Washington: U.S. President Joe Biden has announced he will lift travel restrictions imposed on eight African countries on December 31 because of the omicron variant coronavirus.
Biden administration officials repeatedly defended the move as an action to give the US more time to understand the variant and its spread.
“The travel restrictions imposed by that proclamation are no longer necessary to protect the public health,” Biden said in the new proclamation.
The reopened borders include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Esuatini (formerly Swaziland), Mozambique and Malawi.
The decision to close the borders was made on November 26 “out of prudence” after it became known that a new variant of the coronavirus, omicron, had been detected in South Africa, a White House spokesman had said.
Biden noted that scientists have determined that people vaccinated against Covid-19 “are protected against severe disease and hospitalization from the Omicron variant.” It also said that the variant is now in over 100 countries and is “prevalent” in the US, where cases have been rising for weeks.
The omicron variant set off alarm bells for many governments. South Africa is the country where this variant was registered for the first time, on November 22. Since then, the world has again been shaken by the threat of new infection waves.
The U.S. President ordered the restrictions in late November on the advice of his public health officials, cutting off most travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.