PANDEMIC NOT OVER YET: U.S. To Restrict Travel From South Africa, Seven Other Nations Amid New Covid Variant

President Joe Biden announced Friday that the United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other nations starting on Monday, in response to the developing and newly-named “Omicron” variant of Covid-19.

Senior administration officials said the policy “was implemented out of an abundance of caution” following advice from Anthony Fauci and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi are among the nations affected by the restriction, which does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

In a statement, President Biden said, “As we move forward we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises.”

Omicron, which the World Health Organization has categorized as a “variant of concern,” has been blamed for a spike in cases in South Africa and has aroused concerns about the virus’s high number of mutations, which might make it more transmissible and resistant to vaccinations.

President Joe Biden underlined the significance of vaccinations and booster doses, encouraging fully vaccinated Americans to get their boosters administered as soon as they are eligible and making an urgent plea to those who have not been vaccinated.

The President said, “America is leading the world in vaccinating children ages 5-11, and has been vaccinating teens for many months now — but we need more Americans in all age groups to get this life-saving protection. If you have not gotten vaccinated, or have not taken your children to get vaccinated, now is the time.”

Stocks in the United States plummeted Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting its worst day of the year as news of the variation — which was initially spotted in South Africa and has since spread to Asia and Europe — stoked fears of a lengthy pandemic. As a result, the World Health Organization scheduled an emergency conference, and nations such as the United Kingdom, the European Union, and others had already indicated that they were banning travel from Africa.

“We don’t know very much about this yet,” Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead said in a video on Thursday. “What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. The concern is that when you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves.”

During his Friday statement directed to the “world community”, Biden said the pandemic will not end “until we have global vaccinations”.

“The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined,” Biden added. “It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.”