President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took questions from reporters on Friday on the new COVID-19 variant named Omicron. He also ordered new air travel restrictions starting Monday on the southern African nations of South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Namibia over COVID-19 variant Omicron.
At a press gaggle with reporters on Friday afternoon in Nantucket where he and the First Lady are spending the Thanksgiving holiday, President Biden called on Americans who have not been vaccinated to take action in view of the new variant.
“That is a minimum that everyone should be doing. And you know, we always talk about whether this is about freedom and I think it’s a patriotic responsibility,” President Biden said.
He said the travel restrictions followed “the recommendation coming from my medical team.”
Asked about whether the travel bans may affect information sharing from other countries, President Biden said, “That’s ridiculous. Because you can’t hide the variants.”
In his proclamation imposing travel restrictions on 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, President Biden said that the national emergency caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States continues to pose a grave threat to our health and security. As of November 26, 2021, the United States has experienced more than 47 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 773,000 COVID-19 deaths.
He wrote, “On November 24, 2021, the Republic of South Africa informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, that was detected in that country.
On November 26, 2021, the WHO Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution announced that B.1.1.529 constitutes a variant of concern. While new information is still emerging, the profile of B.1.1.529 includes multiple mutations across the SARS-CoV-2 genome, some of which are concerning. According to the WHO, preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern.
“Further, the WHO reports that the number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in the Republic of South Africa. Based on these developments, and in light of the extensive cross-border transit and proximity in Southern Africa, the detection of B.1.1.529 cases in some Southern African countries, and the lack of widespread genomic sequencing in Southern Africa, the United States Government, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), within the Department of Health and Human Services, has reexamined its policies on international travel and concluded that further measures are required to protect the public health from travelers entering the United States from 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. In addition to these travel restrictions, the CDC shall implement other mitigation measures for travelers departing from the countries listed above and destined for the United States, as needed.”