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28 Dec, 2021 18:53

Biden halts travel restrictions on African countries

US had banned entry to visitors from South Africa, seven other nations, due to Omicron outbreak
Biden halts travel restrictions on African countries

President Joe Biden has declared an end to the travel ban that barred visitors from eight countries in southern Africa, citing progress made in understanding Omicron – the Covid-19 variant that triggered the restrictions.

Biden said on Tuesday that the controversial travel ban will end on Friday, more than one month after it was imposed.

Critics have claimed that ban was racist, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling it “travel apartheid.” Biden said his previous order was necessary to buy time while Washington spooled up plans to fight the new strain.

“I took that action to slow the spread of the Omicron variant into the United States and to enable the United States to implement appropriate mitigation measures while new information emerged about the variant,” Biden said.

The restrictions applied only to southern Africa – and not to any of the other dozens of countries where Omicron cases were confirmed. The new strain was first identified in South Africa in late November.

Over the past several weeks, US public health officials have worked with their counterparts in South Africa to learn more about Omicron, Biden said. He added that experts found that people who are vaccinated against Covid-19 are “protected against severe disease and hospitalization,” even if infected by the variant.

Acknowledging that Omicron has now spread to more than 100 countries, Biden said that US entry policies have been strengthened to make international travel safer. For instance, people traveling to the US on overseas flights must take a test proving that they’re not infected with Covid-19 within one day prior to their departure, rather than the old standard of three days.

“In light of these changed circumstances and based on the recommendation of the CDC,” Biden said, the travel ban is “no longer necessary to protect the public health.”  

Just one month after Omicron emerged in southern Africa, the fast-spreading variant has become the largest source of new Covid-19 infections in the US. The strain accounted for nearly 59% of new cases in the week that ended on December 25, according to the CDC.