Joe Biden, Kamala Harris

Omicron: US to Lift Travel Restrictions Imposed on 8 Southern African Countries

The U.S. is set to lift travel restrictions it imposed on eight southern African nations over the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

The White House said the November 29 measure, affecting South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi, would be lifted by New Year’s Eve.

White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said on Twitter that the decision was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Munoz said the temporary travel bans bought scientists necessary time to study the new virus variant and conclude that the current vaccinations are effective in blunting its impact.

Omicron is now spreading rapidly throughout the U.S., including among the vaccinated, but a huge majority of those being hospitalized are unvaccinated.

The rapid advance of Omicron, along with more people gathering indoors during winter, has led to a major infection spike. The seven-day rolling average for U.S. COVID-19 cases climbed past 160,000 this week, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than double the average in late November.

The restrictions were first imposed by the EU and UK. The U.S. and a host of other countries followed suit.

The move was roundly criticised, with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling it “travel apartheid”.

Justifying the move, the White House’s chief coronavirus adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, said earlier this month it was “done at a time when we were really in the dark” about Omicron.

“We all feel very badly about the hardship that might have been put upon not only South Africa, but the other African countries,” he said.

Last week, Canada lifted its own ban on foreign travellers from 10 African countries. An official said the country’s spike in domestic Omicron cases meant the requirements were “no longer needed”.

 Featured Image Credit: U.S. President Joe Biden | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

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