Biden to lift travel restrictions from African countries as Omicron continues to spread

President Biden is ordering a lifting of current travel restrictions from eight African countries where the omicron variant of COVID-19 originated even as the new strain continues to spread throughout the U.S.

He will lift the restrictions Dec. 31, or just a month after the initial travel bans were put in place, White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the recommendation.

“On Dec. 31, @POTUS will lift the temporary travel restrictions on Southern Africa countries. This decision was recommended by @CDCgov,” Munoz wrote on Twitter.

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

Last month, the administration announced travel restrictions on South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi last month to try and tame the spread of the omicron variant.

A senior White House official told CNN that the CDC decided to recommend lifting the travel ban allegedly because of progress that has been made among health experts in “understanding the omicron variant,” The Hill reported, and also due to the amount of spread around the world.

“First, our nation’s health officials have made progress in understanding Omicron; importantly, our existing vaccines are effective against severe disease with Omicron, especially if you’re boosted. Second, with Omicron now present across the US and globally, international travelers from these countries will not have a significant impact on US cases,” the official told the network.

Earlier this week, Biden said that he was “considering reversing” the restrictions, adding in remarks to reporters: “I’m going to talk with my team in the next couple of days.”

He went on to say that his administration put the bans in place “to see how much time we had before it [omicron] hit here so we could begin to decide what we needed by looking at what’s happening in other countries.”

But, he said, the United States was “past that now.”

Another senior administration official told Reuters, which was the first to report that the restrictions were going to be lifted, that the temporary ban “served its purpose” in that it bought time to understand the science, it gave time to analyze the variant.”

The official went on to say that the travel restrictions were not aimed at keeping the variant out of the U.S., but instead sought “to reduce the number of cases coming in — in those early days and weeks.”

Regarding keeping the new variant out of the U.S. altogether, the official told Reuters “we knew we couldn’t do that.”

Democrats and Biden blasted then-President Donald Trump when he issued a travel ban on China, as well as other parts of the world, as COVID-19 began to spread. The virus is believed to have originated in China, some have said from a lab in Wuhan.

During last year’s campaign, Biden also ripped Trump for allowing COVID to spread, vowing that he would stop the virus if he were elected.

More Americans have died from COVID under Biden than under Trump.

Jon Dougherty

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