(Adds CDC statement on no Omicron cases identified in U.S. so
NANTUCKET, Mass./WASHINGTON, Nov 26 (Reuters) - The United
States will bar entry to most travelers from eight southern
African countries starting on Monday, after a potentially
more-contagious new coronavirus variant was identified in South
Africa, President Joe Biden said on Friday.
The new variant, dubbed Omicron, poses a new challenge for
Biden, who has had a mixed success getting Americans vaccinated
after a politically motivated pushback https://www.reuters.com/world/us/ten-states-sue-biden-administration-over-covid-19-vaccine-mandate-us-health-2021-11-11
by 10 states. Biden also faces criticism from international
health experts and foreign leaders for failing to send https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-pledges-new-vaccine-donations-bid-rally-global-pandemic-fight-2021-09-22
vaccines to poorer countries.
The travel restrictions do not ban flights or apply to U.S.
citizens and lawful U.S. permanent residents.
No cases of Omicron were identified in the United States to
date, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) on Friday. The agency expects that it would identify the
B.1.1.529 variant quickly, if it emerges in the country.
Countries around the world rushed to suspend travel from
southern Africa after the World Health Organization said Omicron
was "of concern." Many of those bans kick in immediately, unlike
those issued by Biden.
The restrictions apply to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe,
Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Most non-U.S.
citizens who have been in those countries within the prior 14
days will not be allowed into the United States.
Biden made the announcement while spending the Thanksgiving
holiday weekend on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.
"As a precautionary measure until we have more information,
I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South
Africa and seven other countries," Biden said in a statement.
The president told reporters while on a walk in Nantucket
that his medical team recommended the ban begin on Monday
instead of immediately. A White House official told Reuters the
gap was due to the procedural things that had to be done before
such a ban could be put in place, including working with
transportation authorities and airlines.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said it was
"in communication with the U.S. government as specifics remain
unknown at this time and there are many unanswered questions.
Amid this rapidly evolving situation, it is critical that U.S.
government decisions regarding international travel restrictions
and requirements be rooted in science."
The United States could add countries to the restriction
list if the variant spreads, a senior administration official
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both fly
to South Africa and United is set to resume nonstop flights from
Newark to Cape Town on Dec. 1. Shares of both airlines closed
down more than 8% Friday.
PUSH ON WTO
Biden called on nations meeting at the World Trade
Organization next week to waive intellectual property (IP)
protections for COVID-19 vaccines in the wake of the new
"The news about this new variant should make clearer than
ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global
vaccinations," Biden said in a statement.
However, the WTO meeting was postponed https://www.reuters.com/business/wto-postpones-major-meeting-over-covid-19-concerns-sources-2021-11-26
because concerns about the variant, sources told Reuters,
potentially making the already slow and uncertain process of
intellectual property waivers even more so.
Some public health experts have said the United States has
not done enough to provide the first doses of vaccines overseas,
particularly as it pushed forward with booster shots for its own
citizens who are already vaccinated.
Earlier, top U.S. infectious disease official Dr. Anthony
Fauci said the United States was rushing to gather data on the
new COVID-19 variant.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a COVID-19 "disaster
emergency" declaration on Friday, citing increasing rates of
infections and hospitalizations. She did not reference the
It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the
variant's mutations. Health authorities are seeking to determine
if Omicron is more transmissible or infectious than other
variants and if vaccines are effective against it.
The Biden administration was holding a briefing with U.S.
airlines to discuss the restrictions on Friday.
The United States only lifted the travel curbs on 33
countries including South Africa, China, much of Europe, India,
Brazil, Ireland, Britain and Iran on Nov. 8, after blocking the
entry of most foreign nationals who had recently been in those
countries since beginning in early 2020.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Nandita Bose; Additional
reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru;
Editing by Leslie Adler, Heather Timmons and Sandra Maler)