U.S. President Joe Biden has announced the lifting of travel restrictions imposed on Southern African countries following the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant last month.
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The travel ban is expected to be officially lifted after midnight on December 31.
The variant was announced by South African scientists at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and led to countries swiftly closing their borders to South Africa.
"That proclamation generally suspended and restricted the entry into the United States of noncitizens of the United States (“noncitizens”) who were physically present within the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa, and the Republic of Zimbabwe during the 14 day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.
"I took that action to slow the spread of the Omicron variant into the United States and to enable the United States to implement appropriate mitigation measures while new information emerged about the variant," Biden said.
"Having learned more about the Omicron variant in the past several weeks, the CDC now recommends lifting the travel restrictions imposed in Proclamation 10315. Since I issued that proclamation, our Nation’s health officials, in collaboration with the South African scientists who originally reported the variant, have made substantial progress in understanding the Omicron variant.
"At the same time, my Administration has made international travel to the United States from all countries safer in the time since I issued Proclamation 10315. In particular, the CDC has shortened the timeline for required pre-departure COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated travelers from no more than 3 days prior to travel to no more than 1 day.
"As a result, international air travelers to the United States from all countries, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, must take a COVID-19 test within 1 day of departure and show a negative test result before they board a flight to the United States.
"That requirement has strengthened the already stringent international travel protocols that my Administration has imposed, including requirements for noncitizens to be fully vaccinated, subject to limited exceptions, and for travelers to wear face masks on commercial conveyances and at United States transportation hubs.
"In light of these changed circumstances, and based on the recommendation of the CDC, I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to revoke Proclamation 10315. The travel restrictions imposed by that proclamation are no longer necessary to protect the public health," Biden said. ■
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