Staring Monday, President Biden will begin restricting travel to the U.S. from South Africa and seven other countries, CNN reports. The news arrived mere moments after the World Health Organization classified the new Omicron COVID variant, which was first detected in southern Africa, as a "variant of concern."
Biden is acting on the advice of White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to South Africa, the U.S. will restrict travel from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The president was briefed on the variant on Friday, a White House official told CNN.
The restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents, CNN notes. Like any international traveler, those groups must still, however, test negative prior to traveling.
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Officials said the policy is being implemented out of an abundance of caution. "Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant," one official said, per CNN.
Medical experts, including the WHO, "warned against any overreaction before the variant that originated in southern Africa was better understood," writes The Associated Press. But leaders, fearful of the worst, have otherwise moved quickly.
It was not immediately clear whether the new strain will cause more severe disease, or pose a significant health threat, writes AP.
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