The Biden administration will lift its temporary travel restrictions on eight southern African countries on Dec. 31, the White House said Tuesday. Restrictions were put in place last month in an attempt to slow the spread of the omicron variant
“Having learned more about the omicron variant in the past several weeks, the CDC now recommends lifting the travel restrictions,” President Joe Biden said in a proclamation, adding that the restrictions “are no longer necessary to protect the public health.”
The U.S. enacted the travel restrictions on Nov. 26 in an attempt to slow the spread of omicron within the U.S. Since then, the omicron variant has become a dominant version of the coronavirus in the country, accounting for 22.5% of new cases for the week ending Dec. 18.
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“My administration has made international travel to the United States from all countries safer in the time since I issued Proclamation 10315 (travel ban),” Biden said. “In particular, the CDC has shortened the timeline for required pre-departure COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated travelers from no more than 3 days prior to travel to no more than 1 day.”
Other countries that had previously announced travel bans against countries in southern Africa, including Canada, have since dropped the travel restrictions.
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The CDC’s travel ban affects South Africa – where omicron was first detected – as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Most noncitizens who have been in those countries within the past 14 days are not allowed to enter the U.S.
The restrictions came shortly after the U.S. dropped its travel ban against dozens of other countries on Nov. 8.
The travel bans have been a point of contention, with groups like the World Health Organization concerned that the travel bans would disincentivize countries from sharing information on new variants of concern while doing little to slow the spread of the virus.
While the travel ban will be lifted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against travel to the eight countries since they are considered to have “very high” COVID-19 risk.
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.