The Biden administration said Friday it is restricting travel from South Africa and seven other countries because of fears about a new coronavirus variant with mutations that could make it more powerful against humans.
A senior administration official said the ban, which takes effect Monday, was issued out of an abundance of caution while scientists learn more about the variant, which the World Health Organization dubbed “omicron.”
Besides South Africa, the U.S. is cutting off Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The policy does not apply to American citizens and lawful residents who are returning from those nations, though they must present a negative test.
President Biden said he authorized the ban after receiving guidance from medical experts and his COVID-19 team, including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. Several other countries took similar measures to try to box out the new variant as vaccine makers determine whether the mutations weaken the power of their shots.
Experts say travel bans can buy time for nations but it will be important for governments to sequence virus samples to detect the variant in case it is already spreading within their borders.
SEE ALSO: WHO: Mutation in South Africa, ‘omicron,’ is a variant of concern
However, they say travel bans should be based on solid data and reasonable fears so affected nations do not see the bans as punishment for being transparent about new mutations.
Mr. Biden said the new variant underscored the need for all eligible persons to get vaccinated. Prior variants have challenged the shots’ effectiveness against infection, but the vaccines have largely maintained a high degree of power against hospitalization and death.
“Finally, for the world community: the news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Mr. Biden said. “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.”
Mr. Biden revived his call to the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines so they can be made by more global entities.
The drug industry and some officials, including in Europe, don’t like the idea of waiving patents, saying many areas don’t have the capability to set up manufacturing even if they obtain the recipe for making the shots.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.
SEE ALSO: EU orders travel ban on South Africa to halt variant spread