U.S. announces travel restrictions from 8 nations to shield from Omicron variant

by Ryan Meilstrup

The Biden administration has announced travel restrictions for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa and seven other African nations effective Monday, due to a new strain of coronavirus that the WHO has named “Omicron.”

The ban applies to non-U.S. citizens from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

According to aviation consulting firm Cirium, there are 122 flights between the U.S. and South Africa scheduled for December.

United Airlines has 87 scheduled flights between Newark, New Jersey and Cape Town, South Africa next month, and Delta Airlines has 35 scheduled flights between the U.S. and South Africa.

The new omicron variants have “some concerning properties,” says the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkove. She said that “this variant has a large number of mutations, and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics.”

The WHO reported that the number of omicron cases “appears to be increasing” in nearly all South African provinces.

The World Health Organization on Friday assigned the Greek letter Omicron to the newly identified Covid variant in South Africa.

According to CNBC, “health experts are deeply concerned about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant given that it has an unusual constellation of mutations and a profile that is different from other variants.” The uncertainty spooked Wall Street and caused the DOW to nosedive on Black Friday.

The European Union and Israel have already implemented another travel ban on the news, and Germany is expected to follow suit later in the day.

Dr. Anthony Fauci briefed Joe Biden on the news ahead of the announcement of travel restrictions from Africa.

Fauci previously said, “If, in fact, it does evade the vaccines that we’re doing, there’s always the possibility of doing what the UK has done, namely, block travel from South Africa and related countries.”

The World Health Organization held an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the latest virus strain but urged caution until more is known about the seriousness of the strain.

WHO Covid-19 expert Maria Van Kerkhove said, “We’re calling a special meeting to discuss this, not to cause alarm, but because we have this system in place. She added: “We can bring these scientists together and discuss ‘What does it mean?’ and also set the timeline for how long it will take for us to get those answers.”

The new African variant was found in two patient samples taken as early as August and October in Nigeria. However, the seriousness of transmissibility and mortality rates is still not known.

The leader of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkensgasong, implored people to be patient and to “give us some time…it’s very early.”  He added: “It’s a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa.”

The latest travel restrictions conjure up images of March 11, 2020, when President Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest news has left many thinking: “here we go again.”

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