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U.S. will lift travel restrictions to 8 southern African countries on New Year’s Eve

President Biden sits at a desk signing a document
President Biden signs the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act into law at the White House on Thursday.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

The U.S. will lift travel restrictions to eight southern African countries on New Year’s Eve, the White House announced Friday.

The restrictions, imposed last month, were meant to blunt the spread of the COVID omicron variant.

The Nov. 29 ban barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

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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 current vaccines are effective in blunting its impact.

A fall in South Africa’s coronavirus caseload in recent days may signal that the country’s Omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, experts say.

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

“The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted,” Munoz wrote on Twitter.


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