United States imposes travel ban from eight African countries on Omicron variant

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NANTUCKET, Mass./WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 (Reuters) – The United States is barring entry to most travelers from eight southern African countries from Monday, after a new variant of the coronavirus potentially more contagious has been identified in South Africa, President Joe Biden said on Friday.

The new variant, dubbed Omicron, poses a new challenge for Biden, who has had mixed success in getting Americans vaccinated after a politically motivated 10-state pullback. Biden is also facing criticism from international health experts and foreign officials for not sending vaccines to poorer countries.

Travel restrictions do not prohibit flights and do not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States.

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No case of Omicron has been identified in the United States to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday. The agency expects to quickly identify variant B.1.1.529, if it emerges in the country. Read more

Countries around the world have rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa after the World Health Organization said Omicron was “of concern.” Many of these bans are effective immediately, unlike those issued by Biden. Read more

The restrictions apply to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Most non-US citizens who have stayed in these countries in the previous 14 days will not be permitted to enter the United States.

Biden made the announcement while spending Thanksgiving weekend on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.

“As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional restrictions on air travel from South Africa and seven other countries,” Biden said in a statement.

The president told reporters during a walk in Nantucket that his medical team had recommended that the ban begin on Monday instead of immediately. A White House official told Reuters the deviation was due to procedural steps that had to be taken before such a ban could be put in place, including working with transport authorities and airlines.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said it was “in communication with the US government as details remain unknown at this time and there are many unanswered questions. In the midst of this evolving situation fast, it is essential that US government decisions regarding international travel restrictions and requirements be grounded in science.

The United States could add countries to the restriction list if the variant spreads, a senior administration official said.

Passengers pass through the terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, United States, November 24, 2021. REUTERS / Eduardo Munoz

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Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and United Airlines serve South Africa and United is expected to resume non-stop flights from Newark to Cape Town on December 1. Shares of both airlines closed more than 8% on Friday.

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Biden called on nations gathered at the World Trade Organization next week to waive intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID-19 vaccines as a result of the new variant.

“The news about this new variant should explain more clearly than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Biden said in a statement.

However, the WTO meeting was postponed due to concerns over the variant, sources told Reuters, which could make the already slow and uncertain process of intellectual property waivers even more so.

Some public health experts have said the United States has not done enough to provide the first doses of vaccines overseas, especially as it has advanced recalls for its own already vaccinated citizens.

Earlier, top US infectious disease official Dr Anthony Fauci said the US was rushing to collect data on the new variant of COVID-19.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a COVID-19 “disaster emergency” statement on Friday, citing rising rates of infections and hospitalizations. She did not refer to the Omicron variant.

It could take scientists weeks to fully understand the mutations in the variant. Health officials are looking to determine whether Omicron is more transmissible or infectious than other variants and whether vaccines are effective against it.

The Biden administration was holding a briefing with U.S. airlines on Friday to discuss the restrictions.

The United States has only lifted travel restrictions in 33 countries, including South Africa, China, much of Europe, India, Brazil, Ireland, Britain and Iran, that on November 8, after having blocked the entry of most of the foreign nationals who had recently visited these countries. since the start of 2020.

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Reporting by David Shepardson and Nandita Bose; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Maria Ponnerhath in Bangalore; Editing by Leslie Adler, Heather Timmons and Sandra Maler

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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