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Omicron: US lifts travel restrictions on 8 southern African countries


Passengers wait to board international flights, amid the spread of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 28, 2021. REUTERS / Sumaya Hisham / File Photo

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Passengers wait to board international flights, amid the spread of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 28, 2021. REUTERS / Sumaya Hisham / File Photo

The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions on eight southern African countries imposed last month over concerns over the rapidly spreading variant of COVID-19 Omicron, the White House said on Friday.

Foreign nationals banned from entering the United States because they have visited one of the eight countries in the previous 14 days will be re-permitted to take flights to the United States after 12:01 a.m. ET on December 31, a senior official said. confirming a Reuters report.

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On November 29, the United States banned nearly all non-U.S. Citizens who had recently visited South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, by “Excess of caution” vis-à-vis the variant detected in South Africa.

White House spokesman Kevin Munoz tweeted that Biden “will lift temporary travel restrictions on southern African countries” effective December 31.

He said the decision was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The restrictions have given us time to understand Omicron and we know that our existing vaccines work against Omicron, especially boosted,” Munoz tweeted.

Reuters earlier reported that U.S. public health agencies had recommended lifting travel restrictions, as maintaining them would not have a significant impact on cases in the United States given the current widespread transmission in the United States, confidence that a vaccine specific to Omicron would not be needed and that existing vaccines and boosters are very effective.

“This travel break served its purpose. It bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant,” the official, who did not want to be identified because the decision did not want to be identified, told Reuters. has not yet been made public.

“It was not intended to prevent Omicron from entering. We knew we couldn’t do this. The goal was to reduce the number of incoming cases – in those early days and weeks. “

The restrictions did not prevent flights or Americans from returning from southern Africa.

Top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said on Monday that the lifting of restrictions was probably “because we have enough infections in our own country … We are letting in people from other countries who have as much or more. of infections than southern African countries. “

The official stressed that the restrictions were meant to be temporary, and lifting them after about a month “sends a pretty clear signal that there won’t be a significant penalty” for leaking new information about the variants.

The United States had only lifted travel restrictions to South Africa on November 8, in place since late January to address concerns over COVID-19.

In the wake of Omicron, the United States has tightened testing rules for international travelers and extended the requirement to wear masks on planes and at airports until March 18.

On December 6, the CDC toughened testing rules for international air travelers arriving in the United States, requiring them to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within one day of travel.

Under previous rules, vaccinated international air travelers could show a negative test result within three days of the day of departure.

Last week, the CDC began distributing free COVID-19 home test kits to international travelers at several airports. The CDC encourages – but does not require – international air travelers to take a new COVID-19 test three to five days after arriving in the United States.

The CDC last month ordered airlines to release the names of passengers and other information on those who have recently traveled to the eight southern African countries.