The US is rescinding the travel bans on eight southern African countries. According to accounts first reported in Reuters, travelers who have been in one of the eight countries within the prior 14 days will be allowed on US-bound flights leaving after midnight on Dec 31.
The travel restrictions, which were introduced on Nov. 29, applied to non-US citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The curbs were imposed in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant. According to a statement from a White House office, “This travel pause has served its purpose. It bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant.”
However, since South African scientist first identified omicron in Botswana in mid-November, the variant has raced around the world to become the dominant strain of COVID-19, rendering blanket travel bans ineffective.
As President Biden’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview last week, “I think when you get to the point when there’s enough of a virus in your own country, it doesn’t really make any sense of trying to keep it out.”
The decision to lift the travel bans was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a tweet from Kevin Munoz, White House Assistant Press Secretary.
He added that the “restrictions gave us time to understand omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against omicron, esp boosted.”
In the days after omicron was first designated a “variant of concern,” nations around the world, including the EU and the UK, rushed to impose travel restrictions and tighten testing requirements. The UK had reintroduced its travel “red list” with 11 African countries on it, but has since dropped the restrictions due to the rise in cases of the variant in the UK.