Joe Biden set to lift travel ban to Africa amid Omicron surge – ‘Existing vaccines work’

Travel ban: Epidemiologist says ‘closing borders does not work’

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Restrictions were imposed on November 29 over concerns about the fast-spreading Omicron variant.They barred nearly all non-US citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. 

However, from December 31 at 12.01 am East Coast time non -US citizens who have recently been in any of the eight countries will be allowed to board US bound flights.

White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said on Twitter the decision to introduce the restrictions was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Munoz emphasised that the restrictions were a precautionary measure, and it was now known that the existing vaccines work against Omicron.

He said: “The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted.”

There were earlier reports US public health officials had already recommended lifting the travel restrictions.

They argued retaining the travel bans would not have a significant impact on US cases given transmission is across the country.

Officials are now confident a specific Omicron-specific vaccine would not be necessary.

Data is also now available which shows existing vaccines and booster shots are highly effective against Omicron. 

There were also concerns about how useful and effective the ban was as it didn’t stop flights or Americans returning from Southern Africa.

An unnamed White House official argued the travel ban gave scientists time to examine data on Omicron.

They said: “This travel pause has served its purpose. It bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant.”

The official explained the travel ban also had a role in terms of reducing cases.

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They said: “This was not meant to keep Omicron out. We knew we couldn’t do that. The point was to reduce the number of cases coming in – in those early days and weeks.”

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