US lifts travel ban on South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi

The White House announced today that the United States will lift its travel restrictions on South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi that were imposed last month following the discovery of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Last Tuesday, President Biden said he was “considering reversing” the travel restrictions, telling reporters “I’m going to talk with my team in the next couple of days.”

The restrictions will be lifted on New Year’s Eve.

US travel ban that effectively banned almost all non-U.S. citizens, who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, was heavily criticized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and southern African leaders as ineffective and severely damaging to local economies.

Other countries, including the UK, imposed similar travel bans on southern African countries in the wake of the first detection of the Omicron strain. The United Kingdom lifted its travel restrictions last week, due to community transmission of the new COVID-19 variant within the country.

Senior US administration official said that the temporary travel ban “served its purpose,” adding that “it bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant.”

According to the White House spokesman Kevin Munoz, the CDC ultimately recommended lifting the restrictions because of progress US health experts have made in understanding the Omicron strain, and because of how much the new COVID-19 variant has spread across the world.

Omicron strain of the COVID-19 virus is now also spreading rapidly throughout the United States.

While breakthrough infections among vaccinated people have become common, they have rarely led to severe illness or hospitalization, but a huge majority of those being hospitalized are unvaccinated.

The lightning-fast spread of the new COVID-19 strain, along with more people gathering indoors during winter, has led to a major infection spike.

The seven-day rolling average for US COVID-19 cases climbed past 160,000 this week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than double the average in late November.

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