The Biden administration announced on Friday that it was implementing travel restrictions on eight nations in southern Africa amid concerns of a new coronavirus variant outbreak.
The travel restrictions will go into effect on Monday, but they will not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The eight nations are South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
Biden said that the move came after he was briefed by Dr. Antony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president.
Fauci had suggested earlier in the day during an interview with CNN that more information was needed before making a decision on whether to ban travel because “you don’t want to say you’re going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it.”
“That’s the reason why we’re rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision about something like that,” Fauci added.
The US must find out if its vaccines respond to the new Covid-19 variant detected in South Africa before considering a travel ban, Dr. Fauci says.
"You're prepared to do everything … to protect the American public. But you want to make sure there's basis for doing that." pic.twitter.com/3hVcGytnt8
— New Day (@NewDay) November 26, 2021
Early testing for the new variant showed that 90% of the cases that were reported on Wednesday came from the South African province that includes Johannesburg.
On the question of where the variant came from, Bloomberg News reported:
There’s only speculation so far. One scientist at the UCL Genetics Institute in London said it likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient. South Africa has 8.2 million people infected with HIV, the most in the world. The beta variant, a mutation identified last year in South Africa, also may have come from an HIV-infected person.
CNN highlighted other nations that have rushed to implement travel restrictions on the nations in question:
- The cascade of closures began late Thursday as the UK announced it would be temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
- Japan has tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, bringing in a 10-day quarantine beginning 12 a.m. on Nov. 27. On Friday, Bahrain said it would suspend entry from those countries as well.
- Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all announced imminent entry bans to all travelers who’ve entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the past two weeks. Switzerland has banned all direct flights from the same seven countries as well.
- Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also announced restrictions on the seven countries.
- Meanwhile, Germany plans to declare South Africa a “virus variant area” from Friday night, which will mean that airlines may only enter from the country to repatriate German citizens.
- Canada is taking similar steps as the US, according to its health minister.
- Greece will allow only essential travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi, the country’s health ministry said Friday. Travelers will have to obtain a special permit from the local Greek embassies and diplomatic missions to travel, the ministry said, adding that on arrival they will be tested and put in quarantine hotels for 10 days, after which they’ll be tested again. The new measures take effect Saturday at 6 a.m. local time.
- Turkey issued a travel ban from five African countries — Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe — through land, air, sea and rail border crossings starting Friday night, according to a tweet from Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.