Omicron COVID variant prompts new US travel ban
The United States next week will impose a new travel ban out of an abundance of caution over a new COVID-19 variant in southern Africa that’s considered highly transmissible.
Starting on Monday, President Joe Biden will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, according to a White House statement.
Biden’s policy — which CNN reports does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents — is based on guidance from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.
Fauci told CNN scientists are working to learn more about the variant in real time, including whether it could evade the protection from coronavirus vaccines.
“It’s something that has emerged in South Africa and seems to be spreading at a reasonably rapid rate…” Fauci said, though there is no indication the variant is present in the U.S. “Right now, you’re talking about sort of like a red flag, where this might be an issue, but we don’t know.”
Britain and the European Union are also limiting travel over the new “omnicron” strain, which the World Health Organization has deemed a variant of concern. The delta variant has the same classification.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned “mutations could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants of the virus that could spread worldwide within a few months.”
Biden, in his statement Friday, urged fully vaccinated Americans to get their COVID booster shots to better protect themselves from the virus. More than 1 million booster shots have been administered in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced earlier this week.
Biden also pleaded with unvaccinated people of all ages to get their shots.
“The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Biden said in statement, calling out the world community. “The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.
The president, invoking the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting next week, said countries should waive intellectual property rights to the COVID vaccines, enabling them to be produced globally.
Less than 6% of Africans have been vaccinated against COVID-19,