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Biden Lifts Omicron Travel Ban on New Year’s Eve

Dec 27, 2021

Passenger plane flying into New York at sunset.

The Biden administration announced Friday it will lift travel restrictions that were imposed on eight southern African countries. The travel restrictions were implemented to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on December 31, fully vaccinated foreign nationals who have been in one of the eight countries listed in the November 26 order will again be allowed to enter the United States. White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said the decision was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after buying scientists the time needed to study the virus variant and its interaction with existing vaccines.

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Under the current order, foreign travelers are barred from entering the United States if they have been in one of eight southern African countries within the past 14 days. The order applies to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The restrictions do not prevent flights or American citizens and green card holders from returning to the U.S. from southern Africa.

The travel ban was criticized by the World Health Organization, southern African leaders, and immigration attorneys as ineffective and unfairly damaging to local economies. U.S. public health agencies had recommended lifting the Omicron and other Covid travel restrictions because they would not have a meaningful impact on case numbers in the U.S., given how widespread the variant already is within the U.S., and because existing vaccines and booster shots are highly effective against the variant.

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