WASHINGTON — The White House is set to announce travel restrictions to eight countries in Southern Africa on Monday because of the discovery of a new coronavirus variant, according to senior administration officials.
The World Health Organization classified the COVID-19 variant as a “variant of concern” due to its high mutation and transmission rate, and is calling the new strain the “omicron.”
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said in a statement. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other (variants of concern).”
Based on the advice of the president’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the restrictions go in effect Monday and those countries include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
These restrictions do not apply to Americans or lawful permanent residents, but international travelers must still provide a negative COVID-19 test before traveling.
President Joe Biden urged those Americans who are already vaccinated to get a booster shot “so you can have this additional protection during the holiday season,” and for those who are unvaccinated, to get vaccinated.
“America is leading the world in vaccinating children ages 5-11, and has been vaccinating teens for many months now — but we need more Americans in all age groups to get this life-saving protection,” Biden said.
The president also called on countries to contribute their share of donating vaccines, as “this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations.”
On CNN, Fauci said the U.S. is currently reviewing the research from South Africa to determine how effective the vaccines are against the new variant.
“We just arranged, right now, a discussion between our scientists and the South African scientists a little bit later in the morning to really get the facts, because you’re hearing a lot of things back and forth,” he said.
Dozens of countries have taken similar measures. Late Thursday, the United Kingdom banned travel to six African countries — South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
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