased risk of reinfection with this variant’.
Biden was briefed on the new variant and implemented the policy out of an abundance of caution in light of WHO flagging the variant, officials said.
‘Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant,’ one official told CNN.
The US must make a formal proclamation and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will need to provide directives and coordinate with airlines before the implementation on Monday, a senior Biden administration official told the news outlet.
‘This is a quick timeline but there are things that need to be done beforehand,’ the official said.
Biden’s announcement came hours after the European Union called for an ’emergency break’ on travel from nations affected by the spread of the omicron variant.
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla revealed the discovery of the new variant on Thursday.
There is currently ‘no indication’ that the omicron variant is in the US.
American scientists are working closely with their counterparts in South Africa to study the omicron variant, Fauci told CNN’s Brianna Keilar earlier on Friday.
‘Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it,’ Fauci said.
‘So, right now you’re talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue – but we don’t know.’
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