The new travel restrictions announced by President Biden today will buy the US federal government more time to investigate the new Omicron variant that has emerged in South Africa, officials say. But not much.
Earlier today, the Biden administration announced it will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, starting Monday. The administration stressed it was acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the World Health Organization labeled the newly discovered strain as a “variant of concern.”
Inside the government, it is seen as inevitable that the new variant will appear in the US at some point, but the new restrictions should give federal health agencies and their global counterparts more time to learn about the variant, including the severity of the disease it causes. Officials do not believe, based on current thinking, that the variant is in the US yet.
Officials acted quickly to implement the new restrictions. While the emergency of the variant had been flagged in the last several weeks, it was only in recent days that they learned how serious it was.
US officials are expected to speak to scientists in South Africa again potentially on Sunday.