U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be lifting the Omicron travel ban on eight African nations on December 31 at 12.01 a.m. Eastern Time, administration officials said on Friday.
President Biden issued the travel ban on South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini on November 26. It went into effect on November 29.
Officially, the travel ban was meant to give the administration time to control the spread of the Omicron variant first detected in South Africa, Namibia and Hong Kong although evidence showed it might have come from elsewhere.
The selective ban on only African nations was blasted by health and medical officials, including experts at the World Health Organization.
It remained in place even as the Omicron variant became the dominant version of COVID-19 in the United States and was present in more than 100 countries around the world.
Biden said on Tuesday that he was “considering” reversing the travel ban on southern African nations he imposed on November 29 to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
“I’m considering reversing it,” Biden told reporters at the White House following a speech on COVID-19. “I’m going to talk with my team in the next couple of days.”
“Did the travel ban work, sir, and will you reverse the travel ban (on eight southern African nations) now that omicron is so prevalent here in the U.S.?” asked Fox News White House Correspondent Jacqui Heinrich. Biden responded, “I’m considering reversing it. I’m going to talk with my team in the next couple of days.”
Biden said the Travel ban was put in place to see “how much time we had before it hit here,” adding that that stage has been overtaken by events.
President Biden said lifting the travel ban was being raised with him by his health and medical officials and that he would have “an answer for that soon.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that lifting the Omicron travel ban President Joseph R. Biden Jr. imposed last month on only African nations “is certainly our intention.”
Speaking at her daily press briefing in Washington D.C., Psaki reiterated that the travel ban on African nations was not intended to be permanent but temporary.
She said she did not have any update on when the travel ban would be lifted since President Biden said on Tuesday that he was “considering” reversing it.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data showing that even with the ban on African nations, the Omicron variant is now considered the most dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States, making up 73 percent of new COVID-19 infections last week.
The new estimates captured cases for the week that ended on December 18, and show how the Omicron variant is fast spreading.
On December 11, only 12.6 percent of positive COVID-19 cases had been detected in the United States. That number skyrocketed to 73 percent just within seven days, even with the ban on African nations in place.
At her regular press briefing on Monday, Jen Psaki was asked, “Does the administration have any plans to lift the travel ban on several Southern African countries, given the fact that Omicron is clearly already here and is kind of spreading pretty rapidly?”
She responded, “I mean, our objective is to not — this is not a permanent ban at all; it is temporary. And we are continuing to assess day to day the decision to lift that ban. But, yes, that is our intention to lift the ban. And I don’t have a timeline on that at this point in time, to conclude my answer there.”
President Biden issued a presidential proclamation on November 26 restricting entry into the United States to most non-U.S. citizens in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa,Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in an effort to slow the introduction of the new Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The travel ban went into effect on Monday, November 29, just three days after the Omicron variant was classified a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on November 26.
With specific exceptions, the presidential proclamation suspended entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of noncitizens of the United States who were physically present within the eight southern African countries during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.
Under that travel ban, citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States, certain family members, and other individuals who meet specified exceptions, who had been in one of the eight southern African nations will be allowed to enter the United States.
Other countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere also imposed travel bans on African nations over the Omicron variant, a decision that has damaged businesses in those countries that are still recovering from the COVID-19 economic turmoil.
But with the criticisms that followed, especially with community spread of the variant in those countries, the United Kingdom and Canada for instance lifted their travel bans on African nations. But the United States has not.