President Biden Announces Travel Ban in Response to Omicron COVID-19 Variant

In Summary

The World Health Organization is monitoring a new COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa. 

UPDATE: Nov. 26, 2021 – 3:03 p.m. EST

President Joe Biden introduced a new travel ban for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa and seven other countries beginning on Monday.

The administration hopes the measure will stop the spread of Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant. A statement from the White House said there are air travel restrictions from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to the United States.

New COVID-19 Variant Identified in South Africa

A new COVID-19 variant was identified in South Africa, according to the country’s health minister, who announced it is spreading rapidly through parts of the area.  

RELATED: WHO: COVID-19 Deaths Up 80% in Africa, Delta Variant to Blame 

According to CNN, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla made the announcement Thursday, saying, “Initially it looked like some cluster outbreaks, but from yesterday, the indication came from our scientists from the Network of Genomic Surveillance that they were observing a new variant.”  

Scientists said the variant, known as B.1.1.529, has a high number of mutations. Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said the variant is spreading fast. He also advised the public to avoid “super spreading events.”  

RELATED: COVID-19 Lambda Variant Detected in Several US States 

Health officials are concerned the mutation could result in enhanced transmissibility of the virus and immune evasion. Time will tell if the new variant will impact vaccine efficacy. “The full significance of this variant remains uncertain and the best tool we have is still the vaccines,” De Oliveira said.  

The variant has only been detected in South Africa, Botswana and in a traveler who left South Africa and went to Hong Kong, CNN reported.  

The United Kingdom banned flights to six African countries, including South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.  

“UKHSA is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now,” the United Kingdom’s Health Minister Sajid Javid said. 

RELATED: Delta Variant Expected to Become Most Dominant Variant in the US, CDC Says 

South Africa has experienced three COVID-19 waves and officials are expecting a fourth due to slow vaccine rates. Officials from the country are expected to update the World Health Organization on the new mutation, which has been classified as a “variant under monitoring.”  

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