The Biden administration on December 31 will lift travel restrictions initially imposed on eight southern African nations following the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the White House announced Thursday.
“According to our health and medical experts at the CDC, the value of country-based international travel restrictions is greatest early in an outbreak, before the virus or variant has been widely disseminated,” the White House said in a statement. “This value declines as domestic transmission starts to contribute a larger proportion of case burden.”
The administration initially banned travelers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe on November 26, excluding U.S. citizens and green-card holders. The ban came after the first reports of the Omicron variant in South Africa.
However, Omicron has since spread throughout the U.S. and become the dominant coronavirus strain in the country.
The Biden administration initially justified the restrictions as a way to delay the introduction of Omicron into the U.S. However, journalist Simon Ateba of Today News Africa repeatedly decried the restrictions as “racist” during White House press briefings.
“The Omicron variant is now in 57 countries . . . but 70 — almost 70 countries in the world have imposed travel ban[s] on only black African nation[s],” Ateba said at a White House briefing on December 9. “Why don’t you just lift it or impose caution on all the countries that have it? What would you say to those who believe that is a racist ban that target[s] only African and black African nations?”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded at the time that the restrictions were “not meant to be permanent” and “not meant to be a punishment.”